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3 keys to a 49ers victory: Blowout incoming against the Bucs?

The 49ers return home for a Week 12 matchup against the Buccaneers.

San Francisco 49ers v Jacksonville Jaguars Photo by Megan Briggs/Getty Images

The San Francisco 49ers bounced back from their three-game slide with a dominant 34-3 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 10, improving to 6-3 and remaining in first place in the NFC West.

Now, they’ll focus their attention to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who stand at 4-5 after coming off a 20-6 victory over the Tennessee Titans.

The 49ers are 6-3 and coming into the week fairly healthy. Tackles Colton McKivitz and Trent Williams are not on the injury report after battling issues during the week.

The Buccaneers, on the other hand, have lost four consecutive games prior to their recent win, which followed a 3-1 start to the season.

Heading into the game, the 49ers are seen as 12-point favorites, according to DraftKings Sportsbook, with the over/under placed at 41.5 points.

Here’s what you need to know about the 49ers’ opponent on Sunday.

Opponent Preview

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have been a tale of two halves this season. They started great with 3-1 but stumbled into a four-loss losing streak. A losing streak in a weak NFC South division.

However, for the most part, the Buccaneers have remained competitive in those contests. Three of those four losses came within one possession.

As for a team in 2023, they are, well, intriguing. Their offense is marred by a struggling rushing attack ranking 32nd in the NFL for yards per game, at 78.1 yards and a passing game, averaging 228.6 passing yards a game, good for 15th in the NFL.

The flipside is their defense, which is a positive. Tampa Bay allows under 20 points a contest, despite giving up 354.1 yards per game, which ranks 24th in the NFL.

The Buccaneers are manned by quarterback Baker Mayfield, who has completed 64.1 percent of his passes and has thrown for 14 touchdowns and five interceptions this season.

As usual, Mike Evans has looked to dominate this season, as he currently leads the Buccaneers with 81.9 receiving yards per game and six touchdowns, placing him en route for a 10th consecutive 1,000-yard campaign.

Keys to the Game

Turnovers: In games like these, it’s tough to find similarities between the Buccaneers and the 49ers, but both teams have excelled in the turnover department.

The 49ers rank third in the NFL in takeaways with 1.9 per game, while the Buccaneers are sixth at 1.8 per game.

Similarly, both teams maximize opportunities on the offensive side of the ball by not turning it over, as the Buccaneers rank third at 0.9 giveaways a game, while the 49ers rank sixth with 1.0 per game.

The 49ers need to ensure that they don’t beat themselves in this game, which means not making mistakes and that involves takeaways, where the Buccaneers have specialized in this season.

Head coach Kyle Shanahan shared praise to two of the Buccaneers’ defensive stars in Antoine Winfield Jr. and Vita Vea, and that’s deservedly so, as the former has forced three fumbles and intercepted a pass, while the latter has 4.5 sacks, six tackles for loss, and two forced fumbles this season.

The 49ers will need to find a way to put the ball out of harms way on Saturday, which will go a long way into securing a victory over Tampa Bay.

Containing Mike Evans: It’s an extremely difficult task to contain a player of Mike Evans’s caliber, especially given how dominant he’s been throughout his career, but the 49ers must find a way to contain the top wideout in order to have a comfortable win on Saturday.

The 49ers deployed a good amount of man-coverage last Sunday, looking to contain the trio of talented Jacksonville receivers, but Mike Evans has thrived against man coverage in his career with his ability to make contested catches.

The wideout has six touchdowns on the season, and Tampa Bay will likely look his way a ton on Sunday, as that strategy guided them to victory last weekend, where Evans had six catches for 143 yards and a touchdown.

Charvarius Ward will likely earn the draw, but the 49ers also began utilizing Ambry Thomas on the outside once again in nickel situations. Those two and defensive coordinator Steve Wilks will need to devise a plan in order to contain Evans to the best of their ability.

Getting to the quarterback: Last weekend, getting to the quarterback was a major factor in dominating the Jaguars, as the 49ers sacked Trevor Lawrence five times, while also forcing a fumble on a strip-sack.

Both teams have dominant players on the defensive line, which is why getting to the quarterback will be a key on Sunday.

The 49ers have struggled in the past with elite defensive tackles shoring up the interior, and that’ll be the case on Sunday when they face Vita Vea, who missed a majority of last season’s game due to injury.

Tampa Bay also has Shaquil Barrett, who has four sacks on the season, including one last week, while outside linebacker Joe Tryon-Shoyinka has three of his own.

The 49ers have a strong defensive line of their own with Nick Bosa, Arik Armstead, Javon Hargrave, and the newly-acquired Chase Young, among others.

It’ll be a battle of the defensive lines on Sunday. Who will ultimately prevail?