Yesterday the Tampa Bay Buccaneers way-layed the San Francisco 49ers 21-0. It was a satisfying moment in a surprisingly satisfying season for Bucs fan. Coming into the game, defensive concerns were prevalent, especially given the 49ers mobile quarterback, their talented running game and Vernon Davis. Facing a Bucs front seven that had been, quite frankly, atrocious in the previous nine games, many (myself included) felt this game had all the classic makings of a trap.
How wrong I am glad to have been. The Bucs shook off some jet-lag and some defensive ineptitude to turn in their best defensive performance of the season, overwhelming the 49ers offensive line, shutting down the run game and sacking Troy Smith a whopping 6 times.
Conventional wisdom tells you that it all comes down to the fronts, line on line, the team that wins in the trenches typically wins the game. Yesterday the Bucs won on both sides of the line. Defensively their front four played the best it has all season, Gerald McCoy notched his first sack, the D-Line combined for five of the six sacks on the day and held Frank Gore to just 23 yards on 12 carries. At some point in the game just about every Bucs fan had to pinch themselves or ask, ‘who are these guys?’ This team went from 8 sacks all year to 14 in a single game, nearly doubling their previous total.
It’s amazing too how much better the rest of the team looks when the front four are playing up to snuff. The linebackers flew around and were able to play downhill most of the game. Barrett Ruud despite not having a ton of tackles had one of his most effective defensive performances of the season. All of the linebackers looked solid yesterday and were able to provide a balance, offering solid run support and good coverage to aid the secondary. That sounds elementary, but the whole front seven has been rendered fairly ineffective for most of the season because of the line-play. Yesterday the Bucs saw that they have a good group at the second level, they just need the front four to handle their business so they aren’t constantly trying to shed blocks before making the play.
The secondary looked good as it typically does, holding Troy Smith to just 16 of 31 passing, for 148 yards and a costly interception. The 49ers top receivers, Michael Crabtree, Vernon Davis and Ted Ginn were limited to just one catch a piece for a combined 26 yards. Coming into the day, Davis posed the biggest threat but was largely rendered ineffective because of the Bucs defensive scheme and the coverage he faced. Crabtree was never a factor, and Ginn I just tossed in for the hell of it, he’s not really having a good year anyway.
Really when a defense throws a shut-out any complaints are fairly nit-picky. I could list a few things I’d like to see the Buccaneers do better but frankly the defense deserves a ton of credit. That wasn’t an easy road game sheerly for the travel, and the Bucs defense stepped up like a veteran unit, blocked everything else out and stymied the 49ers. Great game by this Buccaneers defense, I’m sure somewhere that Derrick Brooks was smiling.