Can 49ers Beat Buccs?
January 10, 2003
by James Parrott
After last weekís miraculous comeback from a 24 point second half deficit, the San Francisco 49ers must travel to Tampa to play the Buccaneers.
Having won a tough division and boasting probably the top defensive unit in the NFL, Tampa Bay are a significant hurdle to face for any team and they can now also put points on board with itís offense.
Buccs starting quarterback Brad Johnson doesnít have the arm or the willingness to go downfield of New Yorkís Kerry Collins, but if the 49ers defense gives him the same kind of time that they gave Collins then the results will be quite similar.
After missing the week eight game versus the Carolina Panthers Johnson returned to lead his team to five victories in six games while throwing 15 touchdowns and only one interception.
In the first game of that span Johnson torched an admittedly weak Minnesota Vikings defense for 313 yards and five touchdown passes in a 38-24 victory.
The Buccaneers passing game has been limited by the weakness of the teamís offensive line and the lack of a substantial running game for opposing defenses to respect as well as the lack of speed at wide receiver where the top three are big targets Keyshawn Johnson and Joe Jurevicius and possession receiver Keenan McCardell.
Coach Jon Grudenís offense uses frequent shifts and motions as well as the designed pass routes to try to open things up for the receivers in the short to intermediate zones, which will allow the 49ers linebackers to play a big role in determining the success of their unitís pass defense.
A knock on Tampa is that Johnson is pressured too frequently.
Indeed, the former Minnesota Vikings triggerman missed the final two regular season games due to a back injury suffered against the hapless Detroit Lions.
A key matchup this week is Andre Carter against Buccaneers left tackle Roman Oben.
Oben was dumped by the Cleveland Browns due to his lack of in-line strength and toughness, and his often soft play.
Carter meanwhile is coming off a game in which he was often invisible. He needs to get into the backfield often to disrupt Johnsonís rhythm. Actually getting to the quarterback while he has the ball would also help immeasurably.
The secondary also needs to improve on itís performance against the Giants. Thankfully there is no-one of Jeremy Shockeys class in the entire league, but the Buccs have three capable receivers and two good tight ends in Ken Dilger and Rickey Dudley.
Tampaís defeats to New Orleans (twice), Philadelphia and Pittsburgh each showed that attacking Tampaís defense head on is the best way of counteracting the great speed that Buccs defensive co-ordinator Monte Kiffin has at his disposal.
People around the league have noticed that offenses that are not intimidated by that speed and get at the Buccs have been able to wear down the defense and score enough points to win.
In that respect, Eric Heitmannís performance against Warren Sapp will be critical as will either Derrick Deese or Matt Willigís against super speedy defensive end Simeon Rice.
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