The Buccaneers (4-9) battle the San Francisco 49ers (9-4) and are trying to upset one of the best teams in the NFL in Tampa Bay’s home finale. What are the six things PewterReport.com publisher Scott Reynolds is looking for in Tampa Bay’s upcoming game?
1. MATCH THE 49ERS’ LEVEL OF PHYSICALNESS The one thing that scares Tampa Bay head coach Greg Schiano is San Francisco coming into Raymond James Stadium and running the ball down the throat of the Buccaneers with the physical pounding of running back Frank Gore. There will be a lot of pressure on middle linebacker Mason Foster to shed blocks and be an enforcer in the run game. Defensive linemen Gerald McCoy and Adrian Clayborn will have to help set the tempo upfront and play like men. In the secondary, both safeties, Mark Barron and former 49ers star Dashon Goldson, must be enforcers across the middle and break up passes with big hits.
Offensively, the Bucs offensive line will have to be stout against some very good, physical defenders, such as defensive end Justin Smith and linebackers Aldon Smith, Patrick Willis and Navarro Bowman. The key will be winning first down with Bobby Rainey and the ground game and avoiding third-and-long situations to help rookie quarterback Mike Glennon convert easier third downs.
The 49ers are a big, physical team in all three phases of the game and the Bucs will have to rise to the occasion. The Buccaneers lost the line of scrimmage against the Panthers twice this season and weren’t physical enough along either line to have a chance of beating Carolina. If the Bucs wimp out against an elite team like the 49ers they won’t have any chance of winning.
2. GLENNON MUST HAVE A CAREER GAME ON SUNDAYBucs rookie quarterback Mike Glennon is coming off two of his worst games in his brief, 10-game NFL career. Two weeks ago against Carolina, Glennon completed 14-of-21 passes (66.7 percent) for 180 yards, but threw an interception and had a costly fumble. More importantly, Glennon didn’t throw a touchdown pass for the first time in his pro career. Last week against Buffalo, Glennon completed a career-low nine-of-25 passes (36 percent) for a paltry 90 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions.
For the Bucs to have an opportunity to pull the upset, Glennon will need to get back to his turnover-free ways, while throwing at least a pair of scoring strikes. The rookie will have to elevate his game and get into a zone where he is completing over 60 percent of his passes and making plays, while avoiding turnovers. Glennon will need to transform from being a game-manager to a killer QB in order for the Bucs to get a signature win on Sunday.
3. WIN THE TIME OF POSSESSIONThe Buccaneers need to play keep away from the 49ers and win the time of possession in a game that will likely be a low-scoring affair. On offense, that means establishing a chain-moving ground game featuring a healthy dose of Bobby Rainey. The 49ers haven’t allowed a 100-yard rusher all season, and Rainey might have to be the first one if the Bucs hope to win on Sunday. Quarterback Mike Glennon will have to be accurate with his passes on third down to keep drives alive.
Defensively, the Bucs defense needs to shorten the 49ers drives by forcing punts after three-and-outs or by taking the ball away, which is something Tampa Bay did five times in last Sunday’s 27-6 victory over Buffalo. If the Bucs can gain a six-minute time of advantage over the 49ers it will mean that Tampa Bay was successful in slowing down running back Frank Gore and establishing its own running game with Rainey.
4. SCORE TOUCHDOWNS, NOT FIELD GOALSTampa Bay needs to win a low-scoring game against San Francisco due to the fact that points will likely be at a premium on Sunday. The 49ers have only scored more than 20 points twice in its last five games, and won both games. However, the 49ers defense has only allowed more than 20 points just once in the last 10 games, and is 8-2 in that span. In fact, San Francisco’s defense is allowing an average of just 13.2 points per game over the last six games.
When the Buccaneers have the chance to put touchdowns on the board they need to do so as field goals won’t beat the 49ers. That means wide receiver Vincent Jackson can’t get tackled short of the end zone on deep passes. That means that Mike Glennon has to take shots into the end zone with his passes when the Bucs are in the red zone. That means that Bucs defenders must score on interceptions or fumble returns, and Eric Page needs to score if he can break off a long punt or kick return.
The Bucs will likely only have a few opportunities to score on Sunday and need to cash in with seven points rather than three. That may mean the Bucs coaching staff has to take some calculated risks and has to go for it on fourth down to keep the chains moving towards the end zone in the red zone instead of settling for field goals.
5. HOLD KAEPERNICK TO LESS THAN 30 YARDS RUSHINGSan Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick is averaging 31.1 yards per game on the ground this year and has rushed for three touchdowns while picking up 407 yards on the ground. Tampa Bay’s defense has struggled to contain running quarterbacks this year, evidenced by Carolina’s Cam Newton rushing for 118 yards and two touchdowns on 16 carries this season. If the Bucs can successfully keep Kaepernick in the pocket and force him to beat them with his arm Tampa Bay has a chance to win.
Kaepernick’s passing numbers aren’t much better than those of Tampa Bay rookie quarterback Mike Glennon. Kaepernick has completed 57.2 percent of his passes for 2,487 yards with 16 touchdowns and eight interceptions, while Glennon has completed 60.6 percent of his passes for 2,052 yards with 15 touchdowns and seven interceptions – despite starting three less games in 2013. Where Kaepernick becomes dangerous is keeping drives alive by scrambling for first downs on third
6. BUCS PASS DEFENSE MUST RISE TO THE OCCASION Tampa Bay’s defense leads the league in interceptions with 21 after recording four last week against Buffalo. The secondary has accounted for 12 of those interceptions and needs to tightly cover Anquan Boldin and Michael Crabtree. Neither receiver has blazing speed, but both are crafty and know how to separate and create space to catch the ball.
Tampa Bay’s linebackers have accounted for nine interceptions this season with Lavonte David leading the team with five. The linebackers will need to play well, especially against Pro Bowl tight end Vernon Davis, who has 44 receptions for 726 yards and 11 touchdowns.
The good news for the Bucs defense is that Kaepernick has thrown at least one interception in each of San Francisco’s four losses this season, and six of his eight picks this year have come in those four defeats. The key to beating San Francisco is for the Bucs to step in front of the 49ers receivers and tight ends, intercept Kaepernick and live up to their billing as one of the league’s most dangerous pass defenses.
Scott Reynolds is in his 23rd year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds enjoys giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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