Friday, July 20, 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Tampa Bay Buccaneers-San Francisco 49ers: Bucs to try to exploit shaky 49ers run defense

The Bucs make the second of three long trips out west, hoping they will fare better than in their 40-7 loss at Arizona in Week 2. They opened as a road favorite, no common feat for Tampa Bay, and here are five things to watch for as the Bucs take on the 49ers in Santa Clara today:

1. Can Jacquizz Rodgers exploit the NFL's worst run defense in 31 years? San Francisco is giving up 174 yards per game on the ground, worst in the NFL by 27 yards and on pace to be the NFL's worst run defense since the 1985 Houston Oilers. It gave up 312 rushing yards in last week's loss to Buffalo — the most against a 49ers team since 1958, five years before coach Chip Kelly was born — and it has allowed a 100-yard rusher five weeks in a row.

Can Rodgers match or even improve on his 101 yards on 30 carries in the win two weeks ago against Carolina? Expect the Bucs to run early and often to find out.

2. Is the Chip Kelly offense really all that different? When Kelly (left) was in Philadelphia, the talk was uptempo, lots of plays — the Eagles led the NFL in offensive plays in 2014 and were second last year. But the 49ers rank 14th in plays per game. The Bucs, with all those pass-happy comeback attempts, are second and average 6.6 more.

Between the scheme and general struggles, San Francisco ranks 30th in the NFL in time of possession — 26:09 minutes — and the Bucs will try to make that more glaring with a heavy dose of their running game.

Where the 49ers won't help you: flags. They're the least penalized team in the NFL in penalties and yards, totaling 27 for 213.

3. Can Dirk Koetter and Mike Smith celebrate some personal revenge? In 2012, the Falcons were 10 yards away from the Super Bowl at the end of the NFC title game, with Smith as head coach and Koetter as offensive coordinator, facing the 49ers.

But from the 10-yard line, Matt Ryan threw incomplete twice and San Francisco won 28-24, going on to the Super Bowl and a loss to the Ravens.

"Man, to be that close to the Super Bowl and not make it," Koetter said Thursday. "Coaches always remember losses more than wins, and that's one. … It was hard to watch them play in the Super Bowl, but they did have a really good football team."

Atlanta nearly got some consolation the next year but again fell 10 yards short. The Falcons, down 3, drove to the 49ers 10 only to see Ryan throw a pass returned 89 yards for a touchdown in a 34-24 49ers win.

4. Can the Bucs defense continue without a tight end touchdown? When you last saw the Bucs, they were allowing Carolina's Greg Olsen to get wide open — again — on the way to nine catches for 181 yards. That stood out, because in the Bucs' first four games, opposing tight ends combined for 115 yards on 12 catches.

The Bucs are one of only five NFL teams not to allow a touchdown to a tight end. 49ers TE Vance McDonald has a 75-yard touchdown this year but just eight catches for 43 yards aside from that. Garrett Celek catches a ton of short passes — 20 for 135 yards — but neither is a huge threat to end the Bucs' streak.

5. Who steps up at receiver to help Mike Evans? With Vincent Jackson on injured reserve, that's six targets a game that will be divvied up among several options. That could be any of several receivers — slot receiver Adam Humphries, newly healthy Cecil Shorts, newly signed Freddie Martino — who was promoted from the practice squad — or special teams ace Russell Shepard.

Another option: TE Cameron Brate. Tight ends have had a field day on the 49ers — Greg Olsen went for 122 yards and a touchdown with Carolina, Jimmy Graham had six catches for 100 and a touchdown with Seattle, Jason Witten led the Cowboys with seven for 47 and Charles Clay led the Bills with five for 52.

You don't see a lot of second and third receivers beating the 49ers defense, but you see a lot of tight ends getting open and getting in the end zone. Toward that end, keep an eye out for Brandon Myers, who spent his first four NFL seasons in the bay area with the Raiders. In the low red zone — inside the 10 — the Bucs like their tight ends, and don't forget Luke Stocker, who returns after missing four weeks with an ankle injury.

Comments
Quarterback rankings: The best seasons in Buccaneers history

Quarterback rankings: The best seasons in Buccaneers history

It was Dec. 20, 1981, the final Sunday of the NFL regular season, and the NFC Central title was on the line. The Buccaneers were in Detroit, where the Lions hadn’t lost all season.The Lions, who were favored by a touchdown, took a 7-3 lead in t...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Sports Day Tampa Bay podcast: Mailbag: Bucs camp, Erik Karlsson, British Open, more

Sports Day Tampa Bay podcast: Mailbag: Bucs camp, Erik Karlsson, British Open, more

Besides Jameis Winston, what is the biggest storyline for the Bucs entering training camp? How would you describe the Rays season in one word?Is the Lightning deal for Erik Karlsson dead? Who will win the British Open? Rick Stroud answers these quest...
Published: 07/19/18
Free passes to Bucs training camp already going fast

Free passes to Bucs training camp already going fast

Those free passes to a limited window for the general public to see the Bucs practice in training camp are already almost gone.Last month, the team announced that only six practices would be open to the  general public, with fans required to go ...
Published: 07/19/18
Bucs’ Gerald McCoy shows off Batman-themed Rolls Royce

Bucs’ Gerald McCoy shows off Batman-themed Rolls Royce

Remember last year, when the opening credits to "Hard Knocks" showed DeSean Jackson pulling up to Bucs training camp in a white Ferrari 488 GTB, which starts around $250,000?Training camp doesn't start until next week, but we have an early leader for...
Published: 07/18/18
‘Wreak Havoc’: Winston absent as Bucs roll out 2018 promo videos

‘Wreak Havoc’: Winston absent as Bucs roll out 2018 promo videos

When Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston was suspended for the first three games of the upcoming season, one of the lingering questions was whether the team would still feature him prominently in their marketing efforts to fans.The team released four sho...
Published: 07/18/18
Star cornerback, onetime Buc Darrelle Revis retiring after 11 NFL seasons

Star cornerback, onetime Buc Darrelle Revis retiring after 11 NFL seasons

Revis Island is closed for business. Darrelle Revis, a star cornerback with the New York Jets, a Super Bowl winner with their archrivals, the New England Patriots, and a onetime Buc, has retired. Revis announced Wednesday on social media that he was ...
Published: 07/18/18
Yes, Jameis Winston can set Bucs career passing records in 2018

Yes, Jameis Winston can set Bucs career passing records in 2018

Bucs veterans report for training camp one week from today, and we're continuing to look at what big records could fall for Tampa Bay in 2018.It seems impossible, even given the lack of sustained quarterback success throughout the Bucs' 41-year histo...
Published: 07/18/18
Bucs’ new run defense will be tested early, often in 2018

Bucs’ new run defense will be tested early, often in 2018

Much of the focus on the Bucs upgrading their defensive line has been, understandably, that Tampa Bay finished last in the league in sacks last season, with just 22. But as Gerald McCoy pointed out several times in 2017, you can't get to the quarterb...
Published: 07/18/18
Barry Sanders turns 50: Watch some of his 2,195 yards vs. Bucs

Barry Sanders turns 50: Watch some of his 2,195 yards vs. Bucs

Lions legend Barry Sanders turned 50 on Monday, and as a tribute, the NFL posted a 10-minute highlight video of the Hall of Famer's top 50 runs. As any older Bucs fans can attest, many of them came at the expense of Tampa Bay's defense, seen chasing ...
Published: 07/17/18
Sports Day Tampa Bay podcast: Jimbo Fisher discusses Florida State, Jameis Winston

Sports Day Tampa Bay podcast: Jimbo Fisher discusses Florida State, Jameis Winston

Texas A&M head coach Jimbo Fisher was front and center Monday at SEC media days and spoke about leaving Florida State and why Jameis Winston will have no problem moving on from his suspension.Plus, Blake Snell might be the third AL pitcher ...
Published: 07/17/18