Four Downs: Bold Predictions for 49ers-Bucs Game

Our 49ers.com staff writers break down San Francisco's next matchup, a Week 7 home game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Let's get to what you should look forward to in this "Four Downs" preview of the 49ers upcoming game, presented by SunPower.

1st Down: Which 49ers player are you most excited to watch?@Joe_Fann: DeForest Buckner

What will the 49ers first-round pick have in store for an encore after posting two sacks and a fumble recovery last week against the Buffalo Bills? Buckner will be eager to get after Jameis Winston on Sunday. The two previously met in the Rose Bowl during their college years - the semifinals of the College Football Playoff. Buckner didn't get to Winston on that day, but he did deflect a pass that led to an Oregon Ducks interception. Now in the NFL, the two will face each other again. Winston has been sacked 12 times in five games. Buckner would love to add to that total and close out the first half of his rookie season on a positive note.

@TaylorPrice: Torrey Smith

Colin Kaepernick and Mike Davis are good choices in this category. However, I'm going to take No. 82. Coming off of last week's three-catch, 76-yard outing, Smith's chemistry with Kaepernick could take another step on Sunday. Tampa Bay's secondary ranks 20th in the NFL, allowing 262 yards per game. The rested Bucs (bye in Week 6), gave up 251 receiving yards to tight end Greg Olsen (9 catches, 181 yards) and wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin (five for 70) the last time they were on the field on Oct. 10. Kaepernick, who made his first start last week in Buffalo, did not target his tight ends as frequently as Blaine Gabbert did in the first five games of the regular season. I'm expecting Smith to be heavily involved in the gameplan. I'm also eager to see him match up against Bucs first-round draft pick Vernon Hargreaves III. 2nd Down: What will be the most telling statistic in this game?

@Joe_Fann: Third-down percentage

Stop me if you've heard this before... OK, so you've heard this before, but it still bears a reminder. The 49ers have struggled on third down on both offense and defense - both groups rank 25th in the NFL in terms of third-down efficiency. Opposing teams are converting 44 percent of their third downs against the 49ers defense. Conversely, San Francisco's offense is moving the chains on just 36 percent of its third-down opportunities. Ending their woes on the money down on Sunday will give the 49ers a great chance to end the current five-game losing streak.

@TaylorPrice: Red-zone production

Runners up in this category for me include third-down production on both offense and defense, plus kick-return yardage. We all know how much of a headache the latter category has been in recent weeks. But to me, red zone is most key for the 49ers. It'll be telling to see how many times Kaepernick is able to drive the team into scoring range. Plus, I'll be curious to see how the offense executes once inside the 20-yard line. San Francisco settled for two Phil Dawson field goals last week on its pair of red-zone trips in Buffalo. The Bills, on the other hand, went 4-for-4 on touchdown conversions. The 49ers will need to put 6s on the scoreboard and not 3s. Conversely, forcing Bucs rookie kicker Roberto Aguayo to make big kicks will be fascinating to watch as well.
3rd Down: What matchup is a must-win for the 49ers?

@Joe_Fann: Secondary vs. Mike Evans

No Doug Martin. No Vincent Jackson. Sure, San Francisco's defense will see plenty of Jacquizz Rodgers, but there's no questioning who the Buccaneers look to when their in need of a big play. That's Mike Evans. His 62 targets are 30 more than the next pass-catcher on Tampa Bay's roster. Those 62 targets are tied for third in the NFL, which is saying something as Tampa Bay has already taken its bye. If Evans is to see his usual 12-plus looks on Sunday, it will take a team effort in order to keep the 6-foot-5 wideout in check. Tramaine Brock is sure to shoulder plenty of the responsibility, but he'll need help. Don't be surprised to see either Eric Reid or Antoine Bethea shade towards Evans. If they can keep Tampa's top receiver in check, I like the 49ers chances in Week 7.

@TaylorPrice: 49ers rush defense vs. Bucs rush offense

It's no secret that the 49ers defense allowing five consecutive, 100-yard rushers has contributed mightily to a five-game losing streak. Martin being out this week is a start. That's a start. San Francisco must bottle up Rodgers and make the Bucs one dimensional on offense. If this means bringing a loaded box and forcing the cornerbacks to play on an island, so be it. Gerald Hodges will likely see more playing time this week as Jim O'Neil looks to use more of a rotation at inside linebacker. The frustration has mounted with the 49ers rushing defense. Facing Tampa Bay's 26th-ranked rushing offense (88.6 yards per game) could be the remedy for what's been ailing the 49ers defense.

4th Down: What is your bold prediction?

@Joe_Fann: San Francisco forces three turnovers

Winston can be spectacular. The second-year quarterback has two games this season with at least three touchdown passes. But he hasn't been shy about turning the ball over, either. Winston has eight interceptions and four lost fumbles through five games. I'm no math major, but that's more than two per game. The 49ers have 10 takeaways on the season, four of which came in Week 2 against the Carolina Panthers. I am betting they get three more on Sunday.

@TaylorPrice: The 49ers win by double digits

I've been slumping big-time in this category. So I'm going to go back to basics and simplify my approach. With so many prognosticators picking against the 49ers, I'm going to go the bold route and pick a 49ers win. A decisive one, too. Let me explain my reasoning. The Bucs are a young team led by a second-year quarterback. The 49ers are in do-or-die mode. They have been for a few weeks, quite frankly. So what tips the scale in favor of the 49ers against a more rested team? Tampa Bay will be without Martin and Jackson, two of the team's top offensive weapons. They will be traveling a long way from Raymond James Stadium. And if memory serves me correct, the 49ers are 12-2 all-time against the Bucs at home. Lock in my pick. Hit me up on Twitter if you have a bolder prediction.

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