FAB 4. Bucs Studying For Repeat Performance Against 49ers
Tampa Bay only had five wins last year, but some of those wins were quality in nature. The first two that come to mind are … well, the first two victories of the year – a 48-40 upset of the Saints at New Orleans in Week 1 and a 26-21 triumph over the defending Super Bowl champion Eagles.
The Bucs’ 27-9 win in Tampa on November 25 last year was also instrumental for two reasons. First, it snapped a four-game losing skid at that point in the season, and also because it was Tampa Bay’s largest margin of victory in 2018. The Bucs led 13-6 at halftime and outscored the 49ers 14-3 in the second half.
Quarterback Jameis Winston passed for 312 yards and two touchdowns with no turnovers, while wide receiver Mike Evans had 116 yards on six catches. Defensively, the 49ers game was a coming out party for two rookies, as safety Jordan Whitehead had a career-high 10 tackles and held tight end George Kittle to 48 yards on six catches, while nose tackle Vita Vea had three tackles for loss and a sack, which was one of four sacks on the day from Tampa Bay.
“There are some things we can take away from our win last year because some of the players are the same, so we can use some of those notes in this year’s game,” said Bucs defensive lineman Rakeem Nunez-Roches. “As far as doing what we did last year? No. Our defensive is totally different. It’s a totally new scheme, but as far as their personnel goes, that’s where the carryover can happen.”
Bucs tight end O.J. Howard was on injured reserve for that game, but saw tight end Cameron Brate kick off the scoring with an 8-yard touchdown in the first quarter. Howard is looking forward to playing against the 49ers this year, and former teammate Kwon Alexander, who left for a big pay day in San Francisco during free agency.
“Having played them last does help us,” Howard said. “Whenever you can go back and see what you did against them in a win – because some of the players are still there and you can see how guys played and take your game and go off of that.”
With a 49ers front four that features four first-round draft picks in ends Nick Bosa and Dee Ford, as well as tackles DeForest Buckner and Arik Armstead, Howard might have to help stay in and block as many times as he’ll go out for passes against San Francisco’s linebackers and safeties.
“Absolutely,” Howard said. “They’ve got some boys. They have some guys up front that we have to do a great job of blocking. We may have to do some chipping and some different stuff against them.”
Bucs running back Peyton Barber found running against the 49ers defensive front problematic, as he rushed for just 47 yards on 18 carries (2.6 avg.), while his counterpart, 49ers running back Matt Breida, a Tampa-area native, rushed for 106 yards on 14 carries (7.6 avg.). But Barber did score a key 2-yard touchdown in the third quarter to push Tampa Bay’s lead to 20-9 and give the Bucs some breathing room.
“The personnel seems to be a little different, but for the most part it’s the same players,” Barber said. “They have Kwon now but we know him. We’ve played against him. It’ll be interesting to see how things go. I think we’re going to have a pretty good day. I know he’s definitely going to have a chip on his shoulder. He wanted to stay here. I know Kwon very well and he’s going to be gunning for us.”
Part of the reason why the Bucs didn’t push to re-sign Alexander, who signed a four-year, $54 million contract with the 49ers, was because he was coming off a torn ACL and Tampa Bay wasn’t sure if he would be healthy by the start of the 2019 season. Alexander played in just one preseason game, but is slated to start. Expect the Bucs to run right at the undersized linebacker, who may not be 100 percent healthy.
Of course that means running into the teeth of the 49ers defensive line, which is improved due to the addition of Ford, a lightning quick pass rusher.
“I have to tip my hat to them because they have a great front four,” Barber said. “I played with Dee Ford in college. They have a talented bunch and I’m definitely excited and I’m looking forward to the challenge.”
The Bucs have had all offseason to prepare for the 49ers, and with a lot of the personnel remaining the same for both teams, they’ve had some helpful notes to study from last year’s big win in Tampa.