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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

2023 Opponent Preview: San Francisco 49ers, Week 11

San Francisco suffered some free agency losses in the offseason and still has to get its quarterback room fully worked out but has a deeply talented roster and a wildly versatile set of skill-position players


As the NFL enters its fallow period between the end the teams' offseason programs and the start of training camp, we are taking a closer look at each of the opponents the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will face during the 2023 regular season. From how those teams fared last year to what they've done with the roster since to some as-yet-unanswered questions, we want to get a better feel for what the Buccaneers will be up against this fall. Today we look at a top NFC contender that was just one game, and maybe a very untimely quarterback injury, away from the Super Bowl last year.

2022 Results

The 49ers pulled off a high-wire act during the 2022 regular season, winning 13 games despite being forced to start three different quarterbacks, the last – and most successful – of which was a rookie taken with the very last pick of the draft. San Francisco ripped off 10 straight wins after a 3-4 start, and the magic continued with two more postseason wins before that quarterback carousel finally spun out of control in the NFC Championship Game in Philadelphia.

That rookie phenom was Mr. Irrelevant Brock Purdy, who won his first seven starts, playoffs included, after replacing the injured Jimmy Garoppolo. Garoppolo wasn't expected to be the 49ers' start for the balance of the season – in fact, he wasn't even expected to be on the roster for most of the offseason – but he himself was pressed into duty after Trey Lance was lost to a season-ending ankle injury after just two games.

Purdy undeniably played extremely well, compiling a stellar 67.1% completion rate, a 13-4 TD-INT ratio and a 107.3 passer rating in his five regular-season starts. It didn't hurt that he inherited a team with a stacked skill-position group on offense, an incredible offensive facilitator in Head Coach Kyle Shanahan and perhaps the NFL's bets defense. The 49ers were already loaded with such versatile and productive offense weapons as Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk and George Kittle before they made an October trade to acquire Christian McCaffrey. In 11 games with the 49ers, McCaffrey racked up 1,210 yards from scrimmage and 10 touchdowns.

The 49ers' defense was led by NFL Defensive Player of the Year Nick Bosa and a ferocious front that ranked first in both yards (300.6) and points (16.3) allowed per game during the regular season. Linebacker Fred Warner and safety Talanoa Hufanga joined Bosa on the Pro Bowl roster; Warner, who has taken over the mantle of the NFL's best linebacker, made the middle of the field a danger zone for opposing offenses and Hufanga (four interceptions, two forced fumbles and 2.0 sacks) emerged as a big-time playmaker. The linebacking trio of Warner, Dre Greenlaw and Azeez Al-Shaair combined for nearly 300 tackles and was possibly the league's best unit. Safety Tashaun Gipson had five of the 49ers' league-leading 20 interceptions.

San Francisco's season started on a shaky note, with a 19-10 loss in a driving rainstorm in Chicago in Week One. The 49ers also inauspiciously dropped an ugly 11-10 game in Denver in Week Three and were beaten by two touchdowns in Atlanta in Week Six. However, beginning with wins over both Los Angeles teams sandwiched around their bye week, the 49ers began their 12-week tear, winning eight of those 12 games (playoffs included) by double-digit margins. At 13-4, they ended up with a four-game cushion over Seattle and the second seed in the NFC playoff field.

In the postseason, the 49ers dispatched of the Seahawks in the Wild Card round, outscoring them 25-6 in the second half to run away with a 41-23 decision. That brought Dallas to town, and the San Francisco defense did its part, holding Dak Prescott and company to 282 yards in a 19-12 victory. Unfortunately for Niner fans, the quarterback injury woes roared back in what became a lopsided Philadelphia victory in the NFC Championship Game. Purdy hurt the elbow on his throwing shoulder on San Francisco's first possession and his replacement, Josh Johnson, suffered a concussion early in the second half. Purdy came back into the game but only attempted two more passes and the Eagles were able to smother the 49ers, 31-7.

2023 Arrivals

The 49ers had to replace their defensive coordinator when DeMeco Ryans took the Texans head coaching gig, and they hit on Steve Wilks, who went 6-6 as the interim head coach for the Panthers after they fired Matt Rhule last fall. Wilks has previously been a defensive coordinator for the Panthers, the Browns and the University of Missouri and also spent one season as the Arizona Cardinals' head coach. Bobby Slowik, previously the 49ers' offensive passing game coordinator, followed Ryans to Houston so the 49ers brought in Klint Kubiak, who held the same position with the Broncos in 2022.

In free agency, the 49ers only handed out one big contract, but it was a very big signing: four years and $84 million for 305-pound defensive tackle Javon Hargrave, who had 11 sacks for Philadelphia in 2022. The addition of Hargrave continues San Francisco's recent tradition of spending significant assets on their defensive line.

The only other multi-year deal the 49ers gave out was a two-year contract for former Falcons cornerback Isaiah Oliver, who started five games for Atlanta last year and could be ticketed for the nickel job in San Francisco. There were also a variety of depth signings, including two new backup quarterbacks in Sam Darnold (Panthers) and Brandon Allen (Bengals). Defensive end Clelin Ferrell, who didn't live up to his fourth-overall draft status in Las Vegas, will get another shot amid the 49ers' talented front. Former Lion Austin Bryant also helps fill in some new gaps in that front line. Former Giants center Jon Feliciano and former Colts guard Matt Pryor add depth to the offensive line. Similarly, a mid-April signing of Chris Conley adds depth to the receiving corps; Conley only had four catches with the Texans and Titans last year but had 87 over the 2019-20 seasons combined in Jacksonville.

The 49ers didn't have a pick in the first two rounds of the 2023 draft due to the trade up for Lance in 2021 and the trade for McCaffrey last fall, so their first pick was third-round safety Ji'Ayir Brown out of Penn State. Brown may need some time to get on the field with Hufanga and Gipson in front of him on the depth chart. San Francisco had two more third-round picks and took Michigan kicker Jake Moody and Alabama tight end Cameron Latu. Moody replaces long-time standout Robbie Gould, who will turn 41 this season. San Francisco also traded for former Panthers kicker Zane Gonzalez in March but presumably wouldn't go away from a third-round pick so quickly.

2023 Departures

As noted above, Ryans got his much-anticipated first head coaching job in the offense and Slowik followed him to Houston. Ran Carthon, who spent five seasons in the 49ers' personnel office, the last two as the director of player personnel, filled the open G.M. spot in Tennessee.

The 49ers saw their starting right tackle, Mike McGlinchey take a big five-year deal in Denver; McGlinchey started 69 games over five seasons in San Francisco after being drafted ninth overall in 2018. Guard Daniel Brunskill, who started all 33 games in 2020 and 2021 but only two last year, jumped to Tennessee for another starting opportunity.

The 49ers also saw the effects on their roster of those departures from upstairs. Both Brunskill and linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair followed Carthon to Nashville. Meanwhile, safety Jimmie Ward and defensive tackle Hassan Ridgeway reunited with Ryans in Houston. Ward had three interceptions in 12 games and five starts last year.

This time around, Garoppolo did move on, as expected, signing a three-year deal with Las Vegas to replace their departed starter, Derek Carr. Garoppolo won seven of his 10 starts for the 49ers in 2022 and had a passer rating of 103.0. Overall in six seasons in San Francisco he went 38-17 as a starter in the regular season. Josh Johnson also left for Baltimore, making his stay in the Bay area a fleeting one.

The Niners also took a few more hits on defense, with ends Samson Ebukam and Charles Omenihu departing in free agency for Indianapolis and Kansas City, respectively. Those two ranked second and third, respectively, on the team's sack list last year, with 5.0 for the former and 4.5 for the latter. Cornerback Emmanuel Moseley, who has been limited by injuries through most of his five-year career but productive when on the field, took a one-year pact with the Lions.

Other Noteworthy Developments

Purdy wasn't able to take part in the 49ers' offseason workouts as he recovered from the torn UCL in his elbow from the NFC Championship Game. However, Purdy is now ready to begin throwing and will do so with private instructors in Jacksonville over the next couple weeks. Shanahan said in May that the team was optimistic that Purdy would be ready to go in Week One of the regular season and general manager John Lynch said the second-year passer has earned the right to be the starter. Lance, who had to make it back from his own ankle injury, was able to throw during OTA practices and largely took first-team snaps over Darnold.

Though they had a number of significant free agency losses on defense, as noted above, as well as on the offensive front with McGlinchey's departure, the 49ers were able to retain their starting center, Jake Brendel, with a new four-year deal. Meanwhile, they will be counting on 2020 fifth-round pick Colton McKivitz to step in for McGlinchey opposite superstar left tackle Trent Williams. McKivitz has five starts over three seasons, including one last year.

Pressing Questions

How exactly will the 49ers' quarterback position shake out?

The 49ers won 15 games last year, are well-coached and have a deeply and widely talented roster. This offseason, they have repeatedly shown up in the top five of various NFL power rankings, such as this one, this one and this one. In many ways, they look like true title contenders, and they did make it to within one game of the Super Bowl last year.

Even so, it's fair to suggest there's a bit of variance in their potential outcomes based solely on the fact that the quarterback position isn't completely a sure thing.

There's definitely a Plan A, and plenty of reason for optimism that it will work out. That would be Purdy having no trouble throwing in training camp, earning the Week One starting job and performing like he did in his first seven NFL starts. As mentioned before, he has an excellent supporting cast to help him continue succeeding and team management clearly has confidence in him.

That said, we are still talking about a quarterback with eight career starts, playoffs included, and the pedigree of a very late draft pick. There is also the possibility that Purdy won't be completely ready to go for the start of the reason. If Purdy isn't the immediate answer due to health or a regression in his performance, would the 49ers definitely turn back to Lance, who has dual-threat capabilities but a very severe lack of experience, including in both college and the pros. Could Sam Darnold get a shot, given Shanahan's history of getting good production out of lightly-regarded quarterbacks?

Last year, when Lance got hurt early, the 49ers had a safety net in Garoppolo, who had won a lot of games for them. With Garoppolo now getting a fresh chance to start in Las Vegas, there will be a lot more uncertainty if Purdy and/or Lance don't work out as well as the team expects.

Is the San Francisco defense due for a bit of regression after a number of key departures, including that of its architect?

As chronicled above, free agency took an inevitable toll on the 49ers' top-ranked defense, with six starters or rotational regulars finding new NFL homes. The biggest loss, however, might not be on the depth chart, as Ryans had quickly shot up the NFL coaching ranks due to his outstanding work in San Francisco. The 49ers landed on their feet with Wilks, but it will still be hard to match what Ryans did in his brief but successful stint at the helm of their defense.

Of course, it would be hard for the defense to go in any direction but down after last season's performance. The 49ers ranked first in points allowed and yards allowed, second in rushing yards allowed, third in interception rate, and second in first downs allowed per game. They held nine of their last 10 opponents in the regular season to 20 points or fewer.

The addition of Hargrave could certainly help balance out the losses. He was one of the most impactful interior lineman in the league last year and pairing him with Bosa could help both players get to the quarterback even more often. And this depth chart is still studded with such stars as Warner, Greenlaw, Hufanga, Gipson and Charvarius Ward. The 49ers should have a very good defense in 2023. Will it be as good as it was in 2022?

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