The Five Keys

SFI's five keys for the 49ers in Sunday's game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium:

1. CONTROL BALL ON GROUND: It's trite by now to list high on The Five Keys that the 49ers need to run the ball, but that once again is the case here against a Tampa Bay defense that has been stellar in all areas - except defending against the run. The Buccaneers rank sixth in the NFL in total defense, but they're only 24th in the league against the run. Whether it's Kevan Barlow finally getting his act together with a quality performance that carries from the beginning of the first quarter to the end of the fourth, or Maurice Hicks, Terry Jackson and Fred Beasley mixing in for some rushing opportunities, the Niners need to get something consistent going on the ground, both to keep their defense off the field and give their passing game a chance against Tampa Bay's fine secondary.

2. PROTECT TIM RATTAY: Rattay was sacked four times and faced constant pressure last week, which contributed to his fourth-quarter unraveling in a 37-27 loss to Carolina. Rattay has been sacked 20 times in 5 1/2 games of action, and coming after quarterback is one of the things Tampa Bay's talented defense does well. Right end Simeon Rice leads the Bucs with five sacks, so whoever is manning left tackle for the Niners - Kyle Kosier or Kwame Harris - must neutralize Rice on that side. Harris did a fine job on Rice when these teams met last year, so he'll have to search his memory for what he did right and put it to use again. Left end Greg Spires has 3.5 sacks and it will be a good matchup between Spires and Niners' tackle Scott Gragg. Backup end Dewayne White has three sacks, so the Bucs can bring it from the edges. They also like to blitz with their linebackers, with middle backer Shelton Quarles (3.5 sacks) leading the way. The Niners failed in picking up blitzing linebackers last week, and that contributed greatly to their demise.

3. 49ERS RECEIVERS VS. CORNERBACKS BRIAN KELLY AND RONDE BARBER: Kelly and Barber are quality cornerbacks, so the Bucs feel comfortable leaving them in man-to-man coverage situations on the edges, which allows Tampa Bay to do other things on defense. The San Francisco receivers - whether it be starters Brandon Lloyd and Cedrick Wilson or others who will filter into the game - must make the Bucs pay when they are in these kind of coverage packages. Tampa Bay likes to play a deep Cover 2 with its safeties, so some quick slant patterns could be open. The Niners also will try to get rookie Rashaun Woods in the mix, where he can use his superior size against Tampa Bay's smaller corners. The Bucs figure to make a concerted effort to stop Eric Johnson with their quality linebackers and safeties, so San Francisco's receivers must take advantage of the extra open spaces that may give them.

4. NO TURNOVERS: Need it be said again? The Niners can't win unless they hold onto the football. They had five turnovers last week - all by Rattay - and they must drastically reduce that number to prevent the Buccaneers from jumping on them and running away with this game. San Francisco has committed an NFL-high 23 turnovers and, while the Tampa Bay defense isn't as opportunistic as it has been in recent seasons, the Bucs have produced 14 takeaways and certainly have the playmakers to make it happen more often against a team that holds onto the ball like the 49ers.

5. PRESSURE GRIESE RELENTLESSLY: The Tampa Bay rushing game is better now with Michael Pittman as the featured back, but the Bucs still rank only 28th in the NFL in rushing offense. The Niners should spy one of their linebackers on Pittman and then have everybody else worrying about Tampa Bay's passing game, which has come on since Brian Griese has taken over as the starter. And worrying about the Tampa Bay passing game means coming after Griese with relentless blitzes, since the Bucs have trouble protecting him. The Niners also need more from defensive ends John Engelberger and Andre Carter, who may find favorable matchups here against Tampa Bay tackles Kenyatta Walker and Derrick Deese, who have had their struggles in pass coverage. The Niners simply can't allow Griese to sit back and pick apart their undermanned secondary like Carolina quarterback Jake Delhomme did in the second half last week while easily erasing a 17-point San Francisco lead.


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