Image Credit: Andrew Giesemann
Finally, after eight long months, the San Francisco 49ers play meaningful football against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this Sunday. For the second year in a row, the 49ers will be making the trip to Tampa Bay. Last season, head coach Kyle Shanahan and company laid a massive egg on the field with possibly their worst performance of the year. The long shadow cast by former linebacker Reuben Foster’s arrest the night before the game clearly impacted the 49ers’ play. In that game, Tampa Bay took care of business and limited the mistakes enough to cruise to a victory. What can everyone expect from this Week 1 matchup?
The (Triumphant?) Return of Jimmy Garoppolo
49ers fans were treated to a roller coaster of a performance from franchise quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo throughout training camp and the preseason action. He went from taking care of the ball to throwing five consecutive interceptions in a joint practice with the Denver Broncos. While many fretted over this debacle, Garoppolo himself took it in stride saying, “You know, during a real game, you wouldn't make that throw or that decision, but there's a trust factor between quarterback and ... whoever's catching the ball.” Garoppolo was able to bounce back from those mistakes to put together a solid showing against the Kansas City Chiefs in the third preseason game. He will look to build off that momentum now that the games finally count against a Tampa Bay defense that does not exactly put the fear in many quarterbacks.
The Bruce Arians Effect
New head coach Bruce Arians stepped away from the Arizona Cardinals following the 2017 season for a job as a commentator. He was hired this offseason by the Buccaneers and will look to salvage the career of former first-overall pick QB Jameis Winston. Winston has shown flashes throughout his career but the negatives has far outweighed the positives so far. Arians, known for his offensive creativity, is hoping that he can catch lightning in a bottle, much as he did with Carson Palmer in Arizona. Arians is also eager to get more out of young offensive talent like running back Ronald Jones and tight end O.J. Howard. His ability to outmaneuver 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh will go a long way in determining the outcome Sunday.
49ers’ Revamped Pass Rush
Many fans were elated when rookie defensive end Nick Bosa fell to the 49ers at the second-overall pick. However, some of the hesitations that came with his family’s perceived injury bug came to fruition when Bosa suffered a dreaded high ankle sprain before the first preseason game. As a result, he was shut down for all of the exhibition games. While Bosa is “motivated” to play, he has not gone as far to say that he will indeed suit up against the Buccaneers. Teammate and nose tackle D.J. Jones, on the other hand, is much more confident. The other half of the DE duo for the 49ers, Dee Ford, also did not make any appearances in the preseason. Following his acquisition from the Chiefs and subsequent contract extension, the 49ers slow-played Ford to keep him healthy and ready to roll in Week 1. These two, paired with incumbent defensive linemen DeForest Buckner, Arik Armstead and Solomon Thomas, will look to wreak havoc on a lackluster Tampa Bay offensive line. Their success will be critical to helping a less than stellar secondary keep tabs on wide receiver Mike Evans and the aforementioned O.J. Howard.
Kwon Alexander Returns Home
The 49ers’ biggest free agent pick-up came in linebacker Kwon Alexander. A former fourth-round pick of the Buccaneers, Alexander is returning from both a torn ACL and to the place he called home for the first four years of his NFL career. The lightning-fast LB is looking to prove that he has not lost a step despite the injury. A knack for making key plays in critical moments has the 49ers forgetting all about the misstep that was the Reuben Foster debacle. Alexander will be running alongside of second year LB Fred Warner who made a name for himself with his surprisingly good play during his rookie campaign. Both players excel in coverage as well as against the run and should be running free behind the 49ers’ excellent defensive line.
The 49ers Need a Fast Start
As it stands now, the 49ers’ schedule is much harder down the stretch than it is to open the season. If they want to challenge for the division or even a wild card berth, this is a must-win game for Shanahan and Co. They will need to prove that the hype surrounding the team is real and that the question marks are overstated. All told, this Week 1 matchup against the Buccaneers could set the tone for the season as a whole. Must-win games this early in the season are often rare but, for this franchise, coming out of the gates hot is necessary.
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