The 49ers square off with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this Sunday, and as I've tried to do off and on this year, I took a few minutes to chat with Sander over at Bucs Nation. In case you missed it, we've got a FanPost set up over there to answer their questions about the 49ers. Additionally, they have a FanPost here at NN for us to ask about the Bucs.
In recent weeks I've gone with a fairly basic Five Questions post. This week Sander and I decided to simplify things a little bit. We each wrote about the rushing offense and defense and the passing offense and defense. It's a chance to hit on a variety of areas related to the team in the context of the entire unit. I've submitted something similar to Sander for posting at Bucs Nation. Feel free to head over there when he gets it posted and offer any different (or supporting) opinions you might have.
The Bucs employ a power running game based on two plays. With Jeremy Zuttah they have an excellent pulling guard on the left of the line, which means they predominantly run right. On the right side of the line they also have two very physical run blockers in Davin Joseph and Jeremy Trueblood. Add to that second-year fullback Erik Lorig who has had a very good start to the season and gigantic running back Legarrette Blount, and their running game is based on overpowering the opponent at all levels of the defense.
In Josh Freeman the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have a real franchise quarterback, which hasn't happened in a very long time. Unfortunately, the third-year player has looked sluggish and a little uncomfortable this season. Except for surprise standout Preston Parker the receivers have also gotten off to slow starts, while penalties have set back the offense. 31-year old third-down back Earnest Graham is Josh Freeman's favorite target. This is not the smooth passing offense we saw last year. There is a bright spot, though: Freeman has looked more comfortable and better each week.
Outside of the second week of the season when the Bucs faced Adrian Peterson, the run defense has looked very good. This was a weak spot last year, as the Bucs ranked last in the NFL at stopping the run by Football Outsiders' DVOA. But that same metric shows the team's improvement in that respect, as the defense is now ranked 10th at stopping the run. This has also shown up on the field, as the Bucs held the Falcons to just 30 yards rushing and the Colts to just 62 yards rushing. The improvement of defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and the addition of defensive end Adrian Clayborn and linebacker Mason Foster have been major factors in this improvement.
The pass defense has been a problem for the Buccaneers so far, despite a re-energized pass rush that has notched eight sacks over the past two games. While the Bucs used to be known for running a Tampa 2 defense, which was named after the team of course, they have played a lot more man coverage this season. The problem with this strategy has been that opponents have been able to pick on E.J. Biggers to rack up yardage and move up and down the field. The good news is that teams have had a lot more trouble getting that ball into the endzone, but while the passing defense was a strength last year, it certainly looks like a weakness so far this year.