The Chargers did what they needed to last week when they beat the Texans in Houston, but the fight is not over. This week the Tampa Bay Buccaneers come to town riding a hot streak after winning three in a row including wins against the Seahawks and the Chiefs and have only lost once on the road this season.
Tampa Bay has brought itself back into the playoff conversation, now only a single game behind the Atlanta Falcons for first place in the NFC South, so they will be just as desperate as the Bolts to get this win.
The Chargers offense did well against a good Texans defense last week because they finished drives with touchdowns, but they had a hard time staying on the field with only three of their drives going more than six plays and zero going over seven. Melvin Gordon will be eager to find the end zone having only scored once in his last four games after scoring ten times in his first seven. Gordon has been imperative to the Chargers success as he has averaged 4.3 yards per carry in wins, and only 3.4 in losses, so the offensive line will have to give “Flash” Gordon some room to operate. The line performed well in pass protection last week allowing only one sack but did allow the Texans to get seven tackles for loss, showing a lack of push in the running game. If the line can hold up this week against another talented defensive line, Philip Rivers should be able to carve up a pretty average secondary, but that could change if he doesn’t have all his weapons. Travis Benjamin made it off the injury report this week but was replaced by the Chargers leading receiver Tyrell Williams who is questionable for this game with a shoulder injury that caused him to miss most of practice this week. Williams has said he is going to play through this injury, but if he has to miss this game the Chargers will have to rely much more heavily on Travis Benjamin, and last weeks leading receiver Dontrelle Inman. The Bolts will have both of their tight ends on the field and both Hunter Henry and Antonio Gates are tied for second amongst all tight ends with 5 touchdowns, and now face a defense that struggles against the position.
The Buccaneers offense has faced two very good defenses the last two weeks with decent success, but this week will have to try and keep up with a good offense. James Winston has shown promise early in his career but has struggled with turnovers and becomes less effective the more he throws, holding a 1-4 record in games that he has attempted 35 or more passes. Winston is a bit of a wild card and is fearless, keeping plays alive scrambling, moving in the pocket and throwing it up for his monster 6”5’ wide receiver Mike Evans to make a play. Evans has destroyed secondaries this year, leading the league in touchdowns with 10 and second in receiving yards with 1,020, look for him to get extra attention for the Chargers defense. Former first-round Doug Martin is the team’s main ball-carrier but he has struggled to stay on the field playing in only five games due to injury and hasn’t been effective when available averaging only 3.0 yards per carry and only one touchdown on the year. Versatile running back Jaquizz Rodgers, who should return from injury this week, should scare the Chargers a little more as he is averaging 4.5 yards per carry and also can be a threat in the passing game.
The Chargers defense had a great game last week against a pretty bad offense but still took advantage turning the Texans over four times which has been a theme for the Chargers as they are the only team that has forced a turnover in every game this year. Casey Hayward has been an amazing addition to this team starting the year as the clear third, or nickel corner but due to injuries he’s been the number one option and has responded with 6 interceptions, the most in the NFL, and will be who the Bolts look to, to try and slow down Mike Evans. Damion Square had big shoes to fill last week, in for the injured Brandon Mebane, and did well with half a sack and 1.5 tackles for loss but the run defense still struggled somewhat allowing over 100 yards on the ground for only the second time this season. The defense looked much more physical last week with the return of the “Hitman” Jahleel Addae and Denzel Perryman and both of these players are needed in the run game to come up and make tackles in the box. The pass-rush was much better last week even with only one sack, they caused many bad throws but will have to do a much better job this week wrapping up because Winston is hard to bring down but does get hit a ton with the Bucs’ allowing 80 quarterback hits this season, fifth-worst in the league.
The Buccaneers defense has been one of the hottest in the NFL allowing only 10.7 points per game over their last three. The driving force of this defense has been turnovers as they have forced nine turnovers during they 3-game winning streak, and this has been boosted by pressure, with more than 4 sacks in two of those games. The pass-rush has been much better lately in large part to star rookie Noah Spence who leads all rookie in sacks with 5.5, and 4x Pro-Bowler Gerald McCoy who leads the team with 6 sacks but is questionable for this game with a foot injury. Linebackers Kwon Alexander and Lavonte David have stood out with Alexander already tallying 90 tackles and 3 sacks on the season, and David leading the league with 4 forced fumbles. Safety Chris Conte has officially been ruled out for this game, which is big because he makes a lot of tackles for his position ranking second on the team with 65 tackles, and is tied for the team lead with 2 interceptions.
At the end of the day the Chargers have to do two things well: protect Philip Rivers, and get after Jameis Winston. If the Bolts can do these things they should be able to take care of a team that is traveling cross-country and who they have beaten eight out ten times all-time. Every game is huge going forward and I believe the Chargers keep it going this week and beat the Buccaneers 35-31.