As effective as Troy Smith was last week, there is no secret as to what the 49ers are going to try and do this week, and that is force-feed the ball to Gore, who has averaged 146.8 yards from scrimmage over the last four weeks. The Niners, though, have managed just 98.8 yards per game on the ground, the 21st-ranked rushing attack in the league. Not making anything easier this week is the fact that San Francisco will be without left tackle Joe Staley, who will miss the next four-to-six weeks after breaking his leg last Sunday against the Rams. Smith has been incredible in his two starts, completing 29- of-47 passes for 552 yards with a pair of scores and most importantly, no interceptions. His favorite targets have been tight end Vernon Davis, who has a touchdown in four of his last six games, and second year wideout Michael Crabtree, who had four catches for 61 yards and a score last week against the Rams. Smith will be shooting for his fourth straight win as a starter.
Gore could be in for a big day on Sunday, as the Buccaneers enter the contest with the 31st-ranked rush defense (143.8 ypg). The Buccaneers do have a pair of quality linebackers in middle man Barrett Ruud (70 tackles, 1 sack) and weakside starter Geno Hayes (43 tackles, 1 INT) on the roster, but a young and undersized front line has too often been pushed around at the point of attack. The team has been much tougher against the pass, ranking eighth in the league against the pass at 210 yards per game. As good as Ruud has been, it has been the emergence of playmaking cornerback Aqib Talib (32 tackles, 5 INT, 7 PD) that has propelled the secondary to 16 interceptions. Talib has managed 22 tackles over the past five weeks, including a single-game career-high nine last Sunday versus the Panthers. Veteran Ronde Barber (53 tackles, 2 INT, 6 PD) is a savvy and accomplished coverman on the opposite side of Talib, while rookie free safety Cody Grimm (46 tackles, 2 INT) has shown flashes of being an impact player since being inserted as a starter in Week 3. The elusive Troy Smith could have plenty of time, however, as the Buccaneers have racked up a league-low eight sacks, two of which came last week against the Panthers.