Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 4 Things to Watch in Week 5 Against San Francisco

Basil SpyridakosContributor IIIOctober 6, 2011

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 4 Things to Watch in Week 5 Against San Francisco

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    For years, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were thought of as a team that couldn't compete on the West Coast—posting an abysmal 2-9 record when traveling to California and Seattle from 2003 to 2009.

    Something changed in 2010. Maybe the mental toughness and fortitude of the team came together, cultivating a new attitude when journeying afar from Tampa.

    Perhaps the team was too young or impetuous to know any better.

    The Bucs defeated the the 49ers 21-0 at Candlestick Park last season and it just felt different.

    Tampa Bay looked physical. Ready. And they didn't appear sluggish like they have in prior West Coast visits.

    Granted, that was last year and this is a brand new San Francisco team they'll be facing this Sunday. One that runs the football until the opposition's exhausted, and plays a particularly violent brand of defense.

    What do the Buccaneers have to do to develop a winning streak on the West Coast?

    Here are four things to watch to help the Buccaneers succeed against San Francisco. 

How Do the Bucs Handle a Shortened Week While Traveling?

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    Film study and practicing well is essential to a successful performance, but what happens when a team doesn't get to put enough time on the practice field?

    According to Donald Penn, it's difficult to gameplan.

    Penn tells the St. Petersburg Times

    "It’s difficult because it’s a shorter week," left tackle Donald Penn said. "It’s a real short week because we leave on Friday. I think the only good thing is (practice) is a little lighter. It helps your body recover faster. Usually, I would have had two days off before today. I’m hurting a lot more. I’m a lot more sore than I would be if we would’ve played on Sunday. People have to take care of their bodies and we have to recover faster than we usually would and we have to put in that extra work with the gameplan."

    Missing two full days of working on the 49ers tendencies is a major obstacle to overcome, and it's a clear advantage for San Francisco to get an extra day of rest and an extra day to practice.

    The NFL didn't do the Bucs any favors by scheduling this game, but it's no time for excuses. Buccaneer head coach Raheem Morris has to have his guys focused. If they come out slow, which they typically do anyway, we'll know why.

Ait It Out!

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    The 49ers are ranked 27th in the NFL in pass defense. Although they allow 284 yards through the air per game, the Niners are ball hawks and have intercepted the ball six times.

    Throwing the football has to be in the back of offensive coordinator Greg Olsen's mind, and quarterback Josh Freeman is coming off of his most efficient performance of the season during the Bucs 24-17 victory over the Colts.

    San Francisco is also ranked 4th in rush defense, only allowing 74 rushing yards per game.

    Executing a balanced attack is always ideal, but this may be the one instance where the Buccaneers have to set up the run by passing the ball effectively.

    Let's see if the Bucs line up and run the ball out of three-wide receiver sets to spread out the 49er's 3-4 defense. If San Francisco doesn't respect the formation, anticipate quick passes to establish the deep pass for later in the game.

Stop the Run!

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    The Buccaneers run defense started very slowly in the first two games of the year, but battled back—allowing 30 yards and 62 yards rushing the last two games.

    San Francisco head coach Jim Harbaugh is going to want to utilize running back Frank Gore giving him 20 touches and another 10 touches to Kendall Hunter to keep the pressure off of erratic quarterback Alex Smith.

    If the Bucs struggle to stop the run in a hostile environment, this game will be an ugly one to watch.

    But if Tampa Bay stones the running game and makes Smith one-sided, the Buccaneers have an excellent chance at victory, especially with the emergence of a tenacious pass rush from the defensive front four.

Protect Freeman!

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    The 49er pass rush isn't deadly by any means, posting only nine sacks on the season, but they do play a 3-4 defense designed to blitz and confuse the offensive line.

    Preseason is long over, but it's the only sample size to go by. If you look at what the Bucs' offensive line did against the Patriots and Dolphins defensive fronts, there's reason for concern. Tampa Bay looked lost when facing teams that run an aggressive 3-4 defense.

    Combine an amped up defense with a loud, raucous crowd, and it'll be difficult for the offensive line unit to hear center Jeff Faine's adjustments and Freeman's cadences.

    Like I mentioned in an earlier slide, look for shorter passes early to set up the long ball later in the game.

    The Bucs' offensive line cannot get caught up and confused by the 49ers scheme. They must react and execute. 

Final Score Prediction

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    This game will be another gritty performance by the Pewter Pirates.

    Freeman will most likely have his chance at yet another fourth quarter comeback, but flying to the West Coast on short rest to play a team at home who's riding high after rallying to a win against the Eagles will prove to be much more difficult than expected.

    Prediction: Tampa Bay 16, San Francisco 20