The trap game. It is a common phenomenon in the world of sports. A talented team is riding high after recent success. They play just another team on their schedule they are supposed to beat, and BOOM! They run into a brick wall. Mentally, they don’t come out with the same intensity against the inferior team, and the underdog pulls off the upset because they come out with more aggression. The Stanford Cardinal were faced with a trap game when they played the far-less-talented USC Trojans right after their tremendous victory over the No. 2-ranked Oregon Ducks the previous week.
If there is a trap game on the San Francisco 49ers’ schedule, it is this one — their Sunday game in Florida against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Through a cursory glance, the Bucs don’t look very impressive. They are 4-9, third in the NFC South. Head coach Greg Schiano looked like the first midseason head coach firing after his team started out 0-8. Much maligned and once promising quarterback Josh Freeman was released by the team after his dismal performance in the early part of the season. Arguably their most talented offensive player in Doug Martin was lost for the season with a shoulder injury.
But the Bucs are definitely not a team you want to sleep on. With a quarterback recently making a case for best rookie signal-caller in Mike Glennon, the ever-dangerous veteran receiver Vincent Jackson and a talented defense at all three levels, the Niners could very well run into a wall if they come out sleeping.
Tampa’s turnaround in recent weeks (they’ve won four of their last five games) has centered around rookie quarterback Mike Glennon. At 6-fopt-6 and 225 pounds, the North Carolina State product is a physical specimen. While not a very mobile athlete for the position like many other young signal-callers, his football intelligence and his ability to make any throw on the field is what his stimulated his success. His quarterback rating is consistent at every interval (passes of 10 yards, 20 yards, etc.). His accuracy is still somewhat raw, as he does have his lapses of inaccuracy at times. But when he is dialed in, he can beat you in the short game, intermediate game, and especially the deep game. Due to his relative immobility, the best way to beat Glennon is to collapse the pocket quickly and ferociously.
The Buccaneers do have talent around Glennon of course. Despite Doug Martin’s early season injury, his replacement, Bobby Rainey, has performed admirably. A legend at Western Kentucky, Rainey has provided the Bucs with a respectable ground game, averaging a solid 4.3 yards per carry and a monster 163-yard rushing game against Atlanta. They also have a steady veteran presence in wide receiver Vincent Jackson. At 6-foot-5 and 230 pounds, Jackson is a matchup nightmare for most cornerbacks to guard one-on-one. He complements his size and excellent route-running ability with dangerous deep speed. On the season, he has averaged 16.1 yards per reception. With Glennon’s cannon of an arm, Jackson has consistently taken the top off opposing defenses. The 49ers’ secondary will have to be discipline in covering him.
One of the most underrated aspects of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers is their talent on all three levels of their defenses. They rank eighth overall in total rushing yards allowed per game. Their front line consists of one very unhappy customer in defensive tackle Gerald McCoy. McCoy is a interior defensive linemen who excels disrupting the passer and stuffing the run. With seven sacks on the season, he is too quick and agile for interior offensive linemen and too large for offensive tackles. Mike Iupati (if he plays) and Jonathan Goodwin will have to pay him extra attention.
Outside linebacker Lavonte David heads the second level of the defense. He is a prime candidate for defensive player of the year in the National Football League and is as good as any 4-3 outside ‘backer in the league. He is accumulated 116 total tackles, five interceptions, one forced fumble, six sacks, and fourteen tackles for a loss. David is a complete defensive wrecking ball, with the power of an inside linebacker and the speed of defensive back. He plays with his hair on fire at all times, so if the Niners take one play off, watch out.
Finally, the defensive secondary is comprised of shutdown cornerback Darrelle Revis and an old friend in Dashon Goldson. Revis has not shown any signs of the ACL injury he suffered last year, and has gone right back to shutting down opposing receivers. A man-to-man cover specialist, Revis will likely be matched up on Anquan Boldin on Sunday. Boldin has taken up the challenge of taking on top cornerbacks before. He showed he can push and shove with the likes of Richard Sherman. If he comes out with the same intensity against Revis, the Niners should be fine in that department.
Meanwhile, Goldson is likely getting fired up for this matchup with his old team. The Niners clearly made a minimal attempt to keep Goldson, and he felt insulted enough to leave contract talks to fly to Tampa. He is likely also hearing about the success of his replacement in Eric Reid, and he will be anxious to show the Niners what they have been missing. Overall, Goldson’s game hasn’t changed. He’s a physical downhill safety, with occasional, but not frequent lapses in coverage. The best way to beat him is by taking advantage of his aggressiveness. The Niner coaching staff will also have to be on top of their game in order to execute this plan.
In a nutshell, this game is one the Niners should win. But “should” doesn’t necessarily mean “will.” The Niners will only win if they play smart, clean and aggressive, the same way they played last week against the Seahawks.