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BUCS’ OPPONENT: San Francisco 49ers

WHERE: Raymond James Stadium

SPREAD: Bucs by 8

WHERE THE 49ERS STAND: The 49ers are 1-8 and in last place in the NFC West Division.

49ERS HEAD COACH:Dennis Erickson




OVERALL: 24th (294.8 ypg)
RUSHING: 28th (88.4 ypg)
PASSING: 18th (206.3 ypg)

OVERALL: 6th (294.1 ypg)
RUSHING: 24th (125.9 ypg)
PASSING: 3rd (168.2 ypg)

OVERALL: 18th (321.2 ypg)
RUSHING: 29th (86.8 ypg)
PASSING: 11th (234.4 ypg)

OVERALL: 19th (335.8 ypg)
RUSHING: 16th (T) (116.8 ypg)
PASSING: 17th (T) (219.3 ypg)

…San Francisco ranks last in the NFL in turnover ratio (minus-15)?

This unit is feeling the loss of quarterback Jeff Garcia, wide receiver Terrell Owens and running back Garrison Hearst, all of whom signed with new teams during the offseason.

Tim Rattay replaced Garcia and has had mixed results this season. He’s completing 63.8 percent of his passes and has thrown for 1,720 yards and 10 touchdowns. Those numbers don’t appear to be too bad, but Rattay has made some costly mistakes with the football as well, evidenced by his eight interceptions through nine games. While his completion percentage would suggest he’s fairly accurate, Rattay tends to miss open receivers, especially when he’s pressured. The 49ers are converting just 36.8 percent of their third downs this season. That, along with San Francisco’s 1-8 start, led to Rattay being benched in favor of Ken Dorsey a few weeks ago. But the former Miami Hurricane didn’t fare well at all in his debut against the Chicago Bears, who picked him off four times. Needless to say, it didn’t take Rattay long to get his starting job back.

Rattay could be more productive if he had a potent ground attack to work with. San Francisco tailback Kevan Barlow, who until this season had always been a part of a running-back-by-committee approach, is driving solo but appears to be somewhat ineffective at the wheel. Barlow has carried the ball 156 times for 531 yards (3.4 avg.). He’s also fumbled twice this season. Barlow has, however, made the best of San Francisco’s trips to the red zone by scoring six times. He’s added 22 catches for 166 yards. Although Barlow is struggling, Tampa Bay must consider him a threat, especially after what he and the 49ers did to the Bucs last season (212 yards rushing, 75 of which were produced by Barlow). Fullback Fred Beasley, who made the Pro Bowl last season, has also been disappointing, but he’s still capable of being a solid lead blocker and receiving threat out of the backfield. With defensive tackle Anthony McFarland out, look for the 49ers to pound the 230-pound Barlow in the trenches early and often.

San Francisco’s offensive line is partially to blame for the team’s running woes. This unit has been inconsistent in that area as well as pass protection, where the 49ers have allowed 29 sacks, which ranks 28th in the NFL.

A plethora of miscues on the offensive side of the ball have resulted in San Francisco ranking dead last in turnover ratio with a minus-15 mark. The Bucs will have to turn those turnovers into points since the 49ers offense is capable of producing a strong passing game.

Rattay’s go-to guy is tight end Eric Johnson, who has hauled in a team-leading 57 passes for 618 yards and two touchdowns. Tampa Bay’s defense has struggled against tight ends over the past two weeks and facing Johnson without safeties Jermaine Phillips (forearm – out) and Dwight Smith (knee – probable) won’t bode well for the Bucs. It does, however, look like Smith will play. Strongside linebacker Ian Gold must do a better job covering Johnson than he has Kansas City TE Tony Gonzalez and Atlanta TE Alge Crumpler.

San Francisco had success running the ball against Tampa Bay last season because of its max protect (two tight ends) sets, which the 49ers featured often. While they may attempt to do that again on Sunday, don’t be surprised if the 49ers try to challenge Bucs nickel cornerback Mario Edwards by going with some three-receiver sets. This would force CB Ronde Barber into the slot to cover Curtis Conway (29 receptions for 318 yards and two touchdowns) and Edwards out onto an island to cover either Cedrick Wilson (31 catches for 426 yards and one score) or Brandon Lloyd, who leads the team in touchdowns with four and has hauled in 30 passes for 385 yards. Second-year CB Torrie Cox, who saw some playing time in place of Edwards last Sunday, could see action against the 49ers, especially if Edwards struggles early.

San Francisco’s defense is allowing opposing offenses to produce 335 yards per game this season. Not only are teams moving the ball on the 49ers’ defense, which is without key contributors like cornerback Mike Rumph, defensive end Brandon Whiting and linebacker Julian Peterson (all on injured reserve), they’re scoring, too. In fact, San Francisco currently ranks 32nd in points allowed (27.7 points per game). This should bode well for the Bucs, who have had their own problems as they relate to the scoreboard, evidenced by their No. 27 ranking in points scored (17.4 points per game).

Although they lost Peterson for the year, the 49ers still have a talented group of linebackers, which includes Jamie Winborn, Derek Smith and Jeff Ulbrich. Because they lost Whiting, 49ers defensive coordinator Willy Robinson has elected to use a 3-4 scheme at times, which allows the 49ers to better utilize their talented group of LBs. Tampa Bay’s offensive line, which gave up a whopping seven sacks against Atlanta last Sunday, must do a better job of protecting QB Brian Griese. Most of pressure Griese gets from the 49ers will likely come from right end Andre Carter and Winborn, who has notched a team-leading 4.5 sacks this season.

Bucs head coach Jon Gruden could decide to attack the 49ers through the air early and often Sunday. Only one member of San Francisco’s secondary — free safety Ronnie Heard — has recorded an interception this season, and the 49ers are giving up 219 yards through the air per game. They’re also allowing teams to convert 37.2 percent of their third down tries. Still, the Bucs, who have an offense that thrives off play-action passing, must establish some sort of ground attack and use caution when throwing into the secondary, where strong safety Tony Parrish, who recorded eight picks last season, awaits.

San Francisco kicker Todd Peterson has drilled 13-of-15 (86.7 percent) field goal attempts. Punter Andy Lee is averaging 41 yards per punt and has pinned 14 of his 50 attempts inside the 20-yard line.

Jamal Robertson handles kickoffs for the 49ers and is averaging 22.4 yards per return. His longest this season was a 37-yarder. Receiver Arnaz Battle returns punts for the 49ers and is averaging 9.6 yards per return. He has playmaking ability, evidenced by his 76-yard return for a touchdown earlier this season.

One might ask how the Tampa Bay Buccaneers can possibly lose this contest. The 49ers are, after all, 1-8 on the season and 1-11 over the past year and a half on the road. But in the NFL, anything can happen, and the 3-6 Bucs are only two wins better than the 49ers at this point.

For the Bucs to win this contest, they must be successful in doing two things — keeping the 49ers’ linebackers away from QB Brian Griese and winning the turnover battle. San Francisco has killed itself with turnovers this season and will likely have some on Sunday. Tampa Bay must capitalize on those opportunities by turning those turnovers into points.

San Francisco is a better team than what its record suggests, but with Tampa Bay is coming off an embarrassing loss to Atlanta and playing in front of its home crowd Sunday, the Bucs should win this game, and they’ll need to in order to have any hope of making the playoffs this season.

FLYNN’S PICK: Buccaneers 27 49ers 13
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