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How the San Francisco 49ers Can Avoid a Letdown vs. Tampa Bay

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COMMENTARY | The San Francisco 49ers come in to Week 15 riding a three game winning streak and with an outside opportunity to clinch a playoff spot in the NFC. After defeating the Seattle Seahawks 19-17 last week, San Francisco has to feel good about its chances to come out on top against a Tampa Bay Buccaneers team that has won four of its last five, but still sits at 4-9. Let's take a look at three different things San Francisco must do in order to avoid a letdown in this one.


Continue Dominance Over Losing Teams

San Francisco is 6-0 on the season against teams that currently sit under the .500 mark. It has outscored those opponents by an average of 32-10 in those six games. Taking it one step further, the 49ers have outscored those losing teams 135-44 in four road games. Needless to say, Jim Harbaugh's squad doesn't have much of a problem laying the wood against lesser teams.

While Tampa Bay has been on a nice run over the course of the last five games, it doesn't possess the necessary talent to compete with a 49ers team that is playing at a high level. Vic Fangio's defense is yielding just 13 points per game since San Francisco's Week 3 loss to the Indianapolis Colts, a number that ranks it No. 1 overall in the NFL during that span. The idea here is to jump out to a big lead early before enabling some of San Francisco's more veteran players to rest in the second half. Fortunately for the likes of Frank Gore and Justin Smith, the 49ers have outscored their opponents 33-0 in the first quarter of their five three wins and 60-17 in the opening quarter of their nine wins this season.

Do you see a pattern here? If San Francisco gets off to a strong start, its most likely going to keep Tampa Bay at bay while forcing the home team into a pass-first offense with rookie quarterback Mike Glennon.


Open Up the Offense

At some point this season the 49ers are going to have to open up their passing game. Simply put, they are not going to win in January (if they get there) with a pass offense that is among the worst in the entire National Football League.

The game this upcoming Sunday represents a perfect opportunity to display the talent that San Francisco currently possesses at skill positions. It will be only the third time that the likes of Anquan Boldin, Michael Crabtree, Vernon Davis and Mario Manningham have been on the field together this season. Everything seems to be in motion for Greg Roman to open up his offense and unleash the talent that is Colin Kaepernick.

First off, it appears that Crabtree will be lining up against rookie cornerback Johnthan Banks, who Pro Football Focus grades out as the eighth-worst cover cornerback in the entire National Football League. With Darrelle Revis lining up against Boldin, it makes sense that Kaepernick will reacquaint himself with his favorite target from a season ago. Any attempt to double Crabtree on the outside will leave Tampa Bay vulnerable to the big play from Davis between the hashes.

Again looking at Pro Football Focus, both Dashon Goldson and Mark Barron have been downright atrocious in coverage this season. Each of these safeties rank in the bottom third of the NFL at their positions against the pass. There is no reason to believe that San Francisco can't take advantage of this.


Continue Dominance on Defense

San Francisco ranks fourth in the NFL in total defense, third in scoring defense, fourth against the pass and sixth on third downs. This is a unit that is firing on all cylinders and is completely dominating in every possible way.

They now go up against a Buccaneers offense that ranks 31st in total yards, 30th in scoring, 31st in passing yards and 31st in third-down percentage.

There is absolutely no reason that Tampa Bay's offense should account for more than the 13 points that San Francisco is yielding on average over the course of its last 10 games. In fact, all the indicators are in place for one of the best defensive performances of the season here.

With that said, it's all about coming into this game and treating it like the must win everyone knows it is. San Francisco's defense cannot afford a letdown in this one because there is talent on Tampa Bay's offense. Vincent Jackson can beat you deep, Bobby Rainey is playing stellar football at the running back position and, despite struggles last week, Mike Glennon is playing much better football than anyone gives him credit for.


Vincent Frank has been covering the National Football League for three years. He started out writing for Bleacher Report and is currently the head editor at eDraft and a columnist at Pro Football Focus. Vincent co-hosts a weekly radio show called "Football Debate Central" with former NFL player Ryan Riddle and has seen his work featured on CNN, BR and Los Angeles Times, among many other outlets.

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