Comparing the offenses
Quarterback: Edge, Buccaneers
Jeff Miller of the LA Times pointed out something really funny about this matchup. Herbert was two years old when Tom Brady made his debut as the starter for the New England Patriots all those years ago. Herbert has a lot of upside, and I’ve loved what he’s done in two weeks, but Brady is the greatest quarterback of all time. And until proven otherwise, I refuse to doubt him.
Running Back: Edge, Chargers
The Buccaneers employ a “hot hand” approach to their running back room. People were excited about Leonard Fournette joining this team a few weeks ago, but he has never been an efficient running back. That creates problems for a team using a running back by committee.
He looked really good in week two when he ran for over 100 yards against the Panthers, he followed that up with fifteen yards against the Broncos in week three. Ronald Jones hasn’t really ever looked like he’s capable of becoming a true lead back. LeSean McCoy is as washed up as it gets.
I mentioned last week that I think the Chargers have the second-best running back duo in the league, and I still believe that even though Joshua Kelley didn’t have a great game after fumbling early in the game.
Austin Ekeler, on the other hand, had another monster game this week. He put up 59 yards for a touchdown on 12 carries, plus 84 yards on eleven catches through the air. Ekeler is finally getting some much-deserved buzz around the league and rightfully so.
Wide Receiver: Edge, Chargers
As of writing this, it looks like Mike Williams and Chris Godwin likely will not be playing in this game. If they were, I think the Buccaneers would have the edge. The depth after those two is not great for either team.
Both are relying upon young and inexperienced options, and it will be interesting to see how the Chargers go about playing without Williams. KJ Hill was the immediate beneficiary but struggled with some drops. The team hasn’t played Joe Reed much but maybe this gives him an opportunity now.
Ultimately, this debate comes down to Mike Evans vs Keenan Allen. This was obviously a hot topic in the offseason after Evans was ranked ahead of Allen in the NFL’s annual “top 100” list.
Evans has not been super productive so far through three games, even with the absence of Godwin. He has 10 catches for 108 yards and four touchdowns in three games. In comparison, Allen has 24 catches for 264 yards and one touchdown.
Evans has been hyper-productive in the red zone throughout his career, but I think it’s pretty clear that he has relied on his physical gifts more than anything and now he’s heading towards the tail end of his career. Allen, however, is still very much producing at an elite level and can still dominate games, as he showed on Sunday. Allen wins this debate, easily.
Tight End: Edge, Buccaneers
This might be the only time an opposing team has the edge over the Chargers tight end group all season, as long as Hunter Henry is active that is. Rob Gronkowski is clearly not the same kind of threat as a receiver that he used to be, although he did have six catches against the Broncos.
That being said he is still arguably the best blocker at the position and he still needs to be respected in the passing game. OJ Howard is clearly better than Virgil Green, or at least more talented. The Buccaneers also likely have the best third-string tight end in the league with Cameron Brate.
Offensive Line: Edge, Buccaneers
I have been very bullish on the Chargers offensive line, especially because we’ve seen big-time improvements from Sam Tevi and Dan Feeney. That being said, the unit’s performance against the Panthers was a major disappointment. Not only did they give the Panthers their first sack, they gave up over 20 pressures.
I have to think that the revolving door at right guard and Bryan Bulaga’s inability to stay healthy were both contributing factors there. The Buccaneers have easily the best defensive line (more on them later) that the Chargers will face this year.
They NEED Trai Turner and Bulaga to be healthy this week. How the offensive line performs is always important, but if they play like they did last week against the Buccaneers, it’s going to be a long day.
The Buccaneers, on the other hand, have a really nice mix of players upfront. Ryan Jensen is one of the best centers in the league. Donovan Smith and Tristan Wirfs are a very solid duo of tackles. Wirfs in particular has flashed elite upside through three weeks, but he has had some rookie struggles as well.
Keep an eye on how Joey Bosa and Uchenna Nwosu attack that matchup. The Buccaneers don’t really have a weakness upfront. Ali Marpet at left guard has been fantastic and is Pro Football Focus‘ top guard overall. Alex Cappa at right guard is 17th overall. This unit has been arguably the best piece of the Tampa Bay offense so far.