The Tampa Bay offense has taken the league by storm since the bye week thanks to rookie running back Doug Martin. In the two previous contests, the 31st overall pick in the draft has rushed for 386 yards and five touchdowns while catching seven passes for 100 yards and a score. The Bucs are now fifth overall in scoring with an average of 28.4 points scored per game and led all NFL teams with 34 points in the month of October.
The defense continues to allow the fewest amount of yards on the ground, holding opponents to 77.3 yards per game, but is last in pass defense, giving up 321 yards per contest in the air.
Key 1. Limit Quick Strikes
As stated above, the Bucs’ pass defense is ranked last in the NFL, but Tampa Bay is also ranked third in the league in interceptions with 13.
Philip Rivers is a smart quarterback who will try and use speedy WR Robert Meachem as a mismatch for the Tampa Bay corners. Meachem can get down field in a hurry and considering the amount of big plays the Bucs have given up the sixth-year wideout will be heavily involved in the Chargers’ offense Sunday.
San Diego’s leading receiver is Malcolm Floyd with 33 receptions for 509 yards and two touchdowns and tight end Antonio Gates is always a threat, so the secondary will have to play smart, tight coverage and not let the Chargers receivers make splash plays.
Key 2. Keep The Check-Downs in Check
Not only do the secondary have to be concerned with the receiving corps, but they have to be aware of the running backs’ involvement in the passing game. San Diego running backs have caught 73 passes in eight games with Ronnie Brown second on the team in receptions with 32.
Rivers gets the ball out quickly to the backs which can cause another headache for a team struggling against the pass. Lavonte David, Mason Foster, and Quincy Black are an active linebacker group and will have to lend support in pass defense. David leads the team with 11 tackles for loss and will be the Bucs best bet to get to the running backs quickly and create negative plays against the Chargers.
The leading rusher for San Diego is Ryan Matthews with 421 yards on 95 carries, so the RBs are a bigger threat in the passing game than on the ground.
Key 3. Wrap Up Rivers
Philip Rivers has always been considered one of the better quarterbacks in the league, but the nine-year veteran has 10 interceptions already on the season to 12 touchdowns.
The Bucs did a great job pressuring Carson Palmer last week and need to continue keeping the pressure on Sunday. Rivers can be forced into making mistakes if rushed as his decision making over the last two seasons has been uncharacteristically shaky.
Rivers is a pocket passer and not very mobile, so sacking the Pro Bowl quarterback isn’t out of reach, but just keeping constant pressure on him will pay dividends in the secondary.
Key 4. Flex Your Muscle...Hamster
The Chargers are fourth in the league in run defense holding the opposition to 84 yards rushing per game and have done a good job all season not letting any running back have a break out performance.
Rookie Doug Martin has been nothing short of sensational in the past two weeks with 486 yards from scrimmage, the most in a two-game span in a single season since Hall of Famer Walter Payton had 525 yards in consecutive games in November 1977.
The October Rookie Offensive Player of the Month has 794 yards through eight games, and barring injury, should be able to eclipse the 1,000 yards rushing mark for the season.
Martin’s ability as a runner forces defenses to focus in on the former Boise State back, which has afforded Josh Freeman time to find open receivers all over the field.
The Bucs’ play action has been spectacular this year and if Martin can take off early running the ball Sunday, the Chargers defense will find out first-hand what a handful containing Tampa Bay’s explosive offense can be.
Key 5. No Early Holiday Gifts
When Tampa Bay hired head coach Greg Schiano in January, one of the first things he instilled in the Bucs was the importance of ball security. In 154 rushing attempts, Martin hasn’t coughed up the ball and the Bucs’ three wideouts – Vincent Jackson, Mike Williams, and Tiquan Underwood – aren’t fumbling either.
Freeman fumbled twice against Oakland – once on a sack, the other on a bad hand off to LeGarrette Blount – bringing his season total to six.
San Diego has forced 12 fumbles, the fifth most in the NFL, and will be looking to strip the ball as much as possible. The Bucs backs all carry the ball high and tight which has led to the inability of teams to force the ball out. Tampa Bay will have to be mindful that the Chargers will be looking to strip the ball, so rushers and receivers have to protect the ball even more.
Reynolds: Buccaneers 30-24
Cook: Buccaneers 34-31
LeBlanc: Buccaneers 37-31