Bucs, 49ers will try to exploit porous run defenses
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers and San Francisco 49ers both will be missing their top running backs when they face off in Santa Clara, Calif., on Sunday (4:05 p.m. ET, FOX), but that might not matter much considering how poorly both teams are playing against the run.
The 49ers, fresh off yielding 312 rushing yards in a blowout loss at Buffalo, are giving up a league-worst 174.3 yards per game on the ground, and the Buccaneers are surrendering 103.8.
So, even with Tampa Bay still missing Doug Martin (hamstring) and San Francisco going without Carlos Hyde (ankle), both offenses have a chance to move the ball on the ground Sunday.
Without three top defensive linemen, the Bucs (2-3) gave up 136 yards and two touchdowns to Carolina's backup running backs last week. Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, who missed the 17-14 win over the Panthers due to a calf strain, returned to practice Wednesday on a limited basis and could be available. However, defensive end Robert Ayers (high ankle sprain) and tackle Clinton McDonald (hamstring) did not practice Wednesday and appear unlikely for Sunday.
That could open the door for a big game by Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers on the ground. In his first start of the season last week, a 45-16 loss at Buffalo, Kaepernick led the 49ers (1-5) with 66 rushing yards on eight attempts.
The 49ers will hope for more out of Mike Davis (13 yards on five runs) and Shaun Draughn (one carry for two yards) as well. Davis was stopped on a key fourth-and-1 play after Hyde was sidelined.
Draughn has done this before: He rushed for more than 50 yards three times and scored one touchdown after replacing an injured Hyde as the starter in Week 8 last season.
"You'll see both those guys," San Francisco coach Chip Kelly said, adding the 49ers will rotate all of their backs if Hyde can't play.
The Bucs are in the same spot. With Martin experiencing a setback in his recovery from a hamstring strain, Jacquizz Rodgers will get the call again. The 5-foot-6 tailback is coming off a 101-yard game in Tampa Bay's win over Carolina.
Kelly is very familiar with Rodgers, a former Oregon State star who played against Kelly's Oregon team in the Pac-12.
"Yeah, he was just an unbelievable player in college and very, very difficult to defend," Kelly said. "I think he doesn't get enough credit for how physical he is just because he's not the biggest back in the world, so you automatically think that he's a nifty, nimble, make-you-miss type of guy. He can do that, but he's also a very physical runner, very sturdy, has great balance, great vision.
"He's a handful, and we have to be very aware of him in their run game because really the run game sets up everything else up for them."
Rodgers won't be the only skill player filling a void for the Bucs, who this week placed top receiver Vincent Jackson on injured reserve with an ACL injury. Donteea Dye and Adam Humphries will be counted on to make up for Jackson's absence -- filling in behind Mike Evans, who caught six passes for 89 yards and a score against the Panthers.
"Every time with these injuries, guys just keep stepping up," Tampa Bay quarterback Jameis Winston said. "We really depend on these guys, and we lean on them.
"Obviously, Donteea is going to have to step up. This is the moment he's been waiting for. He had a couple of big catches in the game when Vincent got hurt (in 2015), so we trust those guys and we're depending on them. And they know that."
Bucs coach Dirk Koetter said, "Any time you lose a player and team leader of Vincent's caliber, it is a setback for your team. Vincent is a very tough-minded player and a great competitor. Even though he doesn't recall when he injured his knee, he was still out there the entire game and made two crucial catches on our final drive to set up the game-winning field goal.
"I know that being placed on injured reserve is difficult for him, but I also know he will maintain a strong presence in our locker room and will help our younger guys prepare and develop because that's the type of team-first leader he is."