This week the 4-5 Buccaneers (+12) face off against the 6-3 49ers (-12) in San Francisco this Sunday. Last time these two teams met, it did not fare well for the Bucs as they were dismantled by Brock Purdy and the 49ers 35-7. They are hoping for a better outcome this time around.
To preview the game, we sat down with Ryan Bainbridge from Niners Nation to get a closer look at this matchup.
1. The 49ers just snapped a 3 game losing streak by beating down the Jaguars (-6.5). What was so different about that game from the previous 3 weeks?
During the losing streak, the Niners were getting behind early, lost the turnover battle, and struggled to stop the run. The game against Jacksonville they were able to shut all those issues down. Defensive coordinator Steve Wilks moved from the box to the field to call plays. Not sure how much that really changes thing, but I know he mentioned how much he enjoyed being able to celebrate and spend more time with the players during the game. This is something former coordinators Demeco Ryans and Robert Saleh did as well and I think the defense was able to feed off their energy. The addition of Chase Young made an obvious impact against a middle of the road Jacksonville offensive line too, and Wilks used more loaded fronts with Young, Nick Bosa, and Randy Gregory to apply more pressure. They also made a change at nickel, where Isaiah Oliver had been struggling all season. Deommodore Lenoir moved from outside to the slot and it was an immediate upgrade to the secondary. The offense didn’t look much different from the losing streak to be honest, with the exception of getting back a healthy (or nearly healthy) Deebo Samuel and Trent Williams. But they have looked good on that side of the ball all year and took care of the football.
2. Christian McCaffrey has been a force this season and the Niners have a plethora of other options as well on offense. If you were Tampa’s defensive coordinator, how would you go about attempting to slow down this offense?
We have gotten asked this question quite a bit this season and there really haven’t been many good answers. If you can make them one-dimensional, it’s a start. The offensive line is much better as a run blocking unit than in pass protection. But even when the running game has lacked explosiveness in games, Brock Purdy has found success getting the ball downfield. He is what is making the offense GO right now, and when CMC is seeing walls rushing, Purdy/Shanahan involve him in the passing game. It’s been a joy to watch McCaffrey get the opportunities he has had since joining San Francisco, he’s such a smart and versatile player. Blitzing hasn’t really been successful in knocking Purdy off his game, so the best attempt to slow down the passing game is generating pressure with four and trying to confuse Purdy on the backend with unique zone looks.
3. On defense, what would you say is the Niners biggest strength and biggest weakness that Tampa will have to keep an eye on?
Biggest strength is now the front four (or sometimes five). They’ve put a lot of resources into and their depth is starting to look really scary heading into the second half of the season. But they are going to get one-on-one opportunities for someone every down and that puts a lot of strain on opposing offensive lines. Bosa, Young, Gregory, Hargrave, Armstead, Kinlaw, Ferrell, Jackson have all had moments of really strong play and I just don’t know how a team can prepare for it for all 60 minutes. The weakness is definitely in the corner group. Lenoir was an upgrade at nickel last week but he is still susceptible to let up some big catches. Ambry Thomas, who was able to move outside with Lenoir shifting inside, is a good but inexperienced player. You can attack those guys. Charvarius Ward seems to only get pointed out when he allows a big catch but it’s much more rare than people think. He’s been an excellent number one corner in his San Francisco tenure.
4. When looking at this matchup, what are you viewing as the biggest X Factor position battle to determine how this game will go?
I think the big X factor when the Buccaneers have the ball is in the trenches. I like the group Tampa has assembled, but the right side especially looks like it will be a mismatch for the Niners defensive linemen. When San Francisco has the ball, the X factor is the Bucs linebackers against San Francisco’s RBs/TEs. Lavonte David is one of my favorite non-49ers in the league but he’s getting a little old. Devin White has been a boom or bust kind of guy and I think Kyle Shanahan will focus his attack on his somewhat reckless playstyle. My biggest concern is Antoine Winfield Jr, who wasn’t available in their matchup last season, finding ways to bait Purdy into some bad throws/decisions. He has had a fantastic year and can potentially flip the game around if he finds a way to make a big play.
5. According to DraftKings Sportsbook, the 49ers are heavy home favorites at -12. How do you see this game playing out and what is your score prediction?
I like San Francisco at home here and although it’s a steep line, winning by two touchdowns wouldn’t surprise me. Tampa has struggled to run the ball this year and if they abandon that part of their offense early, it’ll let the 49ers pass rushers pin their ears back and give Mayfield hell. I will say the Bucs find the redzone once, maybe twice, but this feels like a low-scoring game that falls the Niners way, 28-10.
Thanks again to Ryan for doing this!