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49ers-Bucs preview: 4 matchups to watch

The 49ers have emerged as a slim home favorite against the Bucs in Week 7. There are a handful of interesting matchups that could swing this matchup.

The San Francisco 49ers are home in Week 7 facing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The game kicks off at 1:05 p.m. PT on FOX, and is the 49ers final game before their Week 8 bye. The 49ers opened as a 2.5-point underdog, but sizable early money came in, and suddenly the 49ers are a one-point favorite. People are not exactly high on the Bucs, although the line suggests the Bucs would be favored on a neutral field. The 49ers are 1-5, coming off a fifth straight loss, while the Bucs are coming out of their bye week at 2-3.

There will be plenty to watch on both sides of the ball. I thought we’d pull up a few potentially key matchups for the game. Some of these are player vs. player, but given the team nature of football, these are often going to be position unit vs. position unit, or position unit vs. player. What other matchups will you be watching?

49ers run defense vs. Bucs run game

This is the simplest and most obvious matchup on the 49ers radar. The 49ers gave up 312 rushing yards to the Buffalo Bills in Week 6. Even though they had given up fewer yards in games prior to that, it was still very clear the rushing defense was a problem. Michael Wilhoite and Nick Bellore have started the last two games and not been particularly good, so the team is expected to make some changes, including working Gerald Hodges back into the mix. If the 49ers cannot contain Jacquizz Rodgers, nothing else will really matter.

Tramaine Brock/Jimmie Ward vs. Mike Evans/Adam Humphries

The 49ers are expected to welcome back Ward for the first time since Week 3. Rashard Robinson’s status remains up in the air, so it looks like we’ll see the team’s original starting duo of Brock and Ward. Brock had a very solid game last week against the Buffalo Bills, facing off against a wide receiver corps missing its biggest weapon (Sammy Watkins). This week, the Bucs present a more inconsistent, but potentially bigger challenge. Jameis Winston has been inconsistent, but he has a very solid No. 1 receiver in Evans, and an inconsistent but potentially developing threat in Humphries

Joe Staley, Zane Beadles, Daniel Kilgore vs. Bucs RDE, RDT

Football Outsiders ranks the Bucs defense No. 23 overall, No. 22 against the pass, and No. 14 against the run. Against the run, FO breaks down offensive lines for runs in various directions. They have an interesting breakdown of the Bucs defense against runs in each direction, using adjusted line yards (ranking in parenthesis):

Left End: 4.27 (No. 20)
Left Tackle: 4.28 (No. 21)
Mid/Guard: 4.41 (No. 28)
Right Tackle: 3.74 (No. 18)
Right End: 0.98 (No. 2)

The Bucs will be without DT Clinton McDonald and DE Robert Ayers. They seem to rotate some options, so this group could include Akeem Spence, Noah Spence, DaVonte Lambert, and/or John Hughes. The 49ers need to take advantage of this matchup.

Colin Kaepernick vs. Bucs DC Mike Smith

Last week, several members of the the Buffalo Bills were critical of Colin Kaepernick’s performance. Some off the record said they thought he was finished, while others on the record talked about pushing him into situations of discomfort in the passing game. The Bucs pass defense is not as good as the Bills, so the challenge might be a little more significant for them. There is now a game of film for Smith to assess. He’ll need to adjust for the running skills that are still there. Kaepernick had issues with accuracy last week, so how will Smith adjust to try and replicate some of what the Bills did last week?