Margin of error decreased by speed

The San Diego Chargers, in the midst of an offensive lull compared to earlier in the year, face one of the stingiest defense in the NFL on Sunday when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers come to town. The name of their game – speed.

Blessed with some of the fastest players in the NFL, the Bucs defense ranks first overall against the pass, and third overall.

One of the reasons they have been so successful, particularly against the pass is their ability to quickly get upfield and make plays. They rank fifth statistically in sacks with 35 and that has enabled the cornerbacks to play tight on their man, knowing they only have to hold coverage for a few seconds before the pressure up front forces the issue.

The result is a league low in completion percentage for the opposition – 54.5 percent.

Simeon Rice is the club leader in sacks with eight and the right defensive end will be matched up with a former teammate on Sunday, Roman Oben.

"He has an excellent ability to control his body," Chargers head coach Marty Schottenheimer said when describing Rice. "He will get his body going in one direction and get the offensive lineman leaning there and bang, next thing you know he is back inside. He is a terrific pass rusher."

For their part, the Chargers have allowed 15 sacks through 12 games and only one opponent, Denver, has sacked them multiple times in a game. They rank fourth best in the league in sacks allowed and as a result, Drew Brees is completing 63.5 percent of his passes.

No one could have predicted that they would be successful when the season began, least of all the San Diego Chargers themselves.

"Not knowing them guys, if you would have asked me at the beginning of the season I would probably have said no," running back LaDainian Tomlinson said.

"I can help the line by getting the ball out fast," Brees said. "The attitude they came to camp with and have maintained throughout the season. They might have been more doubted than me!"

In an interesting twist of fate, the offensive line has performed beyond expectations. When the team jettisoned its previous five starters, there was no one who believed they would become a cohesive unit.

Unsettled as it were, the line has been a saving grace for the Bolts. On Sunday they will face their toughest task to date. They have only faced one other team in the top 17 in the league in sacks – the Atlanta Falcons – and that game they lost.

"They're doing a really great job," defensive end Greg Spires said of the San Diego offense. "The offensive line, they've got a few rookies on that line but they look like they're coming together. They're doing a really good job with Tomlinson. He's a good back; he's opening it up for Drew. They're really clicking. We've got a challenge ahead of us."

The basic concept of the Bucs defense remains speed. They have players who are ball hawks and can run sideline-to-sideline with the best of them. It is a defense the Chargers aspire to mirror.

For now, they just have to worry about how to limit the opportunities the defense has. This is a game where Marty-ball could hold the key. With Tomlinson healthy, the running game will be instrumental to opening up the passing game and keeping the Bucs defense off-balance.

"We ant to be balanced in our attack and hopefully we will be able to run the ball against them," Tomlinson affirmed.

The coaching staff is aware of the matchup problems the Bucs impose. Short drops and a strong running game are the short answers but San Diego is still seeking to stretch the field.

How much they are able to will depend a lot on the offensive line.

"You can't look at that team and not come away with great, great respect for their speed," Schottenheimer added.

They say the best way to attack speed is head-on. And with playoff implications hanging in the balance every single game from here on out, the Chargers will do just that – well – behind the offensive line that has played so well.


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