Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-5) vs San Diego Chargers (5-6)
Sunday December 4, 2016 1:25 PM on FOX
Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego, California
The San Diego Chargers welcome the suddenly resurgent Tampa Bay Buccaneers, in what is a vital game for both teams in their season.
Rumors are swirling about the Chargers’ future in San Diego and that dark cloud has to affect the team to some degree. You will never hear any of the stadium talk from the players as they try to instead focus on their play on the field. Still, you have to wonder how much all this uncertainty is burdening the players as they try to prepare themselves each week in a league that is challenging.
With a record of 5-6 on the season, the Chargers cannot afford to lose a game. Running the table and producing a 10-6 record is not even a guarantee for a playoff appearance.
They need help within the division as the Chiefs, Broncos, and Raiders are all ahead of the Chargers in the standings. Then there are teams like Miami and Indianapolis, who are not only presently ahead of the Bolts in the AFC Wild Card race, but have also beaten them this 2016 season. In short, the Chargers need a ton of luck to even consider the playoffs.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are a beatable team. However, that really all depends on which Chargers team shows up on Sunday afternoon.
The Bolts must pressure the Bucs’ young quarterback and keep his offense in third and long situations all day. Despite all the injuries the Bolts have suffered, they should still be able to contain the Bucs’ offense and keep them in check.
Special teams could be a factor, as the kicker for the Buccaneers has struggled all year-long. Roberto Aguayo was drafted by the team in the second round of this year’s draft and he has not had an effective rookie campaign. If the game is on the line, Tampa Bay’s coaching staff probably doesn’t have confidence in the young kicker. Josh Lambo is 21-24 on the season on FGs, and is a much better candidate to win the game with a last second kick.
Chargers on Offense
Look for the Chargers to try to get the ball moving on the ground in order to keep the Bucs’ secondary honest. Melvin Gordon should have plenty of opportunities to run, as the Chargers pound the ball with a combination of Gordon and newly signed Ronnie Hillman. The former Broncos’ RB was claimed off waivers two weeks ago after the Vikings made him expendable. He was unable to play last week in Houston, due to a stomach ailment, but will be ready to make his Chargers debut at the Q on Sunday. Gordon has carried the load virtually all season, so having Hillman will be a welcome relief. Once the run is established, the Chargers will probably utilize some play-action passes. Antonio Gates and Hunter Henry should have decent games, as each will be working against some weak Buccaneers’ safeties. The offensive line will be tested, as rookie Noah Spence is coming off a great month of November in which he won NFL Defensive Rookie of the Month. The former Ohio State Buckeye was Joey Bosa‘s teammate in college and he is looking like a force on the end to be reckoned with.
Chargers on Defense
Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram have become a very formidable duo on the defensive line for the Chargers. Each is getting tremendous pressure, and each week defensive coordinators have a choice to make… Which end do you double team and try to take out of the game? Bosa has been quiet in recent games as far as sacks go, but he is still pressuring the QB at a record pace for a rookie. Look for Bosa to get at least one sack as the Bucs’ O-Line will have trouble containing him. Damion Square had a great game last week after taking over for the injured Brandon Mebane. He will need to stay consistent if the Chargers really plan on making a playoff run. Stopping the Buccaneers on the ground will be vital for success. If the Bolts can get them in third and long situations, then Joey Bosa can do what he does best. Get to the QB.
Players to Watch
He is having a wonderful season and it should continue on Sunday against the Buccaneers defense. The Bucs have some tough interior linemen, like Gerald McCoy. He is a load to handle, but if the Chargers can get Derek Watt involved to some degree, he might be able to open up a few holes for Gordon. Watch the game and pay attention to Melvin Gordon’s growth when it comes to pass catching and blocking. He is doing it all this year.
He really has come along this season. Winston is still susceptible to making mistakes if pressured though, so that will be the Chargers’ #1 goal. He also can hurt you with his legs, so the Chargers will need to designate someone to “spy” on him and keep him in the pocket. Korey Toomer has stepped up this year for the Chargers with the injuries to Manti Te’o, Denzel Perryman, and Jatavis Brown. He will be one to watch as the Chargers hope to stop Winston from breaking any huge runs.
The “Muscle Hamster” is back and had a productive game last week vs Seattle. He is a very capable back that can burn a team in the passing game as well with his runs. The Chargers have traditionally had trouble covering backs out of the backfield. They must keep an eye on the short-in-stature running back, as he is sneaky when coming off a block on a pass play. Do not let him get going or it could be a very long day.
Matchup to Watch
Evans is becoming one of the premiere wide receivers in the game and Hayward is becoming a monster on defense. This will be a fun matchup to watch all day long. Vincent Jackson is no longer the threat he once was, so all the focus as far as the receivers go will be on Evans. Hayward will look for his seventh pick of the year on Sunday as Winston is more than capable of delivering it. The Bucs’ QB often forces the ball to Evans, so Hayward will have plenty of chances to make a play on the ball.
The Bucs will be traveling across the country for this game, and in the end, that will be the difference. Philip Rivers will be given enough time to find the open receiver and the Bucs’ inadequate secondary will be the difference. Look for Henry and Gates to have a decent game, and also watch for Melvin Gordon to get back on track with over 100 yards rushing. In the end, the Chargers will pull out a victory 27-19, in a game that will bring the Bolts back to .500 on the season. Playoff chances are still a thing in San Diego as the Chargers once again tease their fan base, the thing they excel at most.