The Chargers are 2.5 point underdogs in Tampa against the Bucs. It's just the second time this season San Diego has not been favored to win (the other was in New Orleans, but let's not go there).
It will be the first time the Bolts get to play against former team-mate Vincent Jackson, who's having a marvelous season with with Buccaneers. Jackson is averaging 22.9 yards per catch and has already become quarterback Josh Freeman's favorite target.
The Chargers have had trouble with big, physical wideouts in recent years (Dwayne Bowe, Roddy White and Calvin Johnson come to mind). Jackson is both big and physical, but not terribly fast. There is a way to slow him down, but it's not easy.
"Even though he's big and strong, you've still gotta disrupt him at the line of scrimmage," said safety Corey Lynch, who spent three years in Tampa Bay before joining the Chargers in the off-season. "You have to use your corners and your nickel back to disrupt his routes. Since he is so strong, he can usually just move people from his way and get in to his route, but if you can get him to just take one wrong step in his route it disrupts the quarterback's timing."
That brings us to our three key players to watch in Sunday's game:
-- Quentin Jammer/Antoine Cason: We'll use them as a hybrid, because they're both going to get a heaping helping of Jackson. Jammer's name aptly describes his game. He's one of the strongest corners in the NFL and has the ability to slow Vincent at the line. Cason favors playing more of a cushion, one of the reasons so many balls are caught in front of him, but he is a capable tackler. The two starting corners need to make sure Jackson doesn't get loose down the field, and when he does make a catch, get him on the ground as soon as possible.
-- Vaughn Martin: With the arrival of rookie running back Doug Martin, the Bucs have one of the most balanced offenses in football. But all the skill position players on earth don't matter if the line doesn't hold up. The Chargers have to win the line of scrimmage, and Martin is a big key to doing that. He's been slowed by a neck injury the last few weeks, but was not on the injury report after the Kansas City game. Corey Liuget is questionable, so Martin will be asked to get after Freeman, while still helping seal the edge against the running game, two things he has the potential to do.
-- Malcom Floyd: The Bucs defense is extremely odd. Tampa Bay is the best in the NFL against the run, but worst against the pass. In 8 games, they've allowed three 300-yard passing games, a 400-yard passing game (to Carson Palmer), and a 500-yard passing game (to Eli Manning). They've been beaten by big plays down the field, which is what Floyd excels at. This needs to be the week the Chargers passing game clicks. Their longest pass play of the season is 46 yards. Only the Vikings have a shorter longest pass play, and only by one yard. For an offense that's supposed to be a vertical threat, that's going to have to get better. This is the week to do it.