Previewing the game against the Chargers
Roy Cummings predicts a 32-24 win for the Bucs as Vincent Jackson makes the Chargers wish they'd worked a little harder to keep him. Ira Kaufman sees a setback for Tampa today with the Chargers taking a 27-23 success as Antonio Gates is a matchup nightmare for any secondary, as the Bucs are about to discover.
Block out the distractions
Doug Martin is all the rage. From USA Today to ESPN's Sunday Conversation, there wasn't a national media outlet — print or electronic — that didn't want a piece of the Muscle Hamster this week. That's what happens, of course, when you become a budding star. Everybody wants a moment with you.
The Bucs' concerns revolve around his ability to handle all the attention and continue to run the ball at an elite level. Martin didn't get complacent after his breakout game against the Vikings two weeks ago, but this is a more difficult test.
The Bucs aren't worried about all the attention going to Martin's head, but there is some concern he could lose focus. The real stars in this league find a way to block out such distractions and still play well. That's what the Bucs are expecting from Martin. If he does, they'll know for sure they've got a star on their hands.
Tighten up the secondary
The word is out. Actually, it has been out for weeks. The way to beat the Bucs is by throwing downfield and challenging a secondary that struggled long before its one true shutdown corner, Aqib Talib, was traded. The Tampa Bay secondary is full of holes, and Chargers QB Philip Rivers has the smarts, arm strength and quick release to fit the ball through them.
The Chargers haven't used a lot of three- and four-receiver sets, but the Bucs should see a lot of them. The Chargers will look to produce favorable matchups in the passing game and can do that by forcing an already thin position group to lean on its depth.
Beat the blitz
The Chargers have a formidable defensive front seven and they blitz with success. Bucs QB Josh Freeman has been pretty good against the blitz, but will have to be sharp with his reads. It will be up to Freeman to get the Bucs in and out of the right plays, but the receivers have to be aware of their responsibilities as hot targets, and the makeshift offensive line will have to pick up and adjust to the blitz.
Simply put, everyone must be on the same page. The Bucs almost certainly will try to neutralize the blitz by feeding the hot hand of RB Doug Martin, but Martin's skills as a pass protector might prove more crucial than his ability to break tackles and run for big gains.
Do something on special teams
It wasn't long ago that the Bucs were lauding PK Connor Barth for his consistency, and wondering if he could make a run at Mike Vanderjagt's record of 42 consecutive field goals. All of sudden, Barth has missed four of his past eight tries, which is only the first on a long list of problems presented by Bucs special teams. Though kickoff specialist Mike Koenen has all but eliminated worries about kick coverage, the Bucs are struggling to gain good yardage on their own returns.
Penalties remain a problem, as well. The Bucs have almost reached the point where the best they can ask of their special teams units is they not hurt them. At this point, almost anything positive from these groups would be a bonus.
Key Matchup - Vincent Jackson vs. Chargers secondary
Chargers CBs Antoine Cason and Quentin Jammer will be overmatched against their former teammate. Cason has the speed to stay with Jackson, but has been erratic and doesn't have the strength to outwork him for the ball, particularly a jump ball. Jammer has the strength to compete with Jackson, but he's an aging player who no longer has the speed to stay with Jackson down the field.
The Chargers' best tactic might be to use Jammer at the line to slow Jackson or knock him off his route. That, in combination with a blitz, could neutralize Jackson's effectiveness, but this matchup greatly favors the Bucs. If Josh Freeman is sharp with his throws and leads Jackson adequately, he'll set the ex-Chargers star up for a big day against his former team.