Five Things to Watch: Bucs-49ers

Today is a trap-game for the Bucs.
Today is a trap-game for the Bucs. /
Today is a trap-game for the Bucs.
Today is a trap-game for the Bucs. /

The Buccaneers travel to San Francisco to take on the 49ers today and already Stephen Holder of the St. Pete Times is reporting that it’s wet and still a bit rainy out there after San Francisco experienced an uncharacteristic “Florida midsummer-like thunderstorm last night.” Read that as you like, but the Buccaneers should certainly have plenty of experience playing in less than dry conditions.

Still, this a trap-game for the Buccaneers, who face a team that is much better than their 3-6 record and still very much alive in the very weak NFC West. Here are five things to watch for this afternoon as the Bucs square of against the Niners and try to improve to 7-3.

1.) How does the long-distance flight affect the Bucs?

There’s been plenty of debate over what’s more difficult, a west-coast team traveling east or vice versa. Just keep this in mind, the longest flight in the NFL is Seattle to Miami, Tampa to San Francisco isn’t a whole lot shorter. Historically NFL teams play extremely poorly when they are asked to travel cross-country (past more than one time-zone), whether it’s East-West or West-East, as silly as it sounds the long flight, the time change and just the fatigue of traveling can be enough to swing the balance of a tight game. This is a young Buccaneers team and while this is a winnable affair they’re going to need to be mentally tough to avoid any issues that may come with traveling cross-country.

2.) How does Mike Williams play?

Mike Williams had a rough week, but at the end of the day his coach and his GM backed him up, stating he was arrested on a weak case and that the Bucs wouldn’t sit a player for sitting. The pressure’s on this week for Williams. Already he was grabbing attention for leading all rookies in receiving, but the arrest puts undue attention on him. It will be interesting to see how he responds and whether his head seems to be in the game.

3.) How do the Bucs play Frank Gore?

The 49ers aren’t exactly loaded with weapons, Vernon Davis and Frank Gore come to mind but Michael Crabtree and the rest of the offensive skill players have yet to put the fear of God into defensive coordinators. Still, a good back is sometimes all it takes to undo the Buccaneers defense and Gore is as talented as they come. How the Bucs choose to defense Gore both on the ground and in the air will prove interesting, he’s a multi-talented back and just because he doesn’t take the hand-off doesn’t mean he’s not getting the ball. If the Bucs want to win they have to shut down Frank Gore, unfortunately that’s much easier said than done.

4.) Who covers Vernon Davis?

Vernon Davis is potentially the most athletic tight end in the NFL, not the best, but the most athletic. The Bucs on the other hand don’t really have any linebackers capable of covering a tight end with that degree of athleticism. If they plan on slapping Barrett Ruud or one of the outside backers on Davis he’s going to devour their defense. Raheem Morris earlier this week joked that Ronde Barber is like the wonder-tonic and can solve almost any problem facing a defense, but there’s only one Ronde and he’s going to need to be a lot of places today. He’s also physically out-matched by the bigger, stronger Davis. Someone needs to step up today and try to take away Davis or him and Gore will have a field day against this defense.

5.) Can the front four be even remotely effective?

You notice I left the offense mostly out of this, I think they’ll play well against a struggling San Francisco defensive unit. The defense is what worries me. Troy Smith has the ability to scramble and the Buccaneers defensive line is incapable of getting any pressure. That’s not a good mix for the Bucs because even when they do manage to cover the 49ers receivers for an extended play, Smith can still just take off and I doubt this line will have much to say about it. The Bucs are yet to face a truly mobile quarterback this season and their line is awful (I’m not going to church it up, the Bucs may have the worst D-line in the NFL). This could be a long day if nobody in the front four comes to play (which, judging by the rest of the season doesn’t appear to be likely).