This Sunday, the San Francisco 49ers will look to extend their five-game win streak to six, and they'll be up against Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Buccaneers will travel across the country to Levi's® Stadium after a short week of preparation, as they are coming off of a 17-16 nail-bitter win over the New Orleans Saints on "Monday Night Football."
"It's a really tough challenge, preparing for the best quarterback to ever play the game," defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans said. "It's a challenge that our guys are really looking forward to. It's one that guys won't get much in their careers, to go against the best and to see where you are against the best to do it. It's a really cool challenge for our guys and we're all excited about it."
The Buccaneers offense struggled to find their rhythm in their "MNF" contest against the Saints until the final minutes of the fourth quarter. Brady finished the matchup completing 36 of his 54 passing attempts for 281 yards, two touchdowns and one interception, earning him an 84.0 quarterback rating. The Buccaneers boast both rookie and veteran offensive weapons that the 49ers defense will have to contain. Running back Rachaad White leads all rookie running backs in receiving yards and Cade Otton leads all rookie tight ends in receptions so far this season. Running back Leonard Fournette leads Tampa Bay in rushing yards with 551 on the season and wide receiver Mike Evans leads the team in receiving yards with 761. The 49ers secondary will have to keep close coverage on Evans, especially in the red zone, as he ranks second among all active players in touchdown receptions (78) since entering the league in 2014.
San Francisco's defense will be matched up against one of the best quarterbacks of all time. According to NFL media research, Brady is undefeated (7-0) in his career when playing against the No. 1 scoring and total defense in Week 5 or later (including playoffs). San Francisco will look to end that streak on Sunday and maintain their spot at the top of the league. Last week against the Miami Dolphins, the 49ers allowed just 33 rushing yards on the day and registered four takeaways. The "S.W.A.R.M" style of play that Ryans instills in the defense will be a key to victory for San Francisco, as the team is undefeated (8-0) when tying or winning the turnover margin so far this season. In Week 13, defensive backs Deommodore Lenoir and Jimmie Ward both intercepted Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, giving Lenoir the first interception of his career and Ward his second this season. Linebacker Fred Warner also registered an interception on quarterback Skylar Thompson, earning his first of the season.
Tampa Bay's defense will also be a challenge for San Francisco, as they rank in the top 10 of multiple defensive categories among the league. The Buccaneers stand in eighth place in total defense (313.8 yards/game), seventh in passing defense (195.3 yards/game) and fifth in scoring (18.3 points/game). Defensive tackle Vita Vea, although listed as limited on the team's practice report this week with foot and shoulder injuries, is a key player for the Buccaneers defense. Vea has recorded 6.5 sacks, one forced fumble, 31 tackles and eight tackles for loss this season. It is unclear if he will be active in Sunday's game, but his injury is one to keep track of until gameday. Cornerbacks Jamel Dean and Carlton Davis are sure to put the pressure on San Francisco's offense. Dean ranks second-highest among all defensive backs in the league in total points saved and Davis has notched nine pass breakups so far this season.
"(Tampa Bay) stops the run as good as anybody in this league," head coach Kyle Shanahan said. "They've been doing that for a number of years. They're extremely good in their coverages because they can do anything that they want. They're good in man, they have all the blitzes, so Todd's probably going to throw everything at us, and what works, he'll keep doing it until we figure out how to do it better back."
The 49ers are looking to ride the momentum of their Week 13 victory over the Miami Dolphins, where they registered 351 total yards and dominated the game clock on offense. This Sunday, rookie quarterback Brock Purdy will start in his first regular season game with the team. Last week, he completed 25 of his 37 passing attempts for 210 yards and threw the first two touchdown passes of his career – a three-yard pass to fullback Kyle Juszczyk and a three-yard pass to running back Christian McCaffrey. With a week of first-team reps at practice and plenty of offensive weapons to support the young quarterback, the team has collectively shared how confident they are with Purdy under center.
"He's a competitor every day," Ryans said. "That's the cool part about Brock, he's always competing, whether it is scout team or what he's doing now. He's a true competitor and he always wants to win. He's always looking to win the rep and I think that's what you saw from him Sunday. The moment, it wasn't too big for Brock, he stepped right in and just did what he needed to do."
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