We are a little over 48 hours from the San Francisco 49ers kicking off their season. Here are three things to watch as the Niners take on Tampa Bay.
In last year’s matchup, Mike Evans caught six of his eight targets for 116 yards. Five of those six receptions went for first downs. If you recall, he beat Richard Sherman on a deep pass down the sideline for a gain of 42 yards. The Bucs offensive coordinator is Byron Leftwich, but Bruce Arians still has his fingerprints all over this offense, if the preseason is any indication.
During the preseason, Jameis Winston attempted 29 passes. Thirteen of those were over ten yards. Tampa Bay wants to air it out. The 49ers will need to limit Evans and his big play ability. How do they do that? By getting after Winston. Not many people will argue that Evans is a top ten wide receiver in this league. Between all the top receivers, his production is most dependent on the quarterback. There are plenty of plays where Evans is open, and Winston either air mails the pass or doesn’t have time to get the ball to Evans.
I’m interested to see how different the secondary looks from a coverage standpoint. Joe Woods was brought in as the defensive backs coach in hopes for the secondary to become more aggressive. From tackling to playing man coverage. We’ll see how much the 49ers mix coverages to throw Wintson off.
Blowing by the Bucs
Evans and Chris Godwin have the advantage on the perimeter. That’s probably the second biggest mismatch in the game. The first is whenever Winston drops back to pass. The Bucs starting guard, Alex Cappa, played 106 snaps last season and allowed ten pressures. For reference, journeyman Mike Person didn’t allow his tenth pressure until Week 9 of last season. Nobody is confusing Person for an All-Pro guard anytime soon.
DeForest Buckner, Arik Armstead, Solomon Thomas, and whoever else rotates in on Sunday will be fighting to line up over Cappa. When Dee Ford said, “you saw the Cleveland game, right?” Cappa gave up two sacks in that preseason game.
Tampa’s tackles don’t hold a candle to the 49ers. Last season, the Bucs left tackle Donovan Smith allowed the fourth-most pressures and the fifth-most sacks. Right tackle Demar Dotson was much better a season ago, but did allow two sacks in the preseason in a little under a games worth of reps. With Arians looking to stretch the field, that leaves his tackles susceptible. Forcing them to block even a half count longer is playing with fire, especially with Dee Ford and Nick Bosa coming off the edge.
Turning Tampa over
Tampa Bay had a top-ten passing attack last season. With Arians, they might not be as efficient, but the Bucs are sure to be more explosive. They were sixth in yards per drive but were the only team worse than the 49ers in turnovers per drive. I’ve watched Jameis since college, and he lives for the big play. The focal point for Leftwich has been to try and get Winston to make the “smart play.” I don’t know if that’s something you can coach out of him. For every perfect pass down the sideline to Godwin, there is a “did he really just throw that to the linebacker?” throw mixed in.
Tampa Bay struggled to run the ball all season. That, plus being down in games forced them to be dimensional. If you saw the Bucs offense at all this preseason, there wasn’t a lot of involvement from running backs in the passing game. All the routes were down the field, with no “check down” available. That puts more pressure on Winston to make the correct read. History has shown he won’t do that consistently. If Fred Warner and Kwon Alexander can get into throwing lanes and force Winston to hold onto the ball, the 49ers will win.