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OPPONENT: San Francisco 49ers
WHERE: Monster Park
WHERE THE 49ERS STAND: The 49ers are 1-5 and in last place in the NFC West division.
49ERS HEAD COACH: Mike Nolan
49ERS OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Mike McCarthy
49ERS DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Billy Davis
49ERS SPECIAL TEAMS COACH: Larry Mac Duff
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS OFFENSE: OVERALL: 19th (322.7 ypg) RUSHING: 5th (138.5 ypg) PASSING: 23rd (184.2 ypg)
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS DEFENSE: OVERALL: 1st (233.3 ypg) RUSHING: 1st (62.0 ypg) PASSING: 7th (173.3 ypg)
SAN FRANCISCO OFFENSE: OVERALL: 31st (214.7 ypg) RUSHING: 23rd (90.0 ypg) PASSING: 29th (124.7 ypg)
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS DEFENSE: OVERALL: 32nd (452.7 ypg) RUSHING: 24th (124.2 ypg) PASSING: 32nd (328.5 ypg)
DID YOU KNOW… …Tampa Bay’s only win in San Francisco came back in 1980 when the Bucs downed the 49ers 24-23?
SCOUTING THE 49ERS
Quarterbacks San Francisco rookie QB Alex Smith, who has struggled thus far (46 percent completion, 0 TDs and five INTs) will miss Sunday’s game with a knee injury, which means Tampa Bay’s defense will face backup QB Ken Dorsey.
The 6-foot-4, 218-pound Dorsey has good size, but his arm strength and accuracy are suspect. He’s played in eight career games and has seven starts under his belt. All of Dorsey’s playing time came back in 2003, when he completed 54.4 percent of his passes for 1,231 yards and tossed six touchdowns and nine interceptions.
No matter who their quarterback is, the 49ers aren’t going to let him drop back and throw the ball much since their offensive line has surrendered 22 sacks through six regular season games. Asking Dorsey to win this game would be asking for trouble vs. Tampa Bay’s top-ranked defense.
Running Backs Expect San Francisco to give Tampa Bay a heavy dose of the running game, which is led by Kevan Barlow and rookie Frank Gore.
Barlow struggled last season and isn’t off to a great start in 2005. He’s rushed 78 times for 319 yards (4.1 avg.) and two touchdowns through six games. The 49ers have slowly worked Gore into the rotation, and he’s produced, rushing for 198 yards on 34 carries (5.8 avg.) and one touchdown.
Both Barlow and Gore will be Dorsey’s favorite targets in the passing game. Barlow has hauled in 15 passes for 115 yards and Gore has caught six passes for 28 yards.
San Francisco’s ground game has produced an average of 90 yards per game, which has the 49ers ranked 23rd in that category. Fullback Fred Beasley is a solid lead blocker and capable receiver out of the backfield, but he hasn’t done enough to open up running lanes for Barlow and Gore this season.
The 49ers’ inconsistent running game is one of the main reasons why Smith has struggled in the passing game. In fact, San Francisco is converting just 29 percent of its third down tries, which has put the defense on the field more often than the 49ers would like.
When Barlow and Gore do touch the ball, which should be quite often, Tampa Bay’s defenders must make a habit of trying to strip the ball. Barlow and Gore have fumbled a total of three times this season.
Wide Receivers San Francisco’s passing game has been depleted by injuries. Wide receiver Rashaun Woods and tight end Eric Johnson, who hauled in a team-high 82 passes for 825 yards and two touchdowns last season, are on injured reserve.
To make matters worse, the 49ers could be without starting WR Arnaz Battle, who is questionable with a knee injury. He’s caught 15 passes for 171 yards and two touchdowns this season.
Should Battle not be able to play vs. the Bucs, 12th-year WR Johnnie Morton will likely take his place. Morton has caught 12 passes for 131 yards this season. Battle or Morton will line up against Tampa Bay cornerback Ronde Barber, who has notched 41 tackles, one sack, one interception and seven passes defensed through six games.
San Francisco WR Brandon Lloyd (back/hip injury) is somewhat healthy and will start for the 49ers. He’s caught a team-leading 19 passes for 369 yards (19.4 avg.) and three touchdowns this season. While throwing to Lloyd seems like a smart thing to do, it could be dangerous. Tampa Bay CB Brian Kelly will be charged with the difficult task of covering Lloyd, but he’s notched a team-leading three interceptions and seven passes defensed this season.
The 49ers probably won’t run a lot of three-receiver sets vs. the Bucs. Instead, expect them to use two-tight end sets. San Francisco TE Billy Bajema is not the receiving threat that Johnson was, but he is a better run blocker. Third-year TE Trent Smith will also stick around the line of scrimmage to help block.
Offensive Line San Francisco added former Carolina Panthers offensive lineman Jonas Jennings during the offseason in hopes of improving its offensive line play, but that hasn’t happened yet.
Jennings, who is San Francisco’s starting left tackle, is doubtful for Sunday’s game with a shoulder injury. That’s good news for Tampa Bay defensive end Simeon Rice, who has notched 22 tackles and a team-leading five sacks this season. Should Jennings not be able to play, T Anthony Clement, an eighth-year veteran, will start in his place.
San Francisco’s starting center, Jeremy Newberry, is also banged up. The former Pro Bowler is listed on the injury report as probable with a knee injury. However, Newberry is expected to start vs. the Bucs, who have received good penetration and gap control from nose tackle Chris Hovan. Newberry and 49ers left guard Justin Smiley will likely double team Hovan on Sunday.
Bucs under tackle Anthony McFarland has notched just nine tackles and one sack this season. While he hasn’t been a potent pass rusher, McFarland has played well vs. the run. He’ll be lined up against 49ers RG Eric Heitmann, who has struggled in pass protection.
Tampa Bay LE Greg Spires will have his work cut out for him vs. San Francisco RT Kwame Harris, who was moved from left to right tackle during the offseason. Harris has arguably been the 49ers’ most consistent offensive lineman this season, and he may have a tight end helping him block Spires on the perimeter, which could open things up in the running game.
If Tampa Bay can contain Barlow and Gore, it will stand a great chance of escaping San Francisco with a victory.
Defensive Line New San Francisco head coach Mike Nolan hired Billy Davis to head up the 49ers defense, which switched from a 4-3 to a 3-4 scheme during the offseason. This unit is obviously still adapting to the new scheme, evidenced by the fact that San Francisco ranks dead last in total defense and is surrendering 452.7 yards and nearly 36 points per game this season.
However, some players have adjusted well to the 3-4 defense. Bryant Young, who spent the first 11 years of his career playing defensive tackle, has notched a team-leading six sacks from the left end spot. He will be rushing Bucs QB Chris Simms’ blindside, and RT Kenyatta Walker will attempt to protect it.
Right end Marques Douglas has struggled vs. the run and has notched just one sack. The Bucs will likely try to attack the perimeter vs. the 49ers defense, especially on the left side, where 330-pound LT Anthony Davis appears to have a favorable matchup vs. the 280-pound Douglas.
San Francisco nose tackle Anthony Adams will line up over Bucs center John Wade, who has played well this season but must now concern himself with adjusting to a new quarterback in Simms. Adams has notched 12 tackles and one sack this season.
Tampa Bay will likely pull guards Sean Mahan and rookie Dan Buenning in an effort to establish the running game, which could be without rookie RB Cadillac Williams. He is questionable for Sunday’s game with a foot/hamstring injury.
If Williams can’t go, backup RB Michael Pittman, who has rushed 41 times for 252 yards (6.1 avg.) and a touchdown, will start in his place. Not only will he have to concern himself with carrying the ball, Pittman will likely be counted on to pick up linebacker blitzes and catch some passes on passing downs.
Linebackers Switching to a 3-4 defense made a lot of sense since the 49ers have a group of playmaking linebackers. However, a knee injury will keep RILB Saleem Rasheed out vs. Tampa Bay. Brandon Moore will probably start in Rasheed’s place. He has notched 16 tackles and two sacks this season.
Inside linebacker Jeff Ulbrich definitely won’t play vs. Tampa Bay. He, like five other 49er players, is on injured reserve.
Although he was sidelined with an injury, 49ers LOLB Julian Peterson will play vs. Tampa Bay. That’s bad news for the Bucs, who must account for Peterson. He’s recorded 21 tackles, 2.5 sacks and two passes defensed this season. Injuries have hindered his efforts over the past two seasons, but when healthy, Peterson is one of the league’s best blitzing linebackers and is just as effective in pass coverage.
The 49ers don’t blitz him as much, but LILB Derek Smith will be a handful for Mahan in the running game. Smith has recorded 37 tackles (four for a loss), and three passes defensed.
San Francisco ROLB Andre Carter is a player Tampa Bay must account for on passing downs. He has recorded 22.5 sacks since 2002, including 1.5 quarterback takedowns this season.
With Simms making just the third start of his three-year career, San Francisco will throw a variety of blitz packages at him. That’s why Tampa Bay will likely come out running the football. When he does drop back to pass, Simms, who is mobile, has got to be quick to deliver the football. Not only can they not afford to have turnovers, the Bucs certainly can’t afford to lose Simms to injury.
Secondary San Francisco will blitz the quarterback quite often, but Simms can make the 49ers pay for it since blitzing linebackers leaves fewer defenders in the intermediate part of the field.
The 49ers have the 32nd-ranked pass defense in the NFL. They’re allowing opposing offenses to throw for an average of 328.5 yards per game, which will bode well for Simms if he’s given the time needed to pass to open receivers.
Like so many other positions, San Francisco’s secondary is extremely banged up. The 49ers will play the Bucs without free safety Mike Rumph and CB Ahmed Plummer, both of whom are out with injuries.
With Plummer not playing, second-year CB Bruce Thorton will start and line up against Bucs WR Michael Clayton. Although he has caught just 19 passes for 223 yards and no touchdowns this season, Clayton could have a breakout game with Simms as the signal caller and Thorton as the cover man.
If San Francisco’s front seven can contain Tampa Bay’s ground attack, 49ers FS Mike Adams will be able to help Thorton defend Clayton. Adams has notched 28 tackles, one sack and four passes defensed this season.
Bucs WR Joey Galloway was on fire heading into the bye week. He has caught a team-leading 31 passes for 499 yards and four touchdowns through six games. He’ll line up vs. Shawntae Spencer, a second-year cornerback who has recorded 32 tackles and five passes defensed.
Galloway should be able to get open quite often vs. Spencer, which is why the 49ers will ask strong safety Tony Parrish to help cover him. Parrish is a solid defender and also plays well vs. the run. He’s recorded 35 tackles, four passes defensed and a team-leading two interceptions, one of which he returned for a touchdown, this season.
Tampa Bay will likely feature plenty of two-tight end sets, which will help establish the running game vs. San Francisco’s 3-4 defensive scheme. Tight ends Anthony Becht and Alex Smith must win their battles in the trenches if the Bucs are going to be able to move the chains. Although the 49ers linebackers are solid in pass coverage, Bucs head coach Jon Gruden may elect to have Smith stretch the field as a receiver.
Third downs and turnovers will be key in this game. San Francisco’s defense is allowing opposing offenses to convert a whopping 48.2 percent of those tries while Tampa Bay’s offense is converting 42.6 percent of its third down attempts.
The Bucs have a plus-6 turnover ratio heading into their game vs. the 49ers, who have a minus-8 turnover ratio. If Simms can avoid making big mistakes in the passing game, even a conservative game plan on offense should be enough for Tampa Bay to leave San Francisco with a win on Sunday.
Special Teams Special teams has probably been San Francisco’s strongest unit this season. In fact, the 49ers kickoff and punt coverage units are among the NFL’s best.
Tampa Bay, however, has one of the league’s worst kickoff return games. Torrie Cox is averaging just 17.3 yards per attempt. Mark Jones has been a reliable punt returner for the Bucs. He’s averaging 8.5 yards per try this season.
San Francisco kicker Joe Nedney has made 4-of-4 field goals this season. Tampa Bay K Matt Bryant has also played well, making 10-of-11 field goals through six games.
Punter Andy Lee has got a lot of work in since the 49ers offense has struggled to move the chains. He’s averaging 42.8 yards per attempt and has pinned seven of his 36 punts inside the opponents’ 20-yard line.
The 49ers have an explosive punt returner in WR Otis Amey, who is averaging 16.5 yards per attempt and has returned one punt 75 yards for a touchdown this season. However, Amey may not play vs. the Bucs due to a sprained ankle that has him listed as doubtful on the injury report.
San Francisco kickoff returner Maurice Hicks is averaging 20.2 yards per attempt and could field punts for the 49ers should Amey not play.
FLYNN’S FORECAST: Buccaneers 23 49ers 6
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