The season is finally here, and what better opponent to face off in the season opener than the San Francisco 49ers. A team in rebuild mode with something to prove, the 49ers want a rematch after the Bucs toppled them last season in a 27-9 victory.
The team we’re facing this year has a few upgrades. Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo will lead the offense as he returns from an ACL injury that sidelined him in Week 3 of 2018. The Bucs matched up against Nick Mullens, San Francisco’s third string quarterback. Garoppolo is a significant upgrade to Mullens with a pocket presence about him. Fortunately for the Bucs, his receiving corps leaves something to be desired.
In doing my research for the preview podcast, I found 49ers fans consider their offensive guards a weakness on the offensive line. We watched the third preseason game and were surprised at how well the offensive line performed. Was that due to the quality of the opponent (the Kansas City Chiefs defensive line)? Is it simply a matter of the fans not appreciating what they have? Admittedly, one preseason game is not a great sample size for us to determine how good the offensive line is.
However, the Bucs faced this offensive line last year. The Buccaneers 27th ranked defense racked up: four sacks, seven tackles for loss, six passes defended and 10 quarterback hits. Our defensive line has seen significant upgrades this offseason with the addition of Ndamukong Suh, and the shift to a 3-4 defense that utilizes fast outside linebackers like Shaq Barrett and Carl Nassib.
With these upgrades and scheme shift, the defense has showed marked improvement in our run defense. We will see how they do against runningback Matt Breida, who is an underrated, pass catching runningback that averaged 9.6 yards per catch in 2018.
The main threat we’ll see from the 49ers offense is tight end George Kittle. An elite tight end, Kittle saw 136 targets last year. No other player on the offense had more than 66 targets in 2018. His 6 foot 4 inch, 250 pound frame presents a matchup problem for our linebacker corps. We can only hope Todd Bowles has game planned around Kittle.
The Buccaneers offense performed on-par with our defense last year, with Jameis Winston recording a 117.4 passer rating. The 49ers upgraded their defensive line, with the additions of DE Dee Ford and DT Sheldon Day. They also spent some resources on their linebacker corps, signing former Buccaneer Kwon Alexander and drafting Dre Greenlaw in the fifth round.
The secondary, however, was a weak point for the 49ers defense last year and saw little to no upgrades over the offseason. Granted, the team did replace their defensive backs coach, but the on-field personnel is the same. It’s somewhat surprising that a unit that gave up a 112 passer rating on throws over 20 yards, the worst in the league, has remained in tact, but who am I to question another team’s incompetence?
The Buccaneers put up 312 yards against this secondary, along with an additional 108 yards on the ground. I expect a more balanced approach this year, particularly with the offensive line’s improved run blocking.
In all, I think this matchup favors the Buccaneers. I’m predicting the Buccaneers start the season off with a victory.