In Sunday's Week 14 clash, the 6-6 Tampa Bay Buccaneers will travel cross-country to take on the 8-4 San Francisco 49ers at Levi's Stadium. It's December, which means the stakes are higher as each game poses potential playoff implications with positioning in the balance. This week, two division leaders will go head-to-head: Tampa Bay at San Francisco. The Bucs will vie for cushion in the NFC South with a tally in the win column come Sunday and the 49ers will strive to strengthen their grip on the NFC West. The Buccaneers' offense is producing just 18.1 points per game (27th in the NFL), a significant drop from the previous two seasons during the Tom-Brady led era. On Sunday, they will go up against the No. 1 ranked defense in the league in terms of points and yards allowed, spearheaded by Nick Bosa and Fred Warner. Let the chess match begin. Here is an in-depth look at five Buccaneers to observe on Sunday afternoon.
The Buccaneers' offensive line will have the challenging task of trying to slow down one of the NFL's most formidable pass rush units on Sunday afternoon, headlined by Nick Bosa (NFL-best 14.5 sacks). The 49ers currently rank fifth in the NFL with a sacks-per-pass-play rate of 9.02%. Bosa recorded three sacks against Miami in Week 13, drawing NFC Defensive Player of the Week honors. He has recorded a sack in all but one game of the 11 he has starred in during the 2022 campaign. Bosa has been a dominant force this season, continuing to entrench his legacy in the NFL atop the hierarchy at the position. With speed, power, understanding of leverage and a myriad of moves in his toolbox including a lethal dip-and-rip, Bosa wreaks havoc at the line of scrimmage. He splits his reps between both sides of the line, meaning Bucs' left tackle Donovan Smith will be a part of the group trying to limit one of the NFL's premier stars. Smith plays with functional strength, able to drive defenders off their spot. He will need a stout showing on Sunday afternoon. This game will likely hinge in the trenches.
Deebo Samuel, the 49ers' do-it-all phenom is a threat to rip off a gain on any touch. Samuel is proficient between the tackles, on outside zone runs, is a nuanced route-runner and a deep-threat receiver. He is twitchy in-and-out of breaks and is an elusive runner, juking defenders in the open field. Samuel is a focal point in the 49ers' system and hit another level last season. He ran for 365 yards and eight touchdowns to combine with 1,405 receiving yards and six scores. Whether lined up in the backfield or running a route, safeties Keanu Neal and Logan Ryan will likely make a key impact. On a run play, Ryan could be asked to line up in the box to prevent Samuel from getting around the edge or on a pass play, he could be tasked with making an open-field tackle if Samuel makes it past the second level. The Niners' offense is predicated on getting yards after the catch and mitigating their effectiveness with gap control will be critical. Ryan returned to action after missing seven games with a foot injury and will play a key role on Sunday. This season for the Bucs, Ryan reunited with Tom Brady, whom he won two Super Bowls with in New England. Last year with the Giants, Ryan accumulated a career-high 117 combined tackles, eight passes defensed and two forced fumbles. He has elite short-area quickness and excels in press coverage at the line of scrimmage. Ryan provides flexibility, having played both as a slot corner and safety over the previous few seasons.
Rookie tight end Cade Otton has made his mark in the Bucs' aerial attack, garnering the trust of Tom Brady. The latter of course being no easy feat. Brady has targeted Otton early and often, specifically in the short-to-intermediate area of the field and down the seams. Otton caught the game-winning touchdown against the Rams on a chip-and-release route out of the flat and caught another touchdown during the Bucs' comeback win against the Saints, where he was targeted 10 times. Otton has displayed the ability to sink and separate from coverage at the breakpoint. He is adept at finding soft spots in zones and securing the catch, while taking big hits. On Sunday, he will face arguably the best off-ball linebacker in the NFL, Fred Warner. Despite the 49ers' use of a two-high shell to limit big plays downfield, which invites teams to exploit the underneath area of the field, opposing teams have not had success doing so since the arrival of Warner in 2018. With his ability to diagnose and change-of-direction skills, Warner possesses big-play potential.
In addition to Deebo Samuel, the Niners have another Swiss Army Knife named Christian McCaffrey. In 2020, he amassed both 1,000 yards rushing and receiving – only the third person in NFL history to accomplish that accolade. With speed, vison and shiftiness, McCaffrey has established himself as one of the best pass-catching running backs in the league to date. He has the capability of going the distance from anywhere on the field, making him an absolute nightmare for defenses. McCaffrey is quickly able to get north-and-south after catching the ball, showcasing power downhill. With first-step quickness and second-gear speed, McCaffrey overwhelms linebackers and safeties in the open field. Defenses design game plans to account for him, yet McCaffrey still finds a way to put up a highlight-reel. On Sunday, the Bucs will try to limit his effectiveness in both the running and passing game for San Francisco. Linebacker Devin White will be a contributing component in containing him. He currently leads the Bucs in tackles with 94 and has continued his reign of dominance in 2022. White can get outside the tackle box but also stacks up well against blockers in the middle of the field. He is quick out of his stance and possesses the athleticism/range to outpace rushers and receivers on screens and quick passes. White's range will be a key in mitigating yards after catch. For the Bucs' linebacker corps., controlling gaps will be pivotal against the Niners' talent-filled nucleus.
The 49ers stress C-gap assignments with jet sweeps, screens and outside zone runs to try and get their playmakers in the open field. With the blocking prowess of left tackle Trent Williams, tight end George Kittle and fullback Kyle Juszczyk, the 49ers are the best in the league at picking up yards after catch in a downhill attack featuring Deebo Samuel and Christian McCaffrey. For the Buccaneers' defense, setting the edge will be crucial to the outcome of Sunday's Week 14 clash at Levi's Stadium. Joe Tryon-Shoyinka will need a solid performance on the West Coast to solidify the defense. If he crashes in or over-pursues the quarterback, a rushing lane along the boundary will open for Samuel or McCaffrey to exploit. Tryon-Shoyinka was asked to play multiple positions during his 2021 rookie campaign in order to maximize his time on the field. He rushed from the edge, the three-technique spot and served as an off-ball linebacker. Jason Pierre-Paul became an unrestricted free agent in March after suffering a shoulder injury that limited him to 12 games and 2.5 sacks (601 snaps). Tryon-Shoyinka then cemented a starting role opposite Shaquil Barrett (injured). In 2022, he has flashed his pursuit skills in space and ability to close on the quarterback. Having a five-technique to occupy offensive tackles has freed up Tryon-Shoyinka to make plays. The 49ers will place stress on all three levels of the Buccaneers' defense, specifically the outside linebackers.