While I do love football, for Monday Night Football I often find myself flipping around rather than watching the game particularly closely. I'd argue I'm a 49ers fan first, a football fan second. Or maybe 49ers fan, fantasy football and then actual football. I'm not really sure, but you get the point.
For Monday Night Football this week I decided it was worth sitting down to observe the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in action. The 49ers host the Bucs in six days with both teams looking to improve to 4-1. Getting a chance to watch them in action, even against an incredibly questionable team like the Indianapolis Colts provides some decent value.
Following four hours of football, I can say with confidence that this was not a beautiful sight to behold. The Colts are going to lose a lot more than they'll win, but against many teams they'll be able to ugly up the game enough to turn it into a street fight. They did it against a Steelers team that is not particularly good this year, and they did it again with a Bucs team that might end up in the playoffs but has some big question marks to figure out.
The Bucs did enough to get the W and can thank a fairly stationary Curtis Painter and LeGarrette Blount's bulldozing ways for this victory. Although Josh Freeman did make some plays, Blount put the offense on his back. Freeman took full advantage of a Colts defense that was willing to give up short passes all night long. When that well dried up a bit, Blount took over, rushing for 95 yards on 17 carries in the second half.
As for Freeman, I'd love to see how many of his passes were under ten yards through the air. People will criticize the dink and dunk style, but when the defense apparently has no interest in defending it, a QB would be stupid not to take advantage of it. The Colts ran a passive zone that for much of the game actually resembled a prevent defense more than anything else. It's safe to say Freeman will not see that kind of cushion this Sunday against the 49ers.
As for the Bucs defense, they did manage four sacks against Curtis Painter following six sacks in the first three games combined. Of course, Painter also seemed to stand like a statue quite a bit. When he did get off passes it was fairly boom or bust. He finished with 280 yards on 13 completions, highlighted by an 87 yard completion to Pierre Garcon that completely blew up a blown zone coverage by the Bucs. Maybe we'll see Michael Crabtree do the same thing Sunday.
The second Painter touchdown came on a wide receiver screen pass to Garcon who took it 59 yards for a touchdown. I'd suspect the Bucs will work to shore up the blown tackling on the screen pass and the blown coverage by Talib on the longer Garcon touchdown.
The Bucs did enough to win, which appears to be their basic philosophy this season. It may not always be pretty, but as we said following the Bengals game, ugly wins count the same as pretty ones.
The 49ers will face some interesting opposition when the Bucs come to town. On offense, they'll need to stop LeGarrette Blount first and foremost. If they can do that, it makes handling the Bucs receivers less difficult. They'll face the likes of Kellen Winslow, Mike Williams, Preston Parker and even Earnest Graham coming out of the backfield. It's not exactly a dream team of talent (modest Eagles pun intended), but it will present a challenge.
The 49ers will be playing an eminently winnable game against the Bucs, but as they did against the Eagles, they have to go out and take advantage of their opportunities. Ideally they won't be in a similar 23-3 hole, but you get the point. Even with the 49ers inconsistencies, I think the Bucs will likely have to play better than they did this evening if they are going to beat the 49ers.