San Francisco 49ers vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 5 Keys for a Niners Victory
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, likewise, came out victorious against the Indianapolis Colts on Monday Night Football, albeit in very ugly manner, and will visit Candlestick Park with a matching 3-1 record.
The 49ers are hoping to continue the type of performance they strung together in the second half of the Philadelphia game, this time, against a rival whose weaknesses lend themselves favorably to a 49ers team on the verge of solidifying its status as an opponent to be feared.
Here's a look at five factors that will improve the probability of a 49ers victory over the sneaky Bucs.
The efficiency and success of the 49ers offense noticeably increased last week as soon as Frank Gore's motor warmed up. Jim Harbaugh must continue sending his power running back down opponent's throats.
While the current state of the league emphasizes airing it out, the 49ers must remain committed to their feature power back in order to make up for any deficiencies through the air should protection on Alex Smith prove inefficient.
Not only would a serious dose of Frank Gore physically and psychologically deplete the Tampa Bay defensive spirit, it will also continually keep the chains moving, prevent Tampa's offense from taking the field and open up the passing game.
Kendall Hunter must capitalize on his opportunities when Frank Gore takes a breather. The combination of Hunter's speed, and Gores power should make its impact felt on a Tampa Bay defense experiencing a short week of rest and a cross-country trip.
Look for San Francisco's 22nd ranked rushing unit to improve its ground average as Gore's physical health and the initial push from a highly critiqued offensive line improves.
Stop LeGarrette Blount
The 49ers fourth ranked rush defense will be put to the test against the power running of LeGarrette Blount. Let's face it, this man is a beast; don't let the fuchsia colored gloves fool you—he is fast, powerful and tough to bring down.
Thus far, San Francisco has allowed an average of 74 yards on the ground. LeGarrette Blount comes to the bay area averaging 4.4 yards per carry, for a total of 294 yards and three touchdowns in four games.
While the statistical breakdown of Blount's game production may not be stellar, the Buccaneers have definitely relied on his power running to cap off their three wins. It was his 35 yard run that sealed the deal against the Colts.
Navarro Bowman, Justin Smith, Aldon Smith and Patrick Willis will need to be on high alert and provide as much punishment as possible in order to wear down the rushing productivity of the Buccaneers.
If the 49ers front seven can contain and minimize Blount's contribution to the offense, it will then be up to the Niners' secondary to continue displaying signs of improvement against the 17th ranked passing game of Tampa Bay.
Protection in the Pocket
The 49ers O-line must improve its overall protection of Alex Smith throughout the entire game.
This week, San Francisco faces a Tampa Bay team that is 21st against the pass. In their win against the Colts, the Buccaneers gave up 281 yards to a Peyton Manning-less team. This bodes well for a Niners team that effectively completed passes against the star-studded backfield of Philadelphia.
Alex Smith's second half performance in Philly put on display shades of a much improved quarterback, but only when he was given some seconds of protection. Smith's capacity to consider his options before making a throw will be the make or break characteristic of San Francisco's success this season.
We can see, week-to-week, that Jim Harbaugh is slowly letting off the reins on Smith. With each successive game, Alex Smith has thrown more than the last, and has managed to throw an interception only once.
If the offensive line can provide Alex Smith enough time to find one of their many receiving weapons (Vernon Davis, Michael Crabtree, Josh Morgan or Ted Ginn Jr.), it will position itself in a much more favorable path towards a victory against the Bucs.
Minimize Mistakes, Maximize Turnovers
Maintaining mental focus will be crucial in this match-up given that San Francisco and Tampa Bay are two of the most penalized teams in the league through four weeks.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were penalized 14 times for a total of 106 yards on the night against the Colts.
Giving away easy yards, or losing them for your offense, through penalties definitely has an effect on the outcome of the game. Harbaugh needs to instill a better sense of discipline in his players if he wants to come out victorious against a closely matched-up rival like the Bucs.
In addition, San Francisco must continue to force turnovers. Having a plus-nine figure in the takeaway-giveaway column on the season has translated into three victories. Continued hustle play from the 49ers defense, like Justin Smith's forced fumble at the end of the Eagles game, has come to characterize the front seven for San Francisco and will augment the probability for a victory.
Playing at home should aid the 49ers cause in this game, at least in the penalty department. Fans attending the game would be well advised to take care of their lungs throughout the week if they want to help their team from the stands.
Believe, Trust, Team
The 49er's character and overall identity appears to be the transforming feature for this season.
Jim Harbaugh has this team believing in themselves, as is evident by the dialogue expressed by the players after each game. Grant Cohn of the Press Democrat reports:
I think we’ve changed. We’re a different team. We always knew we had talent in this locker room, the type of guys we have in this locker room. Having our coaching staff, that’s a really big part of this organization, Harbaugh and his coaching staff. They’re doing a great job. We’re just following, believing and great things are happening. - Frank Gore
I just think top to bottom, collectively, it’s a different mind-set, a different attitude. When you come in at halftime, on the sideline, in the huddle, whatever it may be, the focus, the direction is completely different. - Alex Smith
What's even more important is the belief that the players now have in Alex Smith. What has often been a wound in the psychology of a team without a leader, appears to be closing up as Alex Smith continues to manage and improve.
It’s Alex’s first time having someone who really can understand him and show him the quarterback position and put him in great situations. Coach Harbaugh is doing a great job with him. Alex is balling, he’s balling out. He keeps balling, our team will keep winning and we’ll go farther and farther. - Frank Gore
This intangible part of the game is a crucial component for a 49ers organization that has been rebuilding since the Steve Young days.
It is imperative that coach Harbaugh continue this week's training and preparation with the same intensity and focus in spite of the feel-good story of the come back in Philadelphia.