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The 49ers square off with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this Sunday in yet another pivotal matchup for the 49ers. This is an intriguing matchup in part because it pits two QBs who can make plays with both their arms and their legs. Troy Smith has shown that he has a big arm and he showed some more in the scrambling side of things this past week, rushing four times for twelve yards. On the other side, the Bucs go with second year QB Josh Freeman who has the solid arm and is currently averaging 6.5 yards per rush with 34 carries thus far.
This matchup will be particularly intriguing down in the red zone. When a team has a QB who isn't afraid to tuck the ball and make for the end zone, it makes the team incredibly dangerous. The defense is often forced to sacrifice a spy on the QB, which can open up just enough space to get a pass completed for a touchdown.
Football Outsiders puts together DVOA numbers for performance in the red zone. The 49ers are currently 7th in red zone offense, ranking 2nd in red zone passing and 16th in red zone rushing. The Bucs are 11th in the red zone, ranking 5th in passing and 23rd in rushing. One problem with the 49ers numbers is that they include both Alex Smith and Troy Smith. So we certainly have to take this with a grain of salt while I try and get a better breakdown of Troy Smith's DVOA numbers.
On the defensive side of the ball, the 49ers are 20th in red zone defense while the Bucs are 19th. The big difference between the two is that the 49ers rank in the top third of the league in red zone rush defense and bottom third in red zone pass defense, while the Bucs are a little more balanced between their rankings (17th and 20th). Neither team is particularly solid in red zone defense so that makes this all the more interesting to watch on Sunday.
My primary concern for the 49ers red zone offense is probably Troy Smith for now. Troy has shown he can get some air under the ball and connect on some big passes. When you get down into the red zone, the passing attack becomes much more precise since there is so much less space for the receivers to move around. Troy has numerous weapons at his disposal and he simply needs to figure out a way to connect with them on shorter passes. It remains to be seen whether such situations will arise on Sunday, but it could prove key.