Four 49ers players to watch in NFL Week 12 game vs. Buccaneers


The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have one of the most dynamic offenses in the NFL. They also have the most erratic.

The Bucs are the league's top-ranked offense in total yards. And they are the worst in the league with a minus-23 turnover margin.

The 49ers haven't exactly shown they are capable of cashing in on their opponents' mistakes because they are the second-worst team in the NFL in turnover margin.

So something will have to give when the 49ers (2-8) face the Buccaneers (3-7) on Sunday in Tampa, Fla.

Here are four 49ers players you should watch in the NFL Week 12 game:

WR Dante Pettis

Veteran wide receiver Pierre Garçon will be out of action for the third time in the 49ers' past four games. Kendrick Bourne is in line to start, but the team also will look to Pettis to help pick up the slack.

The 49ers had high hopes for Pettis, a second-round draft pick, when the season began. But he has been limited with injuries since Week 1, and missed three games with a knee injury.

“He’s kind of been fighting his way back since then,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said of Pettis. “This last month where he has gotten healthier, he’s gotten better each week, but he hasn’t fully gotten back to where he started out.

“I am expecting a lot of big things out of Dante, and I want him to be further along than he is. Unfortunately, he’s had some setbacks. I feel better about where he is now. I will be surprised if he doesn’t get better each week here all the way up until Week 16.”

Pettis entered Week 10 with just three catches for 96 yards and one touchdown. He then had a career-best four receptions but for just 12 yards against the New York Giants.

Whether on offense or special teams, where his output has been pedestrian as a punt returner, the 49ers expect more play-making out of Pettis.

CB Ahkello Witherspoon

The Bucs feature two big-time receivers. And if Sunday is like so many games this season, quarterback Jameis Winston will work the side of the 49ers' defense opposite Richard Sherman, where Witherspoon is.

Witherspoon will get back to work after a difficult game against the Giants. He'll be challenged on every snap, whether he's going up against Mike Evans or DeSean Jackson.

“I think it was good for him to get away,” Shanahan said of the break during the bye week. “I know he had a tough last game.”

[RELATED: 49ers' defense not taking Winston lightly]

Shanahan said he was particular hard on Witherspoon during the meeting when all the team’s mistakes were rehashed the day after the loss to the Giants.

“And Ahkello handled it very well,” Shanahan said. “He didn’t deny anything. He manned up and showed everything that he made mistakes on.

"All I’ve seen from Ahkello this week is a guy who came back in good spirits, ready to compete. He’s been as aggressive as he’s been all year in practice. I’ve liked his demeanor.”

QB Nick Mullens

The Bucs have recorded only one interception in 10 games, putting them on pace for the lowest interception total in NFL history. Mullens was plagued by interceptions throughout his college career, so he should have an opportunity to have a big game.

Tampa Bay’s 25 sacks rank tied for 19th in the league with the 49ers, and Mullens also has been exceptional through his two starts at avoiding sacks.

[RELATED: Bucs coach not surprised by Mullens' success]

The 49ers have gone back-to-back games without allowing a sack for the first time since Jeff Garcia was quarterback in 2000. The organization has not gone three consecutive games without allowing a sack since 1979.

This could be a shootout, and Mullens will have to avoid those sacks and turnovers to keep up with the Bucs' explosive offense on the other side.

DL Solomon Thomas

The bye week also might have come at a time for Thomas to clear his mind and for the 49ers' defensive coaching staff to devise a plan for the No. 3 overall pick in the 2017 draft.

Thomas has been a part-time player who hasn't earned a consistent role as an inside pass rusher in the team’s nickel defense. He ranks 17th on the team in tackles, and he has one sack through 10 games after recording three as a rookie.

[RELATED: Listen to The 49ers Insider Podcast]

General manager John Lynch recently said on The 49ers Insider Podcast that he hasn't given up hope on Thomas.

“A lot of people use the word 'bust' or whatever,” Lynch said. “He’s not that. He’s a good football player for us.

“I think a lot of people struggle when you have the No. 3 pick. ‘Why isn’t he in there more?’ And that’s something we have to answer. But you have to earn those opportunities. That’s something Kyle has always been clear on. Solly needs to continue to earn those. And we need to continue to put him in position to thrive.”

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