Here it is everyone, opening day for our beloved 49ers! Week 1 — the San Francisco 49ers are kicking off the season against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Here are some things to know regarding this game, and why I believe it’s more important than people think.
- Kickoff Time: 1:25 PM PST
- We Have History: These two teams don’t have any major history to look back on other than John Lynch being a former safety for the team really. Throughout the teams’ overall history, the 49ers are 17-7 against the Buccaneers.
- Last Meeting: The 49ers played the Buccaneers last season, ultimately getting routed by Mike Evans and Co. 27-9. In week 11, it was already understood that Tampa Bay had one of the poorer defenses in all of the NFL. However, that did not stop them from holding Nick Mullens to 221 passing yards, 1 TD and 2 interceptions. Although Matt Breida ran for over 100 yards on 14 touches, it would still wind up not being enough. Jameis Winston, meanwhile, would end up having a very efficient and impressive game against a lackluster 49ers defense, throwing for 312 yards while riding 2 touchdown passes and no picks. He also completed 29 passes on 38 attempts. Mike Evans would have a standard game in his case, catching 6 passes for a total of 116 yards. Simply put: The offense and defense did not click in a winnable game, albeit a lost season at that point in the season.
- What’s New?: So, how have these teams changed since then? We’ll start with our 49ers.
- With the 2nd-overall pick, many inside and out of the organization knew who the 49ers were taking if Arizona wasn’t — Nick Bosa. Arguably one of the most touted edge prospects the league has seen since Myles Garrett. Bosa brings to the table what other 49ers edge-rushers in this current regime haven’t been able to do — close on the QB and finish with the sack! Since Lynch & Co. have taken over, the 49ers haven’t finished within the top 15 in sacks once. Pressure numbers may be high for the team, DeForrest Buckner has been the only successful defensive lineman to get after the QB with results. The rest, not so much. Aside from Bosa, John Lynch sought after a couple of game-changing players on offense with Deebo Samuel and Jalen Hurd. Although Hurd will not be availabkle for this match-up, both of these stud WRs look to bring some more punch to a lifeless WR room that could use more energy and play-making ability.
- Meanwhile, the Buccaneers toiled with poor offensive line and overall defensive play all of last season. The result? Tampa Bay would draft standout linebacker Devin White to address the loss of current 49er Kwon Alexander. They would also draft CBs Sean Bunting and Jamal Dean to help bring depth to a poor defensive backfield. Overall, it was a defense-heavy class for Tampa Bay, that is hoping to finish better than their 29th-ranked defense from last season.
- In free agency, the 49ers would go after respected and former-Tampa Bay linebacker Kwon Alexander. Prior to his torn ACL, Kwon was seen as a leader and tackling machine throughout his time in TB. Also, Lynch would take flyers on signing former Atlanta (and Shanahan) runningback Tevin Coleman, as well as Los Angeles CB Jason Verrett. When healthy, Verrett is arguably a top-10 CB in the league. *When Healthy*. Verrett has been plagued with season ending injuries almost his whole career. Signed on a cheap 1-year contract, Verrett is the absolute definition of a low-risk/high-reward signing that could greatly benefit the defense. Also, the signing of Tevin Coleman to what many consider a crowded backfield can be seen as one of the more underrated signing of this regime. Coleman has the ability to not only run with success, but he also brings the skill set of catching out of the backfield and being just as dynamic as a receiver. A former-Shanahan RB in Atlanta, don’t be surprised if his impact on the field is immediate, as he looks to spell oft-injured RB’s Matt Breida, and fill in for Jerick McKinnon who has been placed on season-ending IR. Also, of course — the acquisition of pass-rusher Dee Ford from the Chiefs. If things pan out, the 2nd-round pick the 49ers traded away will be an aberration compared to what Dee Ford has to offer. Pairing Dee Ford with DeForrest Buckner and Nick Bosa will put immediate pressure on the Buccaneers.
- Bradley Pinion revenge game! After not being resigned by the 49ers, Pinion wound up choosing to sign with Tampa Bay on a 4 year, $11 million contract. Aside from him, the Bucs continued to focus on defense by signing linebackers Shaq Barrett and Deone Bucannon. Poor defense was the theme of Tampa Bay’s previous season, and these signings are only hopeful for the team to improve on one of the worst defenses in all of football. Recently, they cut Pro-Bowl DL Gerald McCoy, and chose to sign former Pro-bowl DL Ndamukong Suh.
- Coaching advantage? Gotta give this to “newcomer” Bruce Arians. Coming out of retirement, Arians was the former Arizona Cardinals coach from 2013-2017. Arians brought along former Jets HC Todd Bowles, and former QB and Cardinals OC Byron Leftwich. Although Shanahan and Robert Saleh have a lot to offer, so does Arians fresh out of a year-long retirement. Therefore, I have to tip the coaching hand to the more experienced staff between Arians and Bowles. The two-time coach of the year (Arians) inherits a rough roster, however, TB brought him in as the QB whisperer to help solve Jameis Winston’s inconsistency issues.
Tale of the Tape:
- Key Offensive Match-ups: Jimmy G vs. the reworked TB defense.
Welcome back Jimmy G! He starts off week 1 vs. the 2nd-worst defense in all of football. Coming off of an ACL tear week 3 of last season against the Chiefs, JG looks to hit the ground running against what could be a very vulnerable defense. Although TB addressed defense heavily this offseason, will it be enough to stop one of the craftiest OC’s in Kyle Shanahan? With the addition of stud WR Deebo Samuel, a budding star in George Kittle and a developing Dante Pettis, the ability for the 49ers offense to put up 30 points is wide open. Overall, this will be a game of coaching chess between offensive guru Kyle Shanahan, and defensive coach Todd Bowles, who comes into an even worse defense compared to the NY Jets (ranked 25th overall). Specifically, my favorite match-up to highlight this game will be George Kittle vs. Devin White. After breaking the receiving record for TEs, Kittle will start the season with a tough match-up against one of the best cover-LBs in all of CFB, rookie star LB Devin White. With 2 seasons under his belt, this match-up could set the tone early for Kittle’s true breakout season.
- Key Defensive match-up: Sherman/AK/Verrett vs. Mike Evans. Last season, Evans went off for 116 yards on 6 catches, shadowed mostly by Richard Sherman. With his Achilles injury behind him, Sherman looks to bounce back stronger than the previous season. However, his performance against Evans was not worth watching. Is he worth matching up against Evans? If not, why not give Ahkello/Verrett a chance? Aside from Evans, the Buccaneers boast an impressive WR unit that includes two budding WRs in Chris Godwin and Adam Humphries. Even with a new coaching staff in line, the 49ers defense will be under heavy pressure from what will likely be another pass-heavy attack as the Bucs were previously under Dirk Koetter. Arians is known as the QB whisperer, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he tries to get Winston going immediately out of the gate.
- Another key match-up: Kwon Alexander and Fred Warner vs. OJ Howard and Cameron Brate. Kwon is a rangy and versatile LB that will likely play in sub packages on defense along with Warner. TB features two of the more dynamic “move” tight ends in OJ Howard and Cameron Brate. Jameis Winston targeted his TEs more in the redzone than any other pass-catcher on his team. Not only will redzone defense be key, but Warner and Kwon will have their work set out for them when needing to cover both of these athletic TEs. If they can lock down these two players, I believe the 49ers will look a lot better in the redzone then they have in previous seasons.
- Key Special Teamers: Mitch Wishnowsky. Welcome to the show kid! Coming off of a very criticized draft, Lynch took Wishnowsky in the 4th round after losing Bradley Pinion. The Aussie punter will have his work cut out for him if the offense cannot consistently move the ball. Wishnowsky can punt with both feet, and in college, averaged 45.7 yards per punt in his 3 years at Utah. He won’t have big shoes to fill, however, he still has a key job in ensuring that the defense can be given good field position if the offense fails. He has looked very solid throughout the preseason, and I am eager to see how he does in a real game.
- The punt-returner: Richie James Jr. After fighting his way through the preseason to secure a roster spot, James looks to build upon a promising rookie season. He finished the preseason as one of the highest graded players in the NFL One of his best abilities is returning punt/kick-off returns. Last season, he was able to take a kick-off back to the house against the Seahawks. Something like that would give the 49ers a huge boost from their special teams unit.
- Due to the fact that this is week 1, I wouldn’t necessarily say any playoff implications can be had for either team. I believe for the 49ers to make the playoffs, everything must go right — no major injuries to key players, no bad losses, etc. Coaching needs to excel just as much as the players if the 49ers even want a shot at the post-season. I just don’t see the Bucs making the playoffs, although they have a top-10 offense that can put heavy pressure on even the best defenses.Their division makes it very difficult.
- As of now, the Bucs are not in a position to make the playoffs. Arians needs time to figure out his roster and understand who belongs and who should go. I’d be shocked to see the Bucs finish at most .500.
All in all:
- If I had to predict some stats…JG: 3 TD’s, 1 pick. Over 300 yards passing should be more than attainable. Winston: If the 49ers defense can clamp down, I believe Winston can still throw for over 300 yards (garbage time) with 1 TD and 3 interceptions. The reloaded pass-rush featuring Dee Ford and Nick Bosa will pressure TB’s OL early and force Winston to make poor decisions, as he’s prone to do throughout his career.
- Pettis: 6 catches, 60+ yards, 1 TD
- Kittle: 7 Catches, 100+ yards, 1 TD
- Deebo: 4 catches, 50+ yards, no TD
- Final Score: 49ers: 31, Buccaneers 20. Jimmy G will lead the revamped offense to the most points scored by a team in all of week 1, as his returning weapons featuring Kittle and Pettis, as well as a fully healthy Matt Breida and newcomers Tevin Coleman and Deebo Samuel will help take the pressure off of Jimmy, while only making life difficult for Arians and the Bucs. The revamped pass-rush lead by Dee Ford, Buckner, and Bosa will take advantage of another poor season of OL play, and force Winston into throwing poor passes, which will lead to the most interceptions the 49ers have had in a single game in years!
Football is back, baby!