The 6-6 Tampa Bay Buccaneers will travel to the West Coast to take on the 8-4 San Francisco 49ers at Levi's Stadium in Week 14. The two division leaders will battle for position in the overall NFC standings. The Bucs will aim to catapult themselves forward by snapping the 49ers' five-game win streak. It's December and the stakes are higher, with postseason implications encompassing the matchup for both clubs. Tampa Bay won three of its previous four games, securing jaw-dropping comebacks against the Rams (Week Nine) and Saints (Week 13). Meanwhile, the 49ers are continuing their tour of terror, winning five in a row, the latest being a Week 13 victory over the surging Dolphins with rookie Brock Purdy at the helm for most of the game.
The marquee matchup pits the 49ers' top-ranked defense in yards and points allowed against an embattled Bucs' offensive unit, struggling to find its identity. The Niners' boast a plethora of talent who are among the NFL's best at their positions: Trent Williams, Deebo Samuel, Christian McCaffrey, George Kittle, Nick Bosa, Fred Warner and Kyle Juszcyk. The Buccaneers will hope to fortify their hold in the NFC with a victory on Sunday in Santa Clara. After a week of preparation, here is what Sunday's clash comes down to:
4 Stats that Matter
- San Francisco has the NFL's No. 1 defense in terms of yards and points allowed. In contrast, Tom Brady is 7-0 in his career in Week Five or later against team's ranked No. 1 in scoring and total defense (including playoffs).
- The 49ers have four players averaging 45-plus yards per game in 2022, with Brandon Aiyuk (58.2), Deebo Samuel (51.7), George Kittle (47.2), and Christian McCaffrey. San Francisco leads the NFL by having 58.6 percentage of their pass yards coming after the catch.
- On the offensive side of the ball, the 49ers boast two of the league's top four players in generating yards after the catch over expected per Next Gen Stats (McCaffrey in first with plus-175, Samuel in fourth with plus-136). On the defensive side of the ball, Niners' defensive cornerstone Nick Bosa leads the NFL in sacks with 14.5.
- The Buccaneers have scored 22 or fewer points in each of their last eight games – the longest such streak by any Tom Brady-led team all-time. Additionally, the Buccaneers' worst-ranked rushing offense will face a top-ranked 49ers run defense (75.6) on Sunday.
3 Lineup Notes
- In Week 13, the Buccaneers were without the services of Mike Edwards (hamstring), Antoine Winfield Jr. (ankle) and Sean Murphy-Bunting (quad). With a short week following the Monday-night victory, a similar situation may materialize. None have officially been ruled out, as Head Coach Todd Bowles stated on Friday, "the three DBs are getting better, so we'll see how they feel Sunday morning. Yes, they have a chance." Out of the trio, Murphy-Bunting was the only player who practiced on Wednesday and Thursday and did so in a limited fashion.
- After returning from a hip injury, Leonard Fournette registered 48 offensive snaps in the Week 13 contest over the Saints. He was added back on the injury report on Thursday with a foot injury. Fournette was limited after fully participating on Wednesday. Todd Bowles said that his foot is sore, but he should be "good to go" for Sunday's battle at San Francisco.
- For the 49ers, Tarvarius Ward (knee), Jimmy Garoppolo (foot) and Haasan Ridgeway (pectoral) were ruled out of Sunday's matchup. Additionally, Nick Bosa (hamstring) was listed as questionable. Bosa, the NFC Defensive Player of the Week, missed practice for the third straight day on Friday.
2 Challenges Presented by the Niners
San Francisco has the NFL's most formidable defense in terms of both yards (283.9) and points (15.8) allowed per game. The unit is spearheaded by the NFL's current sack leader, Nick Bosa (14.5), and one of the league's premier off-ball linebackers in Fred Warner. The imposing crew dictates the pace of games with speed in DeMeco Ryans' attack-styled system. The defensive line penetrates, firing off the ball in a one-gap scheme. The linebackers wait and fill the open holes. San Francisco is hard to block and imposes its will. Ryans is proficient at generating pressure from four down linemen and scheming packages with five, manufacturing a free rusher on twists/stunts to the edges and the interior. When Warner drops into the equation, he relentlessly pursues. The 49ers consistently put offenses into a bind and on Sunday the matchup could very well hinge on winning the battle in the trenches for Tampa Bay.
On the offensive side of the ball, the 49ers will turn to Brock Purdy, the former Iowa State quarterback who was the last player selected in the 2022 NFL Draft. Although inexperienced, Purdy handled himself with poise and confidence in the club's win over Miami. Kyle Shanahan has the most versatile set of playmakers in the NFL to bolster the offense around the rookie. To add to the embarrassment of riches on offense, the 49ers traded at midseason for former Panthers' star Christian McCaffrey. The offense is performing at the apex of what an inventive Kyle Shanahan offense would look like. The 49ers strain defenses in a myriad of ways by game planning to get their playmakers in space. Shanahan is the NFL's guru of pre- and at-the-snap motion, utilizing both to deceive pass coverages and bait second-level defenders. He frequently utilizes 21 personnel, employing the dual-threat skillset of McCaffrey and Samuel in the backfield, subsequently, motioning at least one in the formation as a receiver, giving defenders another headache to contend with. McCaffrey has unlocked the 49ers' offense. His upside as a rushing and receiving threat – combined with that of Samuel – in attracting the attention of defenders, has generated favorable looks for teammates. Paving the way, are the willing second-level blockers, featuring nine-time Pro Bowl left tackle Trent Williams, physical tight end George Kittle and bulldozing fullback Kyle Juszcyk. For the Buccaneers, eye discipline, controlling gaps and setting the edge will be the keys to victory against the 49ers' juggernaut.
1 Key Thought from Run Game Coordinator/D-Line Coach Kacy Rodgers
His impression of Kyle Shanahan's offense:
"Well, the thing that he does a great job of over the years is getting a playmaker the ball. You said this is a team that we play that really features 21 personnel, which, first of all, in the NFL, today's NFL, is an oddity. But their 21 personnel looks like 11 personnel, so it leaves you in some bad positions because now you're in base personnel and you've got some bad matchups. Then you have Deebo Samuel who can be a tailback, then you have a [Christian] McCaffery who could be at the slot receiver and then you've also got Brandon Aiyuk running fast out there – it's just creates a lot of problems for you preparation-wise."