RB Ryan Mathews (Gregory Bull/AP)
Will the Chargers continue the tradition of Norv-ember? Or will it be another case of one step forward, two steps back? The answer comes on Sunday as the Chargers hit the road to take on the potent Buccaneers. SDBoltReport.com's Brian Ducoffe analyzes what to expect in each phase of the game.
When The Chargers Run
If San Diego is to remain undefeated in Tampa Bay (5-0 all time), it will take a big game from Ryan Mathews. Mathews has averaged 78.7 yards per game with zero TDs in the last three contests. The Buccaneers defense leads the league against the run, only allowing 77.3 yards per game. Mathews is averaging 5.6 yards per carry against the NFC this season, a whole 1.5 yards more than against the AFC.
Mathews needs 46 yards to pass Mike Garrett and move into the Chargers' top-10 in career rushing yards. If he can run for 61 yards, he can move into ninth in front of Gary Anderson.
Ronnie Brown has found his role in the Chargers' backfield. Brown ranks second among running backs with 32 catches. He also sits in second on the team in receiving yards with 292, averaging 9.1 yards per catch.
When The Chargers Pass
All eyes will be on Philip Rivers, who will be out to prove he doesn't need Vincent Jackson to be an elite QB. Rivers recently became the sixth player in NFL history to complete over 90 percent of his passes in a game with a minimum of 20 attempts. In his only meeting against Tampa Bay, he put up a career-high four touchdowns with a QBR of 136.7.
Robert Meachem and Eddie Royal are both listed as probable. However, with the production of street free agents Danario Alexander and Seji Ajirotutu, the Chargers may limit Meachem and Royal, who have failed to meet expectations.
Malcom Floyd played under the shadow of Vincent Jackson for most of his career. Floyd needs to have a stand-out performance to prove why he deserves to be the new No. 1. Floyd is on pace for his first 1,000-yard season.
Ronde Barber officially switched from cornerback to safety this offseason. Barber has three interceptions thus far, which equals his total from the past two years. The Buccaneers rank third in the league with 13 interceptions.
When The Buccaneers Run
Rookie Doug Martin has exploded onto the scene the past couple of weeks. Last week, he became the first player in NFL history with three touchdown runs of 40-plus yards in a game (70, 67 and 45). Martin averaged 10 yards per carry on 25 carries in that game.
Coach John Pagano has his defensive unit prepared and emphasizing gap control. The Chargers enter Week 10 with the fourth-best defense against the rush, only allowing 84.0 yards per game. The Chargers also have forced the third most rushing fumbles (seven).
Standout sophomore Corey Liuget is listed as questionable with a hamstring injury.
When The Buccaneers Pass
Josh Freeman is starting to realize his potential. Freeman looks to have his fifth consecutive game with a QBR of 100 or more. Tampa Bay is 10-3 when Freeman’s QBR is over 100.
The key matchup to watch will be Quentin Jammer vs. Vincent Jackson.
No. 2 receiver Mike Williams plans to keep Antoine Cason just as busy. Williams has either topped the 100-yard mark or scored a touchdown in six of eight games. The Chargers cannot win by shutting down Jackson alone.
According to Pro-Football-Reference.com, The Chargers have a sack percentage of 7.1, which is No. 22 in the NFL. San Diego will need to push back the Tampa Bay O-line to pressure Freeman into sloppy throws. San Diego forced four turnovers last week and had two defensive touchdowns. The Chargers gladly welcome back NT Antonio Garay, who was activated for the first time this season last week.
Just For Kicks
Eddie Royal has been sorely missed on special teams. Eric Weddle, who has filled in on punt returns, has fumbled in each of the last two games.
Tampa Bay’s return man, Roscoe Parrish, spent the preseason with the Chargers. Parrish lost the return job to Royal before being cut. The Buccaneers’ signed him at the start of the season; so far, he has 119 yards on 15 returns.
Which receiver will stand out on Sunday? Discuss inside the message boards.
Brian Ducoffe is in his second year of covering San Diego sports. He has been previously published in University Link Magazine and wrote as an NBA columnist for Gacksports.com. Follow Brian on twitter @brianducoffe.