The Tampa Bay Buccaneers play the Indianapolis Colts at 5:30 pacific time tonight on ESPN. This is the live blog for that game. I’ll update this frequently throughout the game from my living room, and I’ll focus my observations and analysis on the Bucs, because as you know, the Niners play them this Sunday at Candlestick Park. The Bucs shut the Niners out at Candlestick just last season – held them to zero points. How can the Niners beat the Bucs this week? Consider this advanced scouting.
5:28 The first update is not Bucs-related. The 49ers placed Will Tukuafu on IR today, and Colin Jones takes his spot on the 43-man roster.
5:43 After the Colts pick up a first down, Joseph Addai runs off left tackle for a gain of nine yards against the Bucs. The Bucs defensive ends, Michael Bennett and Adrian Clayborn, are rushing the passer quite aggressively, and on that play the Colts ran the ball right at the rookie Clayborn.
5:47 On third and seven, the Bucs put almost all their defenders on the line of scrimmage and played press coverage. Painter got nervous and threw an inaccurate pass to the sideline before the pass rush could get to him. You’d think the Bucs would play the Niners offense similarly on third and long. Adam Vinatieri hits a 45-yard field goal, and the Colts lead 3-0.
5:54 The Bucs’ LeGarrette Blount runs for very little on first and second down. The Bucs go shotgun/spread on third down, and Freeman throws high to Earnest Graham over the middle, incomplete. Dwight Freeney slightly hurried Freeman on the pass. Also, Graham looked like he should have caught the pass. Anyway, the Bucs have to punt.
5:58 Joseph Addai just ran right up the middle of the Bucs defense on back to back plays, first for five yards, and then for nine. That set up a play action on the next play, which the Bucs bit on, but Painter threw his pass high and incomplete.
6:00 The Bucs blitz two up the middle, freeing up right end Michael Bennett to rush Painter untouched. Bennett forced the fumble.
6:03 On third down, Josh Freeman hits Mike Williams on the right sideline, but Williams drops the pass. He has not had a productive season so far. Following this play, the Bucs kicker, Michael Koenen, misses 46 yard field goal off the right upright.
6:05 The rookie fourth round pick RB Delone Carter just gashed the Bucs for a 13 yard run up the middle. The Bucs get penetration on the line, but if the running back gets past that first line it seems like there aren’t any quality players at the second-level to kill the play. Perhaps the Bucs linebackers are slow.
6:08 The Bucs defensive line just got called for their second neutral zone infraction of the quarter. They look like they want to time the snap. Alex Smith’s famous hard count could be an effective weapon for the 49ers.
6:09 On third and two, Clayborn blows by the left tackle and blasts Painter as he throws. The Colts have to punt. The Bucs defensive line gets a lot of penetration. Joe Staley and Anthony Davis will have their hands full again this weekend.
6:12 The Bucs are blowing the Colts off the line of scrimmage. On run plays, their offensive line pushes the Colts back five yards. The Bucs won’t line won’t be able to push the Niners’ defensive line like that.
6:15 Freeman hasn’t thrown downfield yet, and he hasn’t had to. The Bucs are moving the chains with runs and dump off passes.
6:16 Freeman avoids a sack, scrambles to the right, throws on the run to Arrelious Benn, who catches the pass and breaks a thousand tackles on the way to a 62 yard touchdown. But his foot was out of bounds before he caught the ball, so none of that counts.
6:25 Freeman rolls left and throws low on third and short. Incomplete and punt. Freeman has looked unimpressive through the first quarter of this game. He wants to check down.
6:28 On obvious passing downs, the Buccaneers have lined up all their defenders on the line of scrimmage. They show all out blitz, so they disguise who actually comes in and blitzes. It will be interesting to see if the Niners can handle this type of pressure. Alex Smith will have to be calm and decisive, and the offensive line will have to communicate well to determine who blocks whom.
6:35 So far, the Bucs pass plays are designed for Freeman to get the ball out of his hands quickly. It’s obvious they’re worried about the Colts defensive ends, Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis. I doubt the Bucs call as many quick passes against the 49ers. They’re going to want Freeman to hold onto the ball and extend the play.
6:41 Backup defensive tackle Brian Price limps off the field after apparently pulling his hamstring. Price was a second round draft pick last year, and he was a stud at UCLA.
6:42 Next play, Painter throws deep to Pierre Garcon on the right side line, and Garcon runs all the way into the end zone for a 87 yard TD. The Bucs were playing an ineffective zone coverage, and Garcon was wide open. The Bucs are losing 10-0 to the Colts. That’s not good for them. Also, they play the Niners after only five days of rest this week. That’s not good for them, either.
6:52 On first and ten from the 14, Freeman stands in the pocket flat-footed like Tom Brady, throws to the end zone with the utmost confidence, and nearly gets picked off. A forced through. Freeman has yet to do anything special in this game.
6:54 On third and eight, Freeman completes a short pass to his first read, who runs for the first down. Freeman sneaks the ball into the end zone on the next play. 10-7 Colts.
6:59 Brian Price is back on the field for the Bucs.
7:06 The Bucs have the ball at their 29 yard line with 1:52 to go in the first half.
7:07 First play: Shotgun spread 4 wides, and Earnest Graham. Checkdown to Graham for 7 yards.
7:08 Next play, same formation, same pass. This time it’s tipped and it falls incomplete.
7:08 Third play, Earnest Graham breaks off a long run, but it’s called back because of a personal foul penalty on a downfield block. Still a first down, thought.
7:10 Next play, first and ten from the Indy 37, Freeman checks down RB Kregg Lumpkin over the middle for a gain of 9 yards.
7:14 Next play, Freeman throws short to TE to Kellen Winslow Jr. for a gain of five yards. He’s deliberately moving the ball down the field with pass plays that work against the Colts, but probably won’t work against the Niners. Willis and Bowman swallow up checkdown plays.
7:16 Next play, Freeman checks it down again, but Freeney jumped offside and the Bucs take the penalty. First and five from the Indy 49.
7:17 Next play, Freeman throws short left to WR Preston Parker for a gain of 13.
7:18 Next play, Freeman checks down to Graham over the middle for a gain of 11. They’ve run that play five times on this drive.
7:19 Make that six times. The Colts keep dropping their safeties and linebackers and Freeman keeps hitting Graham in the vacated hole, this time for a gain of nine. The Bucs are going to have to run a different play against the Niners.
7:21 On third and 1 from the Indy 11, Freeman drops back, looks left for an eternity, stands there flat footed, then gets sacked by Robert Mathis. The Bucs have to rush their field goal unit on the field. The kicker makes the kick, but the Bucs can’t get all their players off the field in time, so the kick doesn’t count. 10-7 Colts at halftime. The Bucs will get the ball to start the second half.
7:39 On the first play of the second half Freeman finally throws downfield – a 23-yard completion to Mike Williams.
7:41 So much of what the Bucs do on offense depends on power runs and short passes. It will be interesting to see what they can accomplish on offense if the 49ers can take those two attacks away from them.
7:53 My dad is watching the game with me now, and we’re both convinced Indy is going to win this one. The Bucs look NBD — no big deal. It’s tied 10-10 right now, and the Colts have the ball at midfield.
7:55 As Ron Jaworski talks about quarterbacks making “disaster plays,” Painter almost makes one, throwing a near interception to Talib. Disaster play is an interesting concept. Jason Campbell made on yesterday against the Pats. Alex Smith hasn’t made on all year, and you could say Jim Harbaugh and Greg Roman shielded him from making the disaster play, especially the first two weeks of the season at Candlestick.
8:00 On third and seven, Robert Mathis hits Freeman, and he throws an inaccurate checkdown pass incomplete as Mathis pulls him down.
8:04 On a play action shotgun quick WR screen, Pierre Garcon runs 59 yards for a touchdown. 17-10 Colts. Tampa fans are booing. These Bucs are unimpressive.
8:09 Gruden insists that the Bucs are committed to the run game. That’s good news for the 49ers.
8:16 On 4th and 1, Josh Johnson subs in at QB for Freeman. He fakes a handoff, then roles right and fakes a pitch to Blount, then runs 8 yards around the right end for a first down. It’s the option! Great play call and execution by Johnson.
8:18 Freeman completes a 13 yard TD pass to Preston Parker. 17-17. Preston Parker looks like the Bucs best WR.
8:28 On first down Michael Bennett blows by the Colts right tackle and sacks Painter. Bennett will be a tough matchup for Anthony Davis, but most NFL defensive ends are tough matchups for Davis.
8:34 Now Gerald McCoy blows by the left guard to sack Painter. A balanced offense should work well against the Bucs. They have about six defensive linemen who can flat out get after the quarterback on obvious passing downs.
8:38 Vinatieri hooks a 43 yard field goal attempt wide left. 11:42 left in the 4th quarter.
8:40 The Bucs go three and out because of two huge penalties that set them back, and they couldn’t checkdown their way out of that mess.
8:47 The Bucs defensive line constantly twitches at the line of scrimmage. They bite a lot on hard counts, it seems.
8:49 Now Clayborn sacks Painter. It doesn’t look like the Colts can move the ball anymore against the Bucs.
8:52 On third and an inch, Josh Freeman takes too long to call hike and he delays the game. The Bucs look like the 2010 Niners tonight.
8:53 Next play, Freeman steps up in the pocket and dives forward five yards for a first down. That was impressive.
8:55 LeGarrette Blount breaks through the middle of the line of scrimmage and runs 35 yards for a touchdown. The Bucs didn’t throw one play on that drive, and they didn’t have to. The Colts are exhausted and they cannot stop Blount. 24-17 Bucs.
8:59 The Bucs have the best defensive line that the Niners will have faced all season. Clayborn is just terrific.
9:01 Almost three minutes left in the fourth quarter, the Bucs have the ball at their 33. They’re going to run Blount up the middle and the Colts won’t be able to stop him.
9:03 Good play fake. The Colts send all their defenders to stop Blount, Freeman pulls the handoff back at the last second, rolls left and runs 12 yards for a first down.
9:09 And the Bucs are going to run out the clock to win 24-17. When they needed to score in the fourth quarter, all they had to do was run the ball down the Colts’ throats. And throughout the rest of the game, Freeman never really had to throw the ball downfield. If all the Bucs offense can do is run and dink and dunk, the 49ers defense will smother them. I expect the Niners to win on Sunday.