Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Bucs-49ers: Keys to victory
Cut down on penalties Only the Oakland Raiders have been penalized more this season than the Bucs, whose 35 penalties are 10 more than the NFL average. The penalties aren't just costing the Bucs yards. They're also costing them points. Tampa Bay had a touchdown and a field goal wiped out by penalties last week against the Colts. If the trend continues, it's eventually going to wipe out a victory. The Bucs can eliminate several penalties simply by concentrating better. That will have to be a top objective, because the 49ers have evolved into a team capable of taking advantage of an opponent's mistakes. Take what the defense gives you The 49ers are difficult to run against, but the secondary can be exploited. San Francisco's defensive backs play a variety of off-coverages in hopes of preventing big passing plays, so the Bucs will want to be patient and methodical on offense. By taking what the defense gives them, the Bucs should be able to move the ball and consistently create scoring chances. For all the talk about his strong arm, Tampa Bay QB Josh Freeman is at his best making short throws and letting his receivers make yards after the catch.Force Smith's hand Forty-niners QB Alex Smith is often slow to process a play as it unfolds and pull the trigger on a pass. His hesitancy in the pocket makes him extremely vulnerable to pass rushers, as evidenced by the 14 sacks the 49ers have allowed this season. The Bucs' defensive front is built with quick, aggressive pass rushers such as Adrian Clayborn, Brian Price and Gerald McCoy. With a vast array of blitz schemes, Tampa Bay should be able to confuse Smith and force him into mistakes. If the Bucs can create favorable third-down situations, they should have little trouble getting off the field and getting the ball back for the offense. Key matchup Bucs RB LeGarrette Blount vs. 49ers MLB Patrick Willis Blount is coming off his best game of the season, but still showing some hesitancy to hit the hole with the power and aggressiveness the Bucs desire. It will be pivotal for him to hit the hole with authority, because he's likely to meet Willis on most every occasion. Willis is an attacking linebacker who does an exceptional job of shedding blocks, finding the ball carrier and making tackles. If Blount attacks with power, he could turn in another big day. If not, Willis could help make this one of his worst outings.