Knowing Your Opponent: Buccaneers

After starting the season 0-8, the Buccaneers have won four of their last five and are playing far better than their record would indicate. They host the 49ers Sunday, hoping to earn their biggest win of the season. Inside we break down one of the league's youngest squads with an talented defense led by budding star Lavonte David.

Buccaneers' Statistics Through Week 14

Offense (rank)

Points per game: 18.8 (#30)

Yards per game: 291.5 (#31)

Passing Yards (per game): 180.8 (#31)

Rushing Yards (per game): ): 110.7 (#21)

3rd-Down Conversion Rate: 33.15 (#31)

Red Zone Scoring Rate (TDs): 50 percent (#24)

Defense (rank)

Points per game: 22.4 (#12)

Yards per game: 342.1 (#12)

Passing yards (per game): 238.4 (#17)

Rushing Yards (per game): 103.7 (#8)

Opponents 3rd-Down Conversion Rate: 37.65 percent (#14)

Opponents Red Zone Scoring Rate (TDs): 47.50 percent (#5)

NFC South Standings (record, division)

New Orleans Saints (10-3, 4-0)

Carolina Panthers (9-4, 3-1)

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-9, 1-4)

Atlanta Falcons (3-10, 1-4)

A Rough Start

Under fiery disciplinarian Greg Schiano, things didn't start very well for the Buccs in their head coach's second season at the helm. They lost their first eight games after showing signs of progress in 2012 when they finished 7-9 following a dismal 2011.

There was no shortage of drama in those first two months as Schiano exiled former franchise QB Josh Freeman to the bench after just three starts. Freeman was released Oct. 3 after completing just 43 of 94 passes (46 percent) with two touchdowns and three interceptions. His play was so bad there wasn't a trade market for the former 17th-overall pick that was once viewed as prime prospect to become one of the league's better young quarterbacks.

Freeman was released despite being the franchise leader in TD passes and throwing for over 4,000 yards and 27 touchdowns in 2012. But after a slew of off-the-field incidents soured Schiano, Tampa Bay elected not to sign Freeman to an extension he was after. Freeman was in the final year of his rookie contract after getting drafted in 2009 and was later picked up by the Minnesota Vikings.

Freeman's release paved the way for rookie Mike Glennon to take over the offense. The 6'7" North Carolina State alum has fared better than Freeman, but he's his a rough patch after over his last two games. He's coming off his worst outing of when he registered just 9 completions on 25 attempts for 90 yards last week. He matched his two touchdowns with two interceptions in the 27-6 victory over the Buffalo Bills.

Glennon is not in an enviable position for a starting quarterback. After being drafted in the in the third round last spring, it's becoming clear the Buccs would like to find their franchise quarterback in 2014's draft should Glennon continue to struggle down the stretch. Having won four of their five, however, a victory over San Francisco and the league's fourth-rated passing defense could help Glennon's campaign to remain the starter next season.

"Every game getting better," Jim Harbaugh said of Glennon. "Getting more confident and playing at a very good level."

A Talented Defense

Tampa boasts one of the league's most talented secondaries and the numbers back it up. They lead the NFL with 21 interceptions and 29 forced turnovers. Their +13 turnover differential is the second best mark in the league.

There's talent at every level of the defense, starting with defensive lineman Gerald McCoy, linebacker Lavonte David, corner Darrelle Revis and former All-Pro 49er Dashon Goldson at safety. Rookie Johnthan Banks is also having a good year and was rumored to be a name the 49ers were interested in selecting in spring's draft before getting taken the second round (43rd overall).

Against the Bills, Tampa tied a season-high with five turnovers forced, led by David's two interceptions, making him just the seventh player in NFL history to record five picks and five interceptions in the same year. Should he get to 100 tackles over his last three games (he has 81), David he would be just the third player ever to notch 100 tackles, five interceptions and five sacks.

Running on the strong side of their 4-3 scheme, David has drawn comparisons to some pretty talented and speedy linebackers from his new safety, who knows a thing or two about playing with some of the league's best.

"He's a young football player, smart, undersized but he can play with the best of them. He reminds me how Pat (Willis) was his first couple years," Goldson said. "Last year he played well, this year he played even better. I think next year will be people will really start respecting him. I don't think people give him the respect he deserves."

The 49ers will have to be aware of David at all times, in both the running and passing games. He's one of the league's best at rushing the passer and shooting the gaps to the get to the ball carrier before the line of scrimmage. The 23-year-old is just 233 pounds, allowing him to play as fast as any linebacker in the league.

A Spark at Running Back

Since taking over for the injured Doug Martin, second-year back Bobby Rainey has asserted himself in Tampa Bay's offense, averaging well over four yards per carry and scoring five touchdowns over his last five games.

The former undrafted free agent from Western Kentucky is on his third team this season after starting with the Ravens' practice squad before moving on to Cleveland and now the Buccaneers. Mike James (broken ankle) was the next man up to replace Martin, who tore his labrum in his left shoulder in Week 8 before being placed on injured reserve.

The Buccs run the ball more than 28 times per game, indicating their commitment to balance in order to help Glennon, but they are averaging just 3.9 yards per attempt. In his emergent 2012 season, Martin put his name on the map rushing for 1,454 yards (4.6 average) and 11 touchdowns.

Rainey turned heads with his 32-touch performance against the Atlanta Falcons when he ran for 163 yards and scored three touchdowns, one of which was a receiving score.


Follow Editor in Chief Chris Biderman on Twitter.

Get updates from NinersDigest by following here and become a subscriber to receive access to premium content and analysis.

Niners Digest Top Stories