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3 Keys to a Chargers victory over the Buccaneers

Gotta play smart, smart, and more smarter (I shouldn’t have to point out the joke in this).

Carolina Panthers v Los Angeles Chargers Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

A vertical offense led by the G.O.A.T and a stout, well-rounded defense is on tap this weekend for the Chargers in what should be one of the more interesting games on the slate for Week 4.

The age gap between Tom Brady and Justin Herbert is well over 20 years, which is one of the largest between starting quarterbacks in decades.

The bad news, however, is the final stat of that tweet above. Brady rarely loses to first-round rookies, and I think he’s actually undefeated in that aspect when he plays at home. The silver lining here, however, is that he’s no longer in Foxborough with Bill Belichick as his head coach.

So what I’m saying is ... there’s a chance?

For the Bolts to capitalize on that chance, though, no matter how small, they’ll have to adhere to the very specific list of things below if they want to walk away from Raymond James Stadium with their heads held high in victory.

I don’t make the rules.

Let’s dive in.

1.) Take what the defense gives you

In their opening Week 1 loss, the Saints didn’t have to get a ton out of Drew Brees and the offense thanks to a pair of interceptions thrown by Brady, one of which was returned for a touchdown by cornerback Janoris Jenkins. That’s why when you look at their stats, you see Brees only threw for 160 yards and their leading rusher, Latavius Murray, didn’t even break 50 yards on the ground.

That game could be skewing the Bucs’ defensive stats a bit, though. As of this week, Tampa Bay has allowed the third-least amount of rushing yards per game in the NFL (70.3) while staying near the middle of the league with 237.7 yards through the air allowed (14th).

What this tells me is the Chargers may have to rely on the short to intermediate passing attack if they wish to move the ball consistently on Sunday. Their defensive front only allows around three yards per tote, so I expect to see Austin Ekeler get most of his work through the air. The Bucs have allowed 211 receiving yards to opposing backs, and they haven’t faced one with this level of receiving prowess since Alvin Kamara in Week 1.

All of this was essentially a long-winded way of saying that Herbert needs to play the smartest game of his life and minimize his less-than-ideal throws. Dare I say, he needs to play more like Tyrod Taylor? For this game, maybe that just what the doctor ordered (no pun intended).

Offensive coordinator Shane Steichen will also have to prove he can get the Chargers in the end zone on a consistent basis or general manager Tom Telesco may be forced to find someone else who can.

2.) Get in Brady’s face early and often

When someone has been playing as long as Brady has, along with the avalanche of accomplishments he’s earned, it truly makes you wonder if there’s even a chance to rattle a guy like that in a game anymore.

The Chargers will once again be without Melvin Ingram and Justin Jones, leaving a few less bodies for Gus Bradley to rotate along the defensive line. Luckily the defense didn’t play a ton of snaps against Carolina, but if they’re forced to play closer to the 70-75 snaps then they’ll be in hot water come the fourth quarter.

The Bucs’ offensive line is full of bullies, including their 2020 first-round pick, right tackle Tristan Wirfs. The Chargers will have to go into this one wearing their big-boy pants if they want to get the best of Tampa Bay’s front five.

3.) No better game for the defense to start taking the ball away

For one of the rare times in his career, Brady looks mortal this year in his first season with the Bucs. Through three games, he’s thrown for over 250 yards just once and has three interceptions along with six touchdown passes.

The Bolts should be studying the film from Tampa Bay’s Week 1 and 2 games where Brady threw that trio of picks. Both the Saints and the Panthers have their share of pass-rushers, and there’s no reason the Chargers shouldn’t be able to get in Brady’s face enough times to earn a takeaway. He’s missing his best receiver, as well, so that minus one more trust-worthy outlet for him to get the ball out quickly to.

The Chargers secondary has got to be starving for an interception. This group was lauded as the best in the NFL this offseason and it’s time they started silencing the doubters. Here’s to hoping Desmond King sees a resurgence now that he’s back in the slot full-time.

Lastly, this one might get me killed, but the last time Jahleel Addae was playing for this team, they were taking the ball away. When he wasn’t in 2019, they didn’t do a great job of that. I have ZERO idea if there’s an actual correlation there, but I’m willing to support anything if it means this defense starts churning out takeaways.