Niners game plan

The 49ers will be going against one of the league's top pass defenses, so it is more important than ever that running back Kevan Barlow start producing.

It might sound like a broken record that the 49ers have to get something going on the ground to make it easier for quarterback Tim Rattay. If defenses respect the 49ers' run game, then Rattay can use play-action pass to get the ball down the field.

Well, through the first nine games of the season, defenses have not respected the 49ers' run game. That is one of the major reasons they have lost eight of nine games this season. The Buccaneers will play a lot of two-deep coverage, which should enable the 49ers to get some yards on the ground. Tampa Bay ranks just 24th in the league in run defense, but the 49ers rank 29th in the league in run offense. Something has to give.

Tight end Eric Johnson is the 49ers' main offensive weapon, but the Bucs will undoubtedly put their focus on stopping him on Sunday. That could leave some favorable matchups on the outside for receivers Brandon Lloyd and Cedrick Wilson, though it is uncertain whether they will be able to work free against the coverage of Tampa cornerbacks Ronde Barber and Brian Kelly.

Defensively, the 49ers have struggled in pass defense all season and they must make some adjustments to overcome those shortcomings. Opposing quarterbacks have thrown 17 touchdowns while the 49ers have recorded just three interceptions.

The 49ers' cornerback position has been decimated by injuries. The club was hoping that Jimmy Williams and Shawntae Spencer would be healthy enough to return to the starting lineup, but it looks like only Spencer will make it this week while Williams continues to rest a broken toe. Last week, the 49ers started their Nos. 5 and 6 cornerbacks against the Panthers. Their original starters, Mike Rumph and Ahmed Plummer, are out. Rumph is lost for the season with a broken forearm, while Plummer's return this season is in question because of a bulging disk in his neck.

The 49ers have been unable to get any kind of a pass rush with their front four this season, which has put even more strain on the secondary. The 49ers have gotten just seven sacks this season from their entire defensive line.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH: 49ers RE Andre Carter, who is rounding back into shape after missing six games with back problems, vs. Buccaneers LT Derrick Deese, who used to regularly work with Carter after practices during the three seasons they were teammates; TE Eric Johnson, who leads the NFC with 57 catches and is one of the few 49ers who appears to be worth of Pro Bowl mention, vs. SLB Ian Gold, who has not had much luck slowing down TEs Alge Crumpler and Tony Gonzalez in recent weeks; CB Shawntae Spencer, a rookie coming off an ankle sprain that limited him to just five snaps a week ago, vs. WR Michael Clayton, a rookie who leads the Bucs with 48 receptions for 685 yards.

INJURY IMPACT: QB Tim Rattay's sore right forearm is feeling better and should be as close to 100 percent as he's been all season. CB Ahmed Plummer is out for at least another two to three weeks with a bulging disk in his neck. His availability for the remainder of the season is in question. CB Jimmy Williams, who did not play last week because of a broken little toe on his right foot, will see if he can endure the pain well enough to play this week. C Jeremy Newberry is out with a bulging disc in his back. He is almost completely recovered from knee surgery that he underwent after the first game of the season. He will not play this week. DE Andrew Williams, who sustained a broken right lower leg in an Aug. 4 practice, is back at practice and no longer on the injury report. He should make his season debut this week.


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