Each week, PewterReport.com's beat writer Mark Cook writes a Five Key's To Victory column, coming up with goals the Buccaneers need to accomplish to help them achieve victory. Following the game, Cook revisits those keys, and grades how well Tampa Bay did in meeting its goals.
Key 1: Cause An Earthquake With Blount
The only earthquake created on the football field was the sounds of 49ers smacking the Pewter Pirates around all day. In a game that needed to be very physical, the Buccaneers were not up to the challenge.
LeGarrette Blount started off well enough, but the more quarterback Josh Freeman struggled, the more the 49ers dared Tampa Bay to run. By the end of the first half and trailing by 18 points, the game plan was scrapped and the 49ers had dictated to the Tampa Bay coaching staff how the game would be played. Freeman's two interceptions and porous play by Tampa Bay's defense contributed to limit Blount's effectiveness.
Finishing with just 34 yards on 10 carries (3.4 avg.), the main objective to establish a running game was never able to materialize and the 49ers have now went 27 straight games without allowing an opponent to gain 100 yards rushing. Blount also had two catches for 31 yards, but took a helmet to his left knee after a 29-yard reception in the third quarter and did not return.
Final grade: D
Key 2: Bring Smith Back To Earth
The Buccaneers were not only unable to slow 49ers QB Alex Smith down; they made him look like Tom Brady without the Hollywood hairdo.
San Francisco fans were losing their minds at the beginning of training camp thinking about the prospect of dealing with Smith for another season, but so far this year he is looking every ke the player 49ers management expected him to be when they selected him with the first overall pick in the 2005 draft. He entered the game completing 67 percent of his passes with four touchdowns and only one pick, in addition to a QB rating of 97.
Going 11-for-19 for 170 yards and three touchdowns against the Bucs, Smith was a calm, unflustered pocket presence, and seemed to make all the key reads and put his receivers in position to make plays after the catch. He has to be considered as an early frontrunner for the Pro Bowl as he has seven touchdowns and only one interception for the 4-1 49ers.
Final Grade: F
Key 3: Put The Brakes On Gore
With all the progress the Buccaneers have shown in their run defense over the last two games and were ranked 10th in the NFL, so it was shocking to see the ease with which the 49ers were able to move the ball on the ground.
Frank Gore finished with 125 yards on 20 carries and rookie Kendall Hunter added 65 more as the Bucs allowed 213 yards rushing. Tampa Bay lost defensive tackle Gerald McCoy early in the first quarter with a leg injury but that can’t be used as an excuse.
The linebackers almost seemed to shy away from contact and rookie middle linebacker Mason Foster took a step back after improving each week. He finished with just three tackles and a fumble recovery on one of Gore's carries. Geno Hayes and Dekoda Watson both were caught out of position on several plays or were unable to shed blocks. Watson finished with seven tackles starting in place of Quincy Black, while Hayes had just five stops.
Final Grade: F
Key 4: Be Special On Special Teams
You know Tampa Bay is having a bad day when punter/kickoff specialist Michael Koenen shanks a punt and dribbles a kickoff. The one area that has been a steady force throughout the first quarter of the 2011 season, and constantly graded out with an “A” was shaky at best on Sunday.
The coverage units, which have also shined through four games, were burned by speedy Ted Ginn who averaged 17 yards on three punt returns including two for over 20 yards. Koenen averaged over 43 yards per punt, but had a net of 34.7 yards.
Preston Parker and the kickoff return game fared only a little better averaging 21 yards on four returns. While Parker did have a 39-yard kickoff return in the fourth quarter, he also make a bone-head blunder when he fair caught a punt on his own 4-yard line.
Final Grade: D
Key 5: Rebound From a Short Week and a West Coast Trip
While some in the media and some fans of the team were concerned about it, most of us drank the Kool-Aid flowing from the Bucs locker room and trusted the players and coaches in believing the hangover from a 24-17 win on Monday Night Football would be mild.
But from the opening 49ers drive – where three Buccaneers players were unable to defend a simple seam pass – until the last San Francisco touchdown late in the fourth quarter, it appeared not only had Tampa Bay's hangover not been cured but was much, much worse than we were led to believe.
Players appeared to be less than enthusiastic about playing football, and were not only physically dominated, but also seemed to lack a mental edge as witnessed by the nine penalties for 98 yards.
Final Grade: F
Cook’s Prediction: 49ers 21, Buccaneers 20
Reynolds' Prediction: Buccaneers: 23, 49ers 20
Horchy’s Prediction: Buccaneers 23, 49ers 17
Actual Score: 49ers 48, Buccaneers 3
Final analysis: A total thrashing. Complete domination. The adjectives to describe the lackluster play of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers against the San Francisco 49ers could go on and on. Someone once said, 'We will just burn this tape and move on.' But Raheem Morris should not burn the tape. He should replay it every few weeks on the plane rides to the Bucs' next game destination. Young teams have short memories, and while it can work to their advantage at times, it is also not a bad idea to re-visit the crime scene occasionally to help show what happens in the NFL when you take the field not prepared to play and get murdered.
Unit Game Grades
It wasn’t a step back for Josh Freeman, it was tumble down the side of one of those California cliffs the Bucs players saw from their airplane and they prepared to land last Friday evening. And it was a painfully long fall.
Freeman hasn’t looked this indecisive and frustrated since his rookie season. Bad decisions, poor mechanics and receivers who did their QB no favors, doomed the Buccaneers offense from the opening three-and-out drive.
Freeman (17-of-33 for 187 yards with no touchdowns and two picks) didn’t have the customary sophomore slump last season, but everyone at One Buc Place hopes he isn’t starting a new trend of junior season slump.
It is really difficult to grade this unit as once the score started to get away, the tailbacks were rarely called on. When they did get a chance to perform it was vintage first half Tampa Bay, 5- or 6-yard runs followed by two or three attempts getting stuffed at the line of scrimmage.
But the formula had worked the last three games, and by the end of those contests the wear and tear of Blount got the best of the Vikings, Falcons and Colts. But not the 49ers, whose defense was razor sharp on Sunday.
Blount, who finished with 10 carries for 34 yards and two receptions for 31, took a shot to his left leg early in the third quarter after a 29-yard catch and didn’t return to the game. His status is unknown. But if he is out for any significant time, the worst fears of Tampa Bay’s fans may be realized.
Earnest Graham had five carries for 30 yards, rookie Allen Bradford made his NFL debut had had 13 yards on five carries, while Kregg Lumpkin totaled seven yards on two totes.
Mike Williams’ hands have always puzzled many. At times he makes fabulous, one-handed tipped-to-himself grabs, then other times he lets simple slants bounce off his chest. Today was another one of those days, minus the highlight-reel catch. Williams finished with four catches for just 28 yards and fumbled.
Other than Arrelious Benn’s 33-yard catch-and-run in the first quarter no receiver stood out with a positive play, and he finished with three receptions for 46 yards.
When Freeman struggles with his accuracy and decision-making as he did today, it is even more imperative for Tampa Bay’s receivers to help out their QB.
With Luke Stocker out with an injury, the depth at tight end was shaky at best. Even with Stocker, the depth is questionable as Collin Franklin was unable to catch both passes thrown his way.
Kellen Winslow wasn’t traded for to be a blocker and that isn’t his best quality. The ability to routinely beat linebackers in coverage is his strong suit and he has demonstrated that skill over the last two seasons. Unfortunately Freeman tends to lock on to Winslow and it is no secret to opposing defenses that Freeman loves to throw Winslow’s way. The 49ers did their homework and made the Bucs pay as cornerback Carlos Rodgers took a Winslow intended pass back for a 31-yard touchdown in the second quarter that set the tone for the remainder of the game.
Winslow managed five catches for 54 yards, but was the only one of the tight ends to haul in a Freeman pass.
On the surface this unit appeared to play fairly well, especially with everyone in Candlestick Park knowing the Buccaneers were passing for much of the game due to the fact that San Francisco jumped out to an early lead and led 24-3 at halftime.
The offensive line did give up three sacks, with two coming from the right defensive end spot, both against Donald Penn. Both of Penn’s sacks allowed can be somewhat attributed to good coverage by the 49ers and Freeman appeared to hold the ball too long on both. But Penn will be the first one to tell the media tomorrow; they were on him.
The Tampa Bay ground attack managed just 86 yards on the ground, which averaged to just 3.7 yards per carry.
Perhaps no group was more Jekyll and Hyde from last week to this week than the defensive line. After combining for 17 tackles last Monday night and setting the tone on defense, the unit struggled Sunday against the 49ers' physical offensive line. The D-line did combine for 12 stops on Sunday at San Francisco, but very few came at the line of scrimmage, and many were made several yards down the field.
From just one viewing of the game, Michael Bennett appeared to be disruptive at the line of scrimmage and he finished with four tackles. Rookie Da’Quan Bowers is pushing for more playing time and was all over the field on his reps, notching two tackles. For whatever the reason it seemed the Buccaneers lost their aggression when McCoy went down with what appears to be a serious injury.
After collecting six sacks over the last two games, the Bucs defensive linemen were shutout on the stat sheet and recorded no takedowns of Alex Smith, and contributed mightily in allowing the 49ers to rush for 213 yards.
Of all the units, this group was the most disappointing with no one single ‘backer recording a “splash play” other than Mason Foster's fumble recovery inside the Tampa Bay 20-yard line.
Foster would love to have this game back as he told PewterReport.com last week that he was going to have several family members and friends in attendance as his hometown of Seaside, California is just over an hour away. Foster was held in check by the ‘Niners blocking schemes for the most part, and he recorded just three tackles.
The Tampa Bay linebackers got manhandled at the point of attack often or taking bad angles on ball carriers. Even Dekoda Watson was a non-factor in the Bucs' 3-3-5 Redskin package. Watson gave up a 26-yard touchdown to tight end Delaney Walker and had a 24-yard pass interference penalty on tight end Vernon Davis that set up another touchdown.
Geno Hayes, who many expected a breakout season, has been underachieving for the most part in 2011, the last year of his current contract. Hayes finished with just five stops, not nearly enough in a game where the opponent rushed 36 times for 213 yards.
While Smith didn’t exactly carve up the Bucs’ secondary (170 yards passing), he did have his way for the most part, completing passes that were rarely challenged by the Bucs’ defensive backfield.
Safety Sean Jones was one of the few on defense who seemed willing to put a hat on a 49er and finished the game as the Bucs leading tackler with eight stops. But he did get flagged for a personal foul on a helmet-to-helmet hit.
Not only were the defensive backs not challenging the receivers very much, the tackling after the catch was shoddy. It wasn’t just E. J. Biggers; even veteran players Aqib Talib and Ronde Barber were caught with their eyes in the backfield on more than one occasion. Barber gave up two touchdowns to Davis. At least twice Buccaneers cornerbacks – Talib and Elbert Mack – had easy picks in their hands that they failed to secure.
The one unit that has earned an “A” grade through the first four games also struggled in San Francisco.
Michael Koenen, who has been a real weapon in terms of field position, looked shaky, except for his 58-yard punt. Koenen shanked his first punt of the season, which traveled just 36 yards, and also misfired on a couple kickoffs, which is completely out of character. Koenen finished with a 34.7 net average on six punts, with three downed inside the 20.
Preston Parker also had an off game, and despite returning one kickoff for 39 yards, struggled for most of the afternoon, including fair-catching a punt on his own 4-yard line.
The coverage units also underperformed, allowing Ted Ginn two punt returns for more than 20 yards and average over 17 yards per return.