"Tampa beat Atlanta 27-0," Chargers' quarterback Drew Brees said. "They are coming to play."
A truer statement has never been uttered. The stadium will be packed – its third sellout in the last four home games – and most of the patrons will be Charger fans.
The Bolts' focus will be on the running game for much of the game. LaDainian Tomlinson is healthy and the Chargers are remiss to put Brees under the pressure cooker all day with the Bucs defense one of the leading sack teams in the league and number one against the pass.
The running game will be between the tackles as the belief is the counter to team speed is running at people. The line will be responsible for creating creases and Tomlinson will do the rest.
"He is a balanced running back," Bucs' linebacker Derrick Brooks said. "It's going to be our first time playing him. He gets tough yards. When he gets the big one, he is a patient runner. I think he is a lot stronger than what people think he is. The plays we saw this morning, he made a few guys miss, and always falls forward when he gets hit. From those things right there, you can tell a good running back from a great one and so far he has had a great career."
The Bucs, of course, will put the onus on the running game. As expected, they want the Chargers to play to their strength.
"It all starts up front," Bucs' defensive end Greg Spires said. "The line is opening holes for LaDainian. We've got to stop the run first, put them in long passing situations and get off the field on third downs."
Brees may have to rely a little more on his mobility than in the past. The problem is he is not nearly as accurate on the move as he is when he can maintain his pocket. Look for shorter routes and quick comebacks to open things up.
The run will setup play-action-pass and look for Keenan McCardell to find the open seams behind the linebackers.
Brees needs to add some zip to his passes this week as the Bucs team speed can make up for deficiencies or missed assignments.
"Their defense is good," Tomlinson said. "They really get to the ball. They get off blocks and make plays."
Former Buc Roman Oben has his own challenge on Sunday. He will face off against their best past rusher, Simeon Rice. Oben conceded it will be a mental challenge in preparation this week but said when Sunday comes it is all about just playing the game.
"Coaches prepare a good gameplan for us and it is up to us to execute," he said.
The Bucs offense has talent at both running back and receiver but the Bolts motto will remain the same – stop the run first.
Michael Pittman isn't the type of back that has had a lot of success against San Diego. They have been able to slow down the shiftier backs as opposed to the power runners.
The biggest problem is Pittman's ability to catch passes out of the backfield. He is dangerous on swing passes and screens and the Chargers defense has not faced many backs that can catch the ball as well as he can. His best game of the year was two weeks ago against Carolina when he caught eight passes for 134 yards, including two touchdowns.
"Michael Pittman, a local guy, is a great running back," linebacker Donnie Edwards said. "I think he is highly underrated. He is not a big guy but is strong, runs hard – probably pound for pound one of the hardest running backs we are going to face this year."
Tampa will also change it up and throw in Mike Alstott, a tough runner who will bang heads with the opposition. If he begins to get on a roll, the Bucs could choose to use him as their feature back on Sunday while using Pittman as a change of pace.
Look for the Chargers to keep containment on the edges when Pittman is in. The linebackers will likely play a more stay at home style to compensate for the possibility of the screen.
Brian Griese has been excellent since being inserted as the starting quarterback. He is completing over 69 percent of his passes and now has a healthy Joey Galloway to go deep to.
The Bucs spread the ball around and use a lot of formations on the offensive side to throw off the defense. It will not be uncommon to see many of their wide receivers getting looks. And a wily veteran, Tim Brown, could also be a factor. He always plays well against the Chargers and could be asked to do more than his reserve role.
"Joey Galloway is really fast," says Edwards. "He can get down the field in a hurry. Against Joey Galloway you want to jam him at the line. Disrupt him off his route so he can't get down the field vertically on you."
Drayton Florence will likely draw the matchup with Galloway. He has the speed to go down the field with Galloway while Jammer can take on the more physical Michael Clayton.
"We are just starting to gel like we need to," Florence said. "Wade Phillips bringing in the 3-4 has helped us out. As long as we keep playing together as we are, good things will happen."
On Special Teams:
Brees began his personal campaign for getting Mike Scifres into the Pro Bowl and the second year punter is deserving. While he has been spectacular through the first 12 weeks of the season, you are only as good as your last game.
Tim Dwight is iffy for Sunday and it could mean a new kickoff returner. Robb Butler has gotten reps in and has the athleticism to make a play back there. Butler spent part of his college days as a wide receiver so he is no stranger to catching the ball and making some moves.
Tampa Bay 27
Denis Savage can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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