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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Bucs-Niners Could be Won on the Ground

Scouting Report: Few teams run the ball more frequently than the 49ers, who have also had difficulty stopping the run on defense this year.

A look back at all of the match-ups between the Buccaneers and the 49ers.

On Sunday, the 2-3 Tampa Bay Buccaneers take on the 1-5 San Francisco 49ers at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, California. It will be the 22nd meeting between the two teams in the regular season and a chance for the Buccaneers to get both their third road win of the season and their third victory ever in the other Bay area (more on the Bucs-49ers series history).

The 49ers are trying to snap a five-game losing streak after winning their 2016 opener against the Los Angeles Rams. To prevent that, the Bucs will need to handle San Francisco's up-tempo run-heavy attack and try to get to quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who has just reassumed the starting role. Tampa Bay's offense will try to take advantage of a 49er defense that has allowed the most rushing yards in the league. Here's a closer look at the challenges the Buccaneers will face when they head to the West Coast this weekend.



Chip Kelly is in his first season at the 49ers' helm but he has been walking NFL sidelines since 2013, when the made the jump from the University of Oregon to the pro ranks in Philadelphia. Though the Eagles finished 10-6 in each of Kelly's first two seasons, making the playoffs in 2013, the team relieved him of his post with one game remaining and Philly sporting a 6-9 record. Including San Francisco's 1-5 start to the current campaign, Kelly has an overall record of 27-26 as an NFL head coach. He was the Maxwell Club Coach of the Year in 2013.

Kelly did not have to wait long to get his second shot at an NFL head coaching position. After being dismissed in Philadelphia on December 29 he was hired by San Francisco just 16 days later to replace Jim Tomsula.

In Philadelphia, Kelly was best known for his up-tempo offensive approach, which he brought with him from a very successful run at Oregon. In his first season in Philadelphia, the Eagles set an NFL record with 99 plays of 20 or more yards. His team made the playoffs on the strength of the league's fourth-best scoring attack before losing a Wild Card contest to the Saints. So far, Kelly's first 49ers team has taken a very run-heavy approach (more on that below) and is 19th in the league in scoring despite ranking last in yards per game.

Kelly coached for 23 seasons on the collegiate level, beginning at Columbia in 1990 and advancing through New Hampshire (his alma mater), Johns Hopkins and Oregon. He won several national Coach of the Year awards along the way and is described in his Eagles bio as a "football junkie" with a "matter-of-fact leadership style." His spread offense is obviously his calling card; in his four years at the helm in Oregon (after two as the offensive coordinator), the Ducks averaged 44.7 points per game.

During those four years, Kelly compiled a 46-7 as the head coach and led the Ducks to four BCS bowl appearances. In 2012, Kelly's last year on a collegiate sideline, Oregon ran 1,077 plays in 13 games, which was more than all but six NFL teams did in 16 games in 2012.



Kelly is still pushing the tempo after swapping teams. The 49ers have had 78 offensive possessions so far, the most in the NFL, and their opponents have had 79 possessions, most in the NFL. Unfortunately, 30.8% of those Niner drives have been three-and-outs, the second-highest percentage behind Los Angeles.

San Francisco chose one of the most significant offensive changes a team can make in Week Six, turning the quarterback job back over to Colin Kaepernick after Blaine Gabbert had started the first five games. The 49ers lost Kaepernick's first start since last November 1, 45-16 in Buffalo, but on Monday Kelly confirmed that Kaepernick would start again on Sunday against the Buccaneers. His efforts in Buffalo included 13 completions in 29 attempts (44.8%) for 187 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions, plus a team-high 66 rushing yards.

That last number underscores the fact that Kaepernick is one of the most dangerous runners under center in the NFL, as also evidenced by his 1,163 yards and five touchdowns during his two full years as a starter (2013-14). Obviously, one game is too small of a sample size to judge Kaepernick's work as a passer in his return to the lineup; in his career he has completed 59.6% of his passes, tossed 57 touchdowns against 26 interceptions and compiled a passer rating of 88.2. In Buffalo, Kaepernick spread the ball around, targeting wide receivers Torrey Smith, Jeremy Kerley and Quinton Patton seven times each, though with little success beyond a 53-yard scoring pass to Smith.

Kerley was the busiest receiver with Gabbert in the lineup, leading the team with 53 targets and 28 catches. Smith remains a serious deep threat, as he has throughout his career, with a 15.2-yard average this year. Together, Garret Celek and Vance McDonald have given the 49ers a reasonably productive tight end position, with a combined 18 catches for 253 yards and two scores. Overall, though, the 49ers have not been able to push the ball downfield through the air, ranking last in the NFL in completions of 20+ yards (11) and second-to-last in passer rating on balls thrown more than 20 yards in the air (38.2). Combined, Kaepernick and Gabbert have averaged 169.5 net passing yards per game, last in the NFL.

Pictures of the Top 10 Niners in Week 6, according to their Pro Football Focus player grade.

Some of that can be attributed to play-calling. Only the Cowboys with rookie sensation Ezekiel Elliott have run the ball on a higher percentage of plays this season than the Niners (50.0%). Kelly definitely tries to establish the run early, as his team leads the league by running on 55.9% of their plays in the first half.

Third-year running back Carlos Hyde is making that work. He ranks 11th in the league with 429 rushing yards and is tied for second with six scores on the ground. Hyde is a powerful runner who can break tackles but he also slimmed down some after the change in head coaches in order to better handle Kelly's up-tempo offense. He's also the clear bell cow in San Francisco, as the team's next two leading rushers are quarterbacks. Backup Shaun Draughn has averaged about four carries per game so far, and only 2.1 yards per tote. It should be noted that Hyde suffered a shoulder injury during the Buffalo game, which will be worth keeping an eye on this week.

Despite ranking last in the league in overall yards per game (but fifth in rushing), the 49ers are putting up 21.1 points per outing, which is the 19th-best average in the NFL. That's due in part to an ability to capitalize on turnovers; on possessions that started after takeaways, the 49ers have put up a total of 48 points, the best in the NFL. The league average is 19. Of course, the San Francisco offense has also given the ball back 10 times, leading to 46 points, the second-highest total in the league.

San Francisco's offensive line is anchored by 10th-year left tackle Joe Staley, who has been to each of the last five Pro Bowls and has started 86 consecutive games. The team had a strong bookend to Staley at right tackle in 2010 first-round pick Anthony Davis, but Davis retired before the 2015 season. He briefly returned for one game this season but retired again. The job now belongs to enormous 2015 seventh-round pick Trenton Davis (6-8, 355), who some consider a rising star in the league. The 49ers traded up into the first round this past spring to draft Joshua Garnett, who has just moved into the starting lineup at right guard, and picked up veteran left guard Zane Beadles in free agency. The 49ers rank fifth in rushing yards per game (123.3), 20th in yards per carry (3.85) and 24th in sacks allowed per pass play (6.8%).

Though they've had trouble consistently mounting successful drives, the 49ers have been efficient when nearing the end zone. San Francisco has turned 60.0% of their drives that reach the opponents' 30-yard line into touchdowns, the fifth-best mark in the league. They have also scored touchdowns on 100% of their goal-to-go situations, one of only four teams (also including the Buccaneers) who can still say that. San Francisco's offense has also been disciplined despite the up-tempo approach, ranking second in penalties accepted against them.



The 49ers featured one of the league's best defenses when they made three straight conference championship games and one Super Bowl from 2011-13, ranking first in the NFL in that span in points allowed per game (16.1). Since then, a crew that used to be loaded with such stars as Patrick Willis, NaVorro Bowman and Justin Smith has been decimated by retirements, injuries and free agency defections. Through the first six games of the 2016 season, the 49ers are allowing 30.8 points per game, with only New Orleans faring worse. If one only includes points scored by opposing offenses, the 49ers rank last.

The run defense has been especially porous, and it was gashed by the Bills to the tune of 312 yards and 7.1 yards per carry this past Sunday. San Francisco ranks last in rushing yards allowed per game (174.3), 31st in yards allowed per carry (4.96), last in runs of 10+ yards allowed (27) and last in runs of 20+ yards allowed (nine). Obviously, the Niners' foes have taken note, as they have run on 50.6% of their plays, the highest percentage against any team. It's been a solid strategy on first down, as 49.5% of first-down totes by SF opponents have resulted in four or more yards, the third-worst percentage in the league.

That defense suffered a significant blow in Week Four when Bowman, perhaps the team's best remaining defender, suffered a season-ending Achilles tendon tear against Dallas. Nick Bellore replaced Bowman alongside Michael Wilhoite as the inside 'backers in the 49ers' 3-4 front, but Kelly said after the Buffalo game that the team intends to have more of a rotation at those spots going forward, with reserves Gerald Hodges and Shayne Skov getting more involved.

San Francisco's two outside linebackers are dangerous pass-rushers, with Ahmad Brooks tying for the team lead with 2.0 sacks while also breaking up three passes. His bookend, third-year man and former USF standout Aaron Lynch, doesn't have a sack yet but at 6-6 and 270 pound is a menacing blend of size and speed. He had six sacks as a rookie in 2014 and another 6.5 last year.

Tied with Brooks for that sack lead is rookie defensive end DeForest Buckner, the seventh overall pick in this year's draft. Even taller than Lynch at 6-7 and 300 pounds, Buckner is a versatile threat up front and has already made starts at left DT and nose tackle. Overall, the 49ers' defense ranks 19th in the league in sacks per pass play, getting the QB down on 5.3% of those snaps. For comparison's sake, that is two spots below where the Buccaneers ranks after a recent drought brought on by a rash of D-Line injuries. A little extra time has helped opposing passers get off a good number of successful deep throws; quarterbacks have a combined 132.6 passer rating on throws that travel more than 20 yards in the air this season against San Francisco, tied for the worst mark in the league.

The strength of the 49ers' defense at the moment may be at the back end with the talented safety duo of Eric Reid and Antoine Bethea. A first-round pick in 2013, Reid racked up seven interceptions and one Pro Bowl berth in his first two campaigns, though he has been held without a pick since the start of 2015. After a strong eight-year run in Indianapolis, Bethea came to San Francisco in 2014 and immediately made his first Pro Bowl in five seasons with four interceptions. He was limited to seven games last year but has one interception, one forced fumble and three passes defensed already in 2016. According to 49ers notes, Bethea's 973 tackles since 2006 are the most by any defensive back in the NFL. He and Reid are the team's two leading tacklers this year, as well, with 51 and 49, respectively.

The Niners have had difficulty getting off the field on third downs, allowing a 43.7% conversion rate that ranks 25th in the NFL. Part of that is due to facing too many short third downs, the function not only of ground success on first downs by their opponents, but even more so on second down. Second-down runs against San Francisco are averaging 5.82 yards, last in the NFL and well above the league average of 4.18.



Placekicker Phil Dawson is still going strong in his 18th NFL season, making seven of his eight attempts so far and only missing on a 53-yard try in Week Three. That 87.5% success rate this year is only slightly above his career mark of 84.5% (393 of 465), which ranks 13th all-time in league history. Dawson has also made all 14 of his extra point tries so far this year, a greater feat with the new PAT line of scrimmage.

The punter is second-year man Bradley Pinion, a fifth-round pick in 2015 who has had the unenviable task of replacing Andy Lee, one of the better punters in league history. Pinion has acquitted himself well. Though he ranked 27th in the league in gross punting average and 23rd in net average as a rookie he's up to 16th and 18th in those categories, respectively, this year, with marks of 46.2 and 39.7. Pinion has also handled the team's kickoff duties and has forced 11 touchbacks on 14 attempts, including all five last Sunday in Buffalo.

The 49ers have tried six different players on kickoff returns, with cornerback Chris Davis getting the most (six returns, 21.5-yard average). However, Davis is now on injured reserve and the job was shared last Sunday by wide receivers Keshawn Martin, Jeremy Kerley and Torey Smith. Overall, the 49ers have been held to a 17.5-yard average on kickoff returns, which ranks 29th in the league. Kerley has handled all the punt returns, averaging 8.6 yards on eight tries while executing 14 fair catches.

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