You can remove the San Francisco 49ers from Florida, but you can’t remove the Florida from the 49ers.
After its most impressive win of the season in Jacksonville last week, the 49ers travel back to Santa Clara to take on the 5-4 Tampa Bay Buccaneers to complete the Florida two-step.
I might have bored you over the last few weeks with pressure numbers of opposing quarterbacks against a 49ers pass rush that was collecting pressures but not sacked. After eight sacks over the previous two games, it’s safe to say the 49ers’ pass rush might be back, so we can move on from focusing on that - although the Buccaneers' offense has the fifth-lowest sacks allowed rate this season.
No, allow me to use this week’s numbers to know to remind you that forcing turnovers on defense and preventing them on offense is essential:
Percent. The Buccaneers' offense has turned the ball over on 8.3 percent of its drives, fifth-lowest in the league.
Tampa Bay’s offense doesn’t stand out in too many spots offensively - ranked 22nd in points and yards, 31st in rushing yards, and 17th in scoring percent - but one place the Buccaneers excel is holding on to the ball. Its eight turnovers are tied for the second-fewest in the league, and has committed two or more turnovers in a game only twice this season.
The lack of turnovers starts at the quarterback spot, where Baker Mayfield has only thrown an interception on 1.6 percent of his dropbacks, tied with his 2020 season for the lowest of his career. Not only is Mayfield not throwing interceptions, but he’s not putting the ball in danger. According to Pro Football Focus, just 2.7 percent of his throws have been deemed turnover-worthy, the lowest of his career.
Something to keep in mind: Tampa Bay has only played two defenses currently ranked in the top ten at forcing turnovers - New Orleans and Buffalo - with six games against teams ranked in the bottom half of the league. The 49ers defense has the highest turnover percentage in the league, forcing a turnover on 18.3 percent of drives, making Sunday the season’s most challenging test for Mayfield.
Percent. The Buccaneers defense has forced a turnover on 16.7 percent of its drives, fourth-highest in the league.
So Tampa’s offense doesn’t turn the ball over, AND its defense is one of the better ones in the league at forcing turnovers? While it doesn’t seem like an ideal matchup, the 49ers offense is more than prepared.
Unlike the Tampa Bay offense facing only two defenses in the top ten, the 49ers offense has already played the other three defenses with the five highest turnover percentages. The three other teams are Cincinnati (ranked second), Pittsburgh (third), and Jacksonville (fifth), with the San Francisco offense turning the ball over four times in those three games.
Brock Purdy was responsible for all four turnovers - two interceptions and a fumble lost against the Bengals and a fumble lost against Pittsburgh. Still, the quarterback bounced back with a no-turnover performance against a Jaguars defense tied for the league lead with 18 turnovers.
But just like its offense, the Buccaneers defense has had some schedule luck with the turnovers. Five of Tampa’s nine games have come against offenses with the ten-highest turnover rates in the league. 11 of the Buccaneer’s 16 turnovers have come in those five games. Only four turnovers of those have come against offenses better at holding on to the ball than the 49ers, and even then, one of those four was an interception off of Jameis Winston in a game where Winston had only one pass attempt.
Yards after the catch. Tampa Bay’s defense has allowed 1,258 yards after the catch, sixth-most in the league.
The high yard-after-catch number is a direct consequence of the Buccaneers’ defense, allowing the second-most yards per game, allowing 266.9 per game.
While the 49ers offense ranks just 16th in the league with 1,066 yards after the catch, it’s also attempted at least 52 fewer passes than each of the 15 teams ahead of them, Kansas City leading the league with 1,419 YAC on 87 more pass attempts than the 49ers. When you take the average YAC per pass, the 49ers are tied with the Chiefs at the top of the league with 6.1 YAC per completion.
With YAC fiends like Christian McCaffrey, George Kittle, and Deebo Samuel, Kyle Shanahan is salivating with his spacing-heavy offense. A player he might specifically target? Buccaneers slot cornerback Christian Izien.
Not only has Izien allowed the most YAC on the Buccaneers’ defense, but his 205 yards allowed after the catch are the eight-most in the league, despite being targeted at least ten fewer times than any of the seven other players ahead of him. His 3.3 average depth of target is also the third-lowest in the league, but Grant Delpit - whose 2.6 ADOT is the lowest in the league - has allowed only 70 yards after the catch.
Shanahan loves his screen plays. Izien might have a Trent Williams-sized target on his back with his high amount of YAC allowed so close to the line of scrimmage.