5 questions to ponder about Sunday’s game between the Bucs and Chargers.
1. Tampa Bay has won three straight games. Shouldn’t they be a big favorite over San Diego?
No, not on the road. The Bucs are actually a three and half-point underdog in the game. Hey, it’s a long way to San Diego, and it takes a long time to change the mind of the oddsmakers. The Chargers are only 5-6, but they’ve been snake-bit. They’ve lost by one to the Saints, three to the Raiders and Falcons, four to the Colts, seven to the Dolphins and eight to the Broncos. With Philip Rivers, Antonio Gates and Melvin Gordon, the Chargers have a lot of weapons. Again, they’re at home.
With safety Chris Conte out of the lineup, does that mean that Gates should have a big day?
Who thought that by week 11, we’d be talking about Conte being out of the lineup and that it’s a bad thing. Safety play has greatly improved during the winning streak. Rivers is fourth in the NFL in passing, which means he’s finding a lot of holes in the secondary. Where would you throw but deep down the middle?
With quarterback Jameis Winston on a hot streak, how important is it that the Bucs run?
If you’d paid attention, you’ve noticed that Winston is a much more efficient passer when Doug Martin is gaining yards. That won’t be easy; the Chargers are sixth against the run. But Martin has to be able to pick up positive yards. He doesn’t have to run for 150 yards. San Diego is only 26th against the pass, which means that Mike Evans will be able to make plays.
Can the Bucs rush the passer against the Chargers?
Maybe. After all, Tampa Bay is coming off a six-sack performance against the Seahawks. That gives a Bucs’ fan hope, because Rivers isn’t the league’s most elusive. He had 40 sacks last year, and he has 26 so far this year. Rivers is a fine quarterback – he has a rating of 93.6 – but he does his damage with his arm, not his legs.
As always, the Bucs will rely on takeaways against the Chargers. The Bucs have 20, tied for third-most in the NFL.
5. How about the running game? How important is it to bottle up Melvin Gordon?
Very. Gordon has 908 yards. If the Bucs can keep him under 1,000 for the year, they’ve got a chance. Gordon is fourth in the NFL in rushing. The Bucs, meanwhile, are only 17th against the run.