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OPPONENT: San Francisco 49ers

WHERE: Monster Park in San Francisco, CA.

WHERE THE 49ERS STAND: The 49ers are 4-10 and in third place in the NFC West division.

Mike Nolan




OVERALL: 19th (320 ypg)
RUSHING: 10th (121 ypg)
PASSING: 19th (199 ypg)

OVERALL: 3rd (278 ypg)
RUSHING: 14th (103 ypg)
PASSING: 2nd (174 ypg)

OVERALL: 32nd (242 ypg)
RUSHING: 27th (90 ypg)
PASSING: 32nd (152 ypg)

OVERALL: 23rd (339 ypg)
RUSHING: 23rd (119 ypg)
PASSING: 21st (220 ypg)

… San Francisco is just 2-5 at home this season?


San Francisco's offense hasn't been the same since offensive coordinator Norv Turner left the team in the offseason to become the head coach in San Diego.

In fact, the 49ers have the worst offense in the NFL, averaging just 242 yards per game this season.

One of the reasons why the 49ers have struggled offensively is because of poor quarterback play. Former first-round draft pick Alex Smith has been sidelined for most of the season due to injury and backup QB and former Bucs signal caller Trent Dilfer likely will miss the rest of the season with a concussion.

Their absences haven't exactly been a bad thing, though. San Francisco sixth-year QB Shaun Hill has performed well in a limited amount of action, completing 43-of-55 of his passes for 378 yards and tossing two touchdowns and no interceptions. To put Hill's 78.2 completion percentage in perspective, San Francisco's overall quarterback completion percentage this season is just 53.5.

The 6-foot-3, 226-pound Hill also has some mobility, evidenced by his six rushes for 15 yards and one touchdown.

Tampa Bay's defense should benefit from having some game film to study on Hill. The Buccaneers will attempt to put pressure on him early and often in order to create some turnovers. That's something San Francisco has made a habit of doing this year. The 49ers currently rank 31st in the NFL with a minus-13 turnover ratio.

Running Backs
Tampa Bay defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin has the ability to disguise coverages and confuse younger quarterbacks, and that's exactly what he will attempt to do vs. Hill.

That said, expect the 49ers to give the Bucs a heavy dose of running back Frank Gore in this contest.

Gore (5-9, 223) rushed for nearly 1,700 yards last season, but he hasn't had that type of success this year. Gore has had a productive season, though, rushing 216 times for 919 yards (4.3 avg.) and five touchdowns.

In addition to being a strong runner, Gore also has solid hands out of the backfield. He currently is tied for the team lead in receptions with 47 for 372 yards. Look for Hill to attempt to get the ball to Gore on screen and swing passes.

It will be critical for Tampa Bay's defense to limit Gore's production on first and second down in order to put Hill and the San Francisco offense in long down-and-distance situations on third down.

The 49ers are converting just 31.8 percent of their third down tries this year.

Wide Receivers
The wide receiver position has been a major weakness for the 49ers this season.

This unit is led by WR Arnaz Battle, who is tied for the team lead in receptions with 47 for 581 yards and five touchdowns. Battle (6-1, 213) likely will be matched up with Bucs cornerback Phillip Buchanon, who shouldn't have much of a problem covering the possession-type of receiver in this contest.

Bucs CB Ronde Barber likely will go up against 49ers WR Darrell Jackson, who landed in San Francisco during the offseason via a trade with Seattle. Jackson clearly has not been the same player he was with the Seahawks, catching just 41 passes for 442 yards and one touchdown in 2007.

San Francisco has had trouble featuring three-receiver sets on a consistent basis due to pass protection issues. However, when they do put a third receiver on the field that player likely will be Ashley Lelie, who has caught just 10 passes for 115 yards. Bucs CB Brian Kelly shouldn't have any issues covering Lelie.

In addition to dumping the ball off to Gore, look for Hill to throw to tight end Vernon Davis quite often in this game. Davis (6-3, 253) is an exceptional athlete and has the speed to stretch the field. He currently is tied for the team lead in receptions with 47 for 459 yards and three touchdowns.

Tampa Bay linebackers Derrick Brooks and Cato June, and strong safety Jermaine Phillips, who leads the Bucs in interceptions with four, will be charged with the difficult task of covering Davis, a former first-round draft pick.

Offensive Line
San Francisco's offensive line is one of the biggest units Tampa Bay's defensive line will face this season. The average weight of the 49ers' starting offensive linemen is 325 pounds, which is one of the main reasons why this unit has had success opening up holes in the running game for Gore.

However, this unit isn't overly athletic and has struggled in pass protection. In fact, the 49ers rank 31st in the NFL in sacks allowed with 48 through 14 regular season games.

San Francisco left tackle Adam Snyder (6-6, 326) will be matched up with Tampa Bay right defensive end Greg White throughout most of this game. White has notched a team-high 8.5 sacks and seven forced fumbles this season. He will be attacking the blind side of Hill.

This unit is actually led by All-Pro left guard Larry Allen, who still is effective as a run blocker in his 14th season in the NFL, but has lost a step or two in pass protection. Allen (6-3, 325) and center Eric Heitmann (6-3, 318) likely will double team Bucs nose tackle Chris Hovan quite a bit on Sunday. They appear to have a sizeable advantage over Hovan (6-2, 296), but he's been effective in handling double teams and freeing up under tackle Jovan Haye.

Haye, who has five sacks this season, should receive some favorable one-on-one matchups with 49ers right guard David Baas (6.4, 331).

Although there's a chance Greg Spires (calf) could return for this contest, Bucs rookie left end Gaines Adams likely will receive the majority of the snaps vs. 49ers right tackle Kwame Harris. The 6-foot-7, 322-pound Harris will have his work cut out for him as Adams has notched six sacks this season and has been improving as the season move on. The Bucs will also use veteran DE Kevin Carter to play in the rotation at left end.

Defensive Line
San Francisco defensive coordinator Greg Manusky runs a 3-4 scheme that is designed to confuse opposing offenses. However, two of Tampa Bay's veterans, quarterback Jeff Garcia and center John Wade, have the savvy to recognize fronts and blitzes in their pre-snap reads and should be able to execute both run and pass plays vs. the 49ers.

San Francisco's three-man front features 14th-year veteran Bryant Young, who normally plays left end for the 49ers, but can move to under tackle when the defense opts to play a 4-3 alignment. Bryant is no longer in his prime, but he still leads the team in sacks with 6.5. Bucs second-year right tackle Jeremy Trueblood will find himself going up against Young more often than not.

49ers nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin will use his 6-foot-1, 334-pound frame to tie up Bucs guards Davin Joseph and rookie Arron Sears, and Wade. Tampa Bay's offensive line must be assignment sound in order to account for San Francisco's blitzing linebackers.

Bucs left tackle Donald Penn will be matched up with 49ers DE Marques Douglas, who has recorded three sacks this season.

San Francisco's defense has had difficulty getting after the quarterback. It currently ranks 25th in that category with just 26 sacks through 14 games.

One of the main reasons why the 49ers defense has struggled is because it has been playing without second-year DE/LB Manny Lawson, who is on injured reserve.

This unit is currently led by rookie middle linebacker Patrick Willis. The first-round draft pick leads the 49ers defense in tackles and has notched one sack, one forced fumble and three passes defensed. His impressive rookie campaign has already earned him a trip to the Pro Bowl and could earn him NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year honors.

Inside linebacker Derek Smith ranks fourth on the team in tackles, but he hasn't been much of a playmaker this year. He has yet to record an interception or a sack.

49ers outside linebackers Parys Haralson and Tully Banta-Cain are used to blitz quite often. They each have recorded 2.5 sacks. However, both players have also struggled against the run, where San Francisco is surrendering 119 yards per game this season.

Although San Francisco's secondary is suspect in several areas, Tampa Bay likely will come out and attempt to establish the ground attack early with Earnest Graham, who is averaging 4.1 yards per carry, has scored 10 touchdowns and needs just 123 rushing yards to eclipse the 1,000-yard rushing mark for the season.

The Bucs likely will also play RB Michael Pittman quite a bit, especially in passing situations. Pittman excels as a blocker and pass-catcher and will need to help keep Garcia on his feet in this game.

The 49ers were one of the biggest spenders in free agency during the 2007 offseason, inking the likes of cornerback Nate Clements and strong safety Michael Lewis to multi-year, multi-million dollar deals. Those moves haven't necessarily paid off for the 49ers defense, which ranks 23rd overall and 21st against the pass.

Clements still is considered one of the league's best cover corners. He has had to spend a lot of time defending the run due to problems up front. Clements currently ranks third on the team in tackles, but he also leads the team with 11 passes defensed and has notched three interceptions and three forced fumbles. Clements will be charged with the difficult task of covering Bucs speedy wide receiver Joey Galloway, who needs just 15 yards to eclipse the 1,000-yard receiving mark for the third straight year.

San Francisco would like to leave Lewis in the defensive backfield to help Clements cover Galloway, but like Clements, Lewis has had to spend a lot of time near the line of scrimmage defending the run. Lewis ranks second on the team in tackles and has notched 1.5 sacks, one forced fumble and two interceptions.

Bucs WR Ike Hilliard should have a productive game vs. 49ers CB Walt Harris. While he has struggled in coverage at times, Harris has notched three interceptions, which means Garcia will have to be careful not to force the ball into bad spots against his former team. San Francisco free safety Mark Roman hasn't proven to be much of a playmaker, which could prompt Garcia to attack his area of the field in the passing game with the receivers or even tight end Alex Smith.

Tampa Bay has done a good job of taking care of the football on offense. Garcia has thrown just four interceptions this season, and the Bucs rank fourth-ranked in the NFL with a plus-14 turnover ratio. Garcia will be out to prove the 49ers made a mistake when they released him in 2003, but he will need to take care of the football for Tampa Bay to escape San Francisco with a rare win. The Bucs are just 1-10 all-time on the road vs. the 49ers.

Special Teams
Joe Nedney is one of the league's most accurate kickers. He has made 17-of-19 (89.5 percent) of his field goal attempts this season, and his only two misses were from over 50 yards out. Nedney will be kicking to Bucs wide receiver Micheal Spurlock, who became the first player in franchise history to return a kickoff for a touchdown last week vs. Atlanta.

San Francisco punter Andy Lee is averaging an impressive 48.3 yards per punt and has pinned 35 of his 87 attempts inside the 20-yard line. The Bucs likely will use wide receiver Ike Hilliard to return punts on Sunday.

Bucs punter Josh Bidwell is also having an impressive season, especially when it comes to pinning opponents inside the 20-yard line. He will be punting to wide receiver Michael Lewis (not related to safety Michael Lewis), who is averaging just 7.8 yards per attempt.

Tampa Bay kicker Matt Bryant will be kicking off to San Francisco's Maurice Hicks, who is averaging 24.3 yards per return this season. The Bucs have one of the league's best kickoff coverage units and shouldn't have a problem containing Hicks.

FLYNN'S FORECAST: Buccaneers 23 49ers 10

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