The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are scheduled to face seven of the NFL’s 10 highest-ranked run defenses this season, including the fourth-ranked 49ers’ on Sunday at Candlestick Park.
“Their front seven is the best we’re going to see all year,” Bucs quarterback Josh Freeman said of the 49ers, who allow an average of 74 yards rushing per game.
The 49ers’ pass rush hasn’t been too shabby, either. It’s produced nine sacks along with other pressures that resulted in injuries to quarterbacks Tony Romo (fractured ribs) and Michael Vick (dislocated finger).
That 49ers defensive front likely will be without its interior anchor for the first time this season. Nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga is listed as doubtful because of a reported staph infection. Ricky Jean Francois would start in Sopoaga’s place, and he’ll be surrounded by a strong cast.
“It starts in the middle with Patrick Willis. He’s a beast,” Freeman said. “Obviously Justin Smith is a stud who gave us issues last year. They’re a very physical defense. On the back end, their defensive backs are extremely talented.”
Those compliments flowed before Freeman learned that the 49ers have not allowed a 100-yard rusher in 26 consecutive games. Next to test that streak is second-year back LeGarrette Blount, who’s rushed for 294 yards, including 127 in Monday night’s 24-17 win over Indianapolis.
“We like playing a team that’s good at the run, and it’s basically a challenge for our front seven,” Jean Francois said. “A lot of people are saying we haven’t played as many great rushers, but this game I give the guys respect. This is probably one of the best rushers in the NFL for a young guy.”
Blount had 26 carries for 82 yards in Tampa Bay’s 21-0 win Nov. 21 in San Francisco.
“He’s a young guy but runs the ball hard and finds a way to get positive yardage,” Willis said. “He had some good runs against us last year. But it’s a new year, new football team, new defense.”