Pictures of the Top 10 Chargers in Week 12, according to their Pro Football Focus player grade.
On Sunday, the 6-5 Tampa Bay Buccaneers take on the 5-6 San Diego Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego. It will be the 11th meeting between the two teams in the regular season and a chance for the Buccaneers to win consecutive games in the series for the first time (more on that series history). Tampa Bay is also trying to put together a four-game winning streak for the first time since 2012 and extend its 2016 road record to 5-1.
The turnover battle will be as important as ever in San Diego, as the Chargers' defense is second in the league in takeaways while their offense has committed the league's highest number of turnovers. Most San Diego contests have been high-scoring this year, with a combined 55.0 points per game that is third in the league behind the Falcons and Saints. Here's a closer look at the challenges the Buccaneers will face on Sunday when they return to San Diego for the first time in a dozen years.
Mike McCoy was given the Chargers' reins in January of 2013, replacing Norv Turner. At the time, the 41-year-old McCoy was the youngest head coach in the NFL. He took over a team that went 7-9 in 2012 (though that was the only losing season during Turner's six years at the helm) and led them to the playoffs in his first hear at the helm. Overall, the Chargers have gone 27-32 in the regular season under McCoy, plus 1-1 in the playoffs, winning a Wild Card contest against Cincinnati in 2013.
McCoy stayed in the AFC West when he got the call from San Diego, coming over after four seasons in Denver, the last three as the team's offensive coordinator. However, he is well known to the Buccaneers, having spent the first nine years of his NFL coaching career with the Carolina Panthers. He has always coached on the offensive side of the ball, moving in Carolina through the receivers and quarterbacks before becoming the passing coordinator his last two years. McCoy helped develop Jake Delhomme from a little-known backup in New Orleans to a Pro Bowler for the Panthers, and Carolina's offense was among the league's best when the team went to the Super Bowl after the 2005 season.
A look back at all of the match-ups between the Buccaneers and the Chargers.
The Broncos hired McCoy as their offensive coordinator in 2009. McCoy's former head coach with the Panthers, John Fox, took over the same position in Denver in 2011 and the team went to the playoffs the next two years, with McCoy directing the league's second-highest scoring offense in 2012. In that case, he was working not with a still-developing quarterback but with multiple-MVP Peyton Manning.
In San Diego, McCoy inherited another accomplished veteran passer in Philip Rivers, who has had some of his most prolific seasons since. From 2013-15, Rivers averaged 4,519 passing yards and 31 TD passes, with a passer rating of 93.8 or better every year (and again in 2016). The Chargers are currently the NFL's fourth-highest scoring team despite a 5-6 record.
McCoy played quarterback before he went into coaching, including two strong seasons as the starter at the University of Utah. Undrafted, he had brief stints in Denver and Green Bay before playing with the Calgary Stampeders in the CFL.
As noted above, the Chargers haven't had much difficulty scoring points. They rank fourth in the NFL with 28.5 points per game and have a +22 scoring ratio despite being a game below .500. San Diego has scored at least 19 points in every game this season. Each of their six losses has been by a single score and their average margin of defeat of 4.83 points is the fourth-lowest in the league.
In his 11th season as the Chargers' starting quarterback, Rivers continues to pile up big numbers in the passing game. He has started every San Diego game since taking over in 2006 and has thrown for nearly 45,000 yards and more than 300 touchdowns. This year, despite the early-season loss of his number-one receiver, Keenan Allen, Rivers has averaged 284.4 passing yards per game and tossed 23 touchdown passes against 12 interceptions.
Like Manning, the experienced Rivers is the type of quarterback who is in total control of the offense before the snap. He's not considered the league's strongest-armed quarterback but he throws short, medium and deep with great accuracy. Even without Allen, San Diego ranks 10th in the NFL with 39 completions of 20 or more yards. Though he has absorbed 26 sacks, Rivers handles pressure well; the Chargers' passer rating in blitz situations is 119.3, second-highest in the NFL. He also happens to own an all-time record of 35-13 in regular-season games played after the start of December.
Without Allen and pass-catching running back Danny Woodhead (also an early-season injury casualty), Tyrell Williams, Travis Benjamin and Dontrell Inman have emerged as a collectively-productive trio of wideouts. All three have at least 38 catches and 522 yards and together they've accounted for a 129-1,839-10 receiving line. The Chargers are one of only four teams in the league (also the Packers, Saints and Redskins) with three wideouts over 500 yards already. With a 15.5-yard per-catch average and five touchdowns, the 6-4, 205-pound Williams looks like the team's best big-play threat.
Rivers has also involved top running back Melvin Gordon and tight ends Antonio Gates and Henry Hunter in the passing game to a great extent. Those three have combined for nearly 1,000 receiving yards and 12 touchdown passes. Adding to the note above, San Diego and Washington are the only teams in the NFL with six different players who already have at least 35 receptions.
The tight end position should be a significant concern for the Buccaneers' defense. Gates is a sure-fire Hall-of-Famer who remains a dangerous threat around the end zone, with three touchdowns in the Chargers' last four games. Henry had several huge games while Gates was out with an injury and has scored in the team's last two outings. This might be obvious, but there is not another team in the NFL that features two different tight ends with five touchdown receptions each.
The Chargers' running game has been almost exclusively the work of Gordon, a first-round pick in 2015. After his prolific college career at Wisconsin, it's safe to say that Gordon was a disappointment in his rookie season, with 833 yards from scrimmage and not a single touchdown. That's a distant memory now, as Gordon is tied for fourth in the NFL with 11 total touchdowns and fourth with 1,273 yards from scrimmage. Only Tennessee's DeMarco Murray has more than Gordon's 271 offensive touches, with 274.
The Chargers have been content to let Gordon get the offense going, handing off on first down 55.1% of the time, the third-highest total in the league. However, Gordon's yard-per-carry total is a middle-of-the-road 3.9 and San Diego's rushing attack has gained four yards or more on only 36.0% of its carries, the second-worst mark in the league. Still, it's Gordon or bust for the Chargers; with Woodhead and Branden Oliver on injured reserve, Gordon has accounted for 81.8% of San Diego's carries.
Injuries forced the Chargers' offensive line into 24 different starting combinations last year, but the main five has stayed mostly intact this year. And it's a big group – the Chargers' O-Line has an average height and weight of 6-6 and 327 pounds. San Diego brought back all four of the non-snapping starters from last year and upgraded at center with former Chicago Bear Matt Slauson. According to Football Outsiders' stat compilation, the results have been mixed, with San Diego ranking 24th in run-blocking and 17th in pass-blocking. Rivers has been sacked 26 times, tied for the seventh-highest mark of any NFL QB this season, and San Diego ranks 18th in sacks allowed per pass play.
As mentioned earlier, San Diego games have been among the highest-scoring in the league this year, in part because turnovers on both sides have led to favorable situations for the offenses. That's certainly the case for the Chargers, who not only rank second in the NFL with 23 takeaways but also have seven interception returns of 20 or more yards. That reflects directly in San Diego's third-best starting drive position on offense in the NFL this year.
Overall, San Diego has allowed the seventh-highest point total in the league this year, giving up 26.5 per game. Four of the Chargers' last five opponents have scored at least 27 points. The Chargers rank 19th in yards allowed, at 361.1 per game, but have actually been quite good against the run, allowing the league's fifth-lowest average per game (89.8)
The Chargers operate out of a 3-4 front and get their pressure mostly from edge rushers Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa, who have combined for 10.5 of the team's 20 sacks. Bosa was the third-overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, the first defensive player taken, and he's had an impact rookie campaign despite a holdout that cost him all of the preseason and kept him out of action until the fifth game of the regular season. Bosa has been starting at defensive end for most of the games since his return while Ingram is one of the Chargers' outside linebackers. San Diego had been using the beefy pair of Corey Liuget and Brandon Mebane to plug the middle for most of the season, but Mebane was recently lost to injured reserve.
San Diego got two defensive starters out of the 2016 draft, as fifth-round pick Jatavis Brown stepped in for the injured Manti Te'o at one of the two inside linebacker spots and has been an impact player. Despite not starting until Week Four, Brown has a team-high 52 tackles to go with three sacks, two forced fumbles and seven passes defensed. However, he has missed the Chargers' last three games with a knee injury and did not practice with his team on Wednesday. Even with the injuries, San Diego's defense has been good at stopping the run on first down, allowing four or more yards on 38.2% of opponent attempts, tied for the seventh-lowest in the league.
San Diego's front seven hasn't put too much pressure on opposing passers, ranking third-to-last in the NFL in sacks per pass play. However, the Chargers have made good use of the blitz, with an opponents' passer rating of 77.3 in such situations, sixth-best in the NFL. Ingram and fellow outside 'backer Jerry Attaoucho have combined for eight sacks and 22 QB hits.
The Chargers' secondary lost long-time star Eric Weddle after last season but made an equally important addition in former Green Bay Packers cornerback Casey Hayward. Hayward leads the NFL with six interceptions and has broken up 16 passes while notching 47 tackles. The Chargers have secured a league-best 14 interceptions, but it's been a team effort behind Hayward, with eight different San Diego players getting one apiece. Fellow cornerback starter Brandon Flowers is a former Pro Bowler in Kansas City but he's missed five games due to injury this year and did not practice on Wednesday due to a concussion.
San Diego has turned all those takeaways into 67 points, the fifth-highest total in the NFL. The Chargers have at least one takeaway in every game this year, including 11 in their last four games.
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The Chargers rank in the middle of the pack in terms of opponent third down conversions (39.3) but are fifth-best when those third downs need to gain more than six yards. They have not been particularly stingy in the red zone, allowing a 65.0% touchdown efficiency that is the fifth-worst mark in the league.
San Diego has turned over its two kicking spots in the past two seasons, bringing in placekicker Josh Lambo as an undrafted free agent in 2015 and punter Drew Kaser as a sixth-round draft pick this year. Lambo beat out veteran Nick Novak last year and has been a prolific scorer since.
After a 26-for-32 performance on field goals last year, Lambo has been even better in his second year, making 21 of 24 attempts. Two of his three misses have been from beyond 50 yards; he's 16-for-16 inside 40 yards. However, Lambo has missed three of his 35 extra-point tries this year from the new longer range.
Those two long-range misses this year shouldn't be taken as an indication of a weak leg; Lambo made four of five from 50+ as a rookie. Moreover, he has already emerged as one of the best kickoff men in the NFL. He has forced 55 touchbacks on 69 kickoffs, the second-best percentage in the league behind Jacksonville's Jason Myers.
Kaser is off to a decent start in his rookie season, ranking 19th in the NFL with a 45.4-yard gross punting average. His hang time has helped San Diego's cover team hold opponents to 5.4 yards per punt return, which in turn has given him a 40.7 net punting average, 14th-best in the league.
The Chargers brought in former Chief and Titan Dexter McCluster to return kicks but he was lost to an off-the-field injury three weeks ago. The job now belongs to WR Isaiah Burse, who has been on and off the practice squad this week. San Diego 22nd in the NFL in punt return average and 29th in kickoff return average.