By Gabe Schapiro
This Sunday at 10:00am the San Francisco 49ers (9-4) will be taking on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-9), at Raymond James Stadium. The 49ers are in second place in the NFC West, two games back of the Seattle Seahawks. The Buccaneers are in third place in the NFC South, and are out of playoff contention.
Last weekend San Francisco won their fourth consecutive game, beating the Seahawks 19-17, in possibly their biggest victory of the season. The 49ers came back three different times, ultimately putting the game away on a Phil Dawson field goal with 26 seconds left in the game. Dawson had four field goals on the evening, including kicks from 48 and 52 yards out. Colin Kaepernick wasn’t great, but he did just enough. He completed 15-of-29 passes for 175 yards, one touchdown, and one interception. Anquan Boldin led all receivers with six receptions for 93 yards. After losing badly to Seattle earlier this season, San Francisco made the necessary adjustments, and leaned more on their running game. Frank Gore rumbled for 110 yards on 17 carries. As a team they ran for 163 yards.
The 49ers are unlikely to catch the Seahawks for the division crown, but it was still a huge win. It allows San Francisco to build some confidence and continue to build their momentum as they look to clinch a playoff spot.
This week the task at hand should be considerably easier. Tampa Bay has some talent, but are a team in turmoil looking to rebuild their identity. Coach Greg Schiano is likely on the hot seat, as he leads them through another disappointing season. Rookie QB Mike Glennon was handed the keys to the offense part way through the year, and for the most part has been solid. As is to be expected from a rookie, however, he is still going through some growing pains. At running back there are down to their third stringer after a rash of injuries to Doug Martin and Mike James. Bobby Rainey, the new starter, isn’t a world-beater but has some explosiveness. Vincent Jackson is the only reliable receiver on the squad, but is a legitimate deep threat. As a unit they are ranked 30th in the NFL in points per game, and 31st in yards.
It is their defense, which while not great, has been good enough to keep them in striking distance. Linebacker David Lavonte has been phenomenal, and leads the team in tackles (117) and interceptions (5), and is second on the team in sacks (6). And of course the imposing cornerback Darrelle Revis will be blanketing the 49er receivers. Statistically he isn’t have a great year, and in general hasn’t been the same recently, but is still always a threat. Their defense has allowed the 11th fewest points, and 12th fewest yards. Their primary weakness is against the pass, where they are only ranked 17th.
The 49ers are at their best when they are utilizing a run-heavy offense, regardless of the opponent. That shouldn’t change against the Bucs, but Kaepernick should have a slightly easier time making plays without the stout Seattle defense barring down on him. Particularly with Michael Crabtree back, who should only shake more and more of the rust off with each game he plays, their passing attack could get more explosive moving forward.
Crabtree has been limited in practices this week with a minor ankle injury, but it is not believed to be related to his Achilles tear. He is expected to be fine for Sunday’s matchup.