Here are my top-three matchups for the 49ers against the Bucs this Sunday.
NT Ricky Jean-Francois, ILB Patrick Willis, and ILB NaVorro Bowman vs. RB LeGarrette Blount and RB Earnest Graham.
Ricky Jean-Francois: 6’3”, 310 lbs., 24 years old.
Patrick Willis: 6’1”, 240 lbs., 26 years old.
NaVorro Bowman: 6’0”, 242 lbs., 23 years old.
LeGarrette Blount: 6’0”, 247 lbs., 24 years old.
Earnest Graham: 5’9”, 225 lbs., 31 years old.
This is Sunday’s biggest mathcup: Tampa Bay’s 11th ranked run offense against the Niners’ 4th ranked run defense. The Niners would have the advantage here, but starting nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga will miss the game due to a staph infection, so this matchup is even. So far this season the Niners have been able to shut down running backs with just their dominant defensive line. With Sopoaga out and Ricky Jean in, LeGarrette Blount most likely will power past the defensive line and reach the Niners “second level” of defenders from time to time. That means Willis and Bowman will have to make a lot of tackles this week, and these tackles will be extra-tough since Blount weighs more than each guy. Willis and Bowman will probably have to double-team Blount to bring him down. Also, they’ll have to keep their eyes peeled for Earnest Graham. Josh Freeman loves to throw the checkdown wheel route to Graham in front of the line of scrimmage. Willis and Bowman have smothered this play all year, and they’ll have to do a lot more smothering on Sunday.
RT Anthony Davis vs. LE Michael Bennett.
Anthony Davis: 6’5”, 323 lbs., 21 years old.
Michael Bennett: 6’4” 274 lbs., 25 years old.
Michael Bennett already has two sacks this week – he sacked Colts’ QB Curtis Painter twice on Monday Night. Since Bennett might actually be the least excellent of all the Bucs’ excellent D-linemen, Anthony Davis won’t get much help. He’ll have to block Bennett one-on-one, while Greg Roman’s blocking schemes help account for Adrian Clayborn and Gerald McCoy. So far in Davis’ career, he has not shown that he can block a competent pass rusher one-on-one. Jason Babin dominated him last week. If the Niners are going to pass the ball effectively against Tampa Bay, Davis is going to have to hold his own against Bennett at the very least.
SS Donte Whitner vs. TE Kellen Winslow.
Donte Whitner: 5’10”, 208 lbs., 26 years old.
Kellen Winslow Jr.: 6’4”, 240 lbs., 28 years old.
Josh Freeman likes to throw dink and dunk passes to running backs and tight ends. He has a better matchup this week throwing to his tight end, Kellen Winslow Jr. The Niners struggle covering big tight ends because strong safety Donte Whitner is just too short. If the Bucs can get Whitner lined up on Winslow on third down, they’re going to take that matchup and pick up the first down every time. Vic Fangio will have to mix up his coverages on Winslow, because he doesn’t have one defensive back who can match up with him one-on-one.