Sacramento Bee

49ers seek a crack in Bucs' defense
January 10, 2003
By Mike Triplett -- Bee Staff Writer

SANTA CLARA -- The 49ers are choosing self-confidence as their mantra as they prepare to face a daunting Tampa Bay defense that, at last check, has been together for six years or so without yet running the playoff table.

Sure, the 49ers haven't faced a defense this good since ... well, maybe since they faced Tampa Bay in the first week of the 1997 season. But as 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Knapp pointed out, the Bucs haven't faced many offenses better than the 49ers' this year.

Statistically, only Minnesota and Pittsburgh rank higher offensively than the 49ers among Tampa Bay's 2002 opponents.

And no offense in the NFL is as hot as the 49ers', who scored 25 points in 17 minutes to finish their latest win over the New York Giants.

"We feel," Knapp said, "like we're a good challenge for them to have to prepare for."

Although the 49ers abandoned the run during their rally last Sunday, they will try to attack Tampa Bay with their weapon of choice: balance.

"They've got a tough defense. We basically have to go in and take what they give us," 49ers offensive tackle Derrick Deese said. "If they're going to try and stop our running game, then they will have to deal with T.O. (Terrell Owens), Tai Streets and J.J. (Stokes). If they are going to try and not worry about our running game, then we'll have to be able to run the ball.

"We'll have to let them pick their poison."

OK, now let's get realistic. Tampa Bay's defensive players won't be quaking in their boots to face a schizophrenic 49ers offense that has lacked consistency all season.

You want consistency? Check out these Bucs, who have had All-Pros Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks and John Lynch playing together since 1995.

They hit their peak this season, leading the NFL in total defense, scoring defense and passing defense. They also tied for third in the NFL with 38 takeaways.

"They're not ones to give up a lot of big plays. They're not ones to give up a lot of points," 49ers coach Steve Mariucci said. "They've got a ton of takeaways that they turn into points. They sack the quarterback and recover fumbles at an alarming rate."

Even worse, the Buccaneers are not only successful at playing the two-deep zone defense, they practically invented it. Around the NFL, the use of two-deep zones is known as the "Tampa 2" or the "Tampa 9."

And other teams have shown this season that the Tampa 2 is very successful against the 49ers because it allows defenses to double-cover Owens throughout the game.

The Bucs can run the two-deep zones, because their front four defensive linemen don't need help rushing the passer. Tackle Sapp and end Simeon Rice combined for 23 sacks this season.

"I think early in the season we struggled against the two-deep zone, and as the season went on, we started to find ways to attack it a little better," 49ers quarterback Jeff Garcia said.

Garcia himself can do damage with his legs, but the speedy Bucs front can prevent that. In two meetings with Atlanta this season, Tampa held Mike Vick to a combined 10 rushing yards.

"I realize they've done a great job of containing quarterbacks because of the team speed," Garcia said. "But I don't run like Vick or many of the other quarterbacks in the league. I use it more just to buy time. I'm not always looking to run upfield, but to buy time to allow my receivers to find openings and create plays."

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