By Patriots Gab Columnist Chris Willson
The matchup this Sunday where the Patriots travel to San Diego to face the chargers should be a close one. Although we would all like to see big-win games such as the Cincinnati game or the Miami game, the Chargers have a lot of things going for them this season despite their underwhelming 2-4 record.
The Chargers offense this season ranks 1st in total yards per game, 1st in passing yards per game and a respectable 13th in rushing yards per game. They are also 2-0 at home. Despite the high powered offense, the team still has lost games to the Chiefs, Seahawks and most notably the Raiders and Rams. Yes, the same Raiders who put every one of their players on the trading block.
In their most recent loss to the Rams, the Bolts gunslinger didn’t disappoint putting up a respectable 249/1/1 line. But the thing that has to stick out to you is the Chargers O-Line let up seven sacks. Also during the game, Rivers’ #1 target Antonio Gates left the game hobbling off, and is currently day-to-day.
Malcolm Floyd also left the game with a supposedly more serious hamstring injury – and head Coach Norv Turner is already basically saying that Floyd won’t play. The chargers defense also showed a lot of susceptibility in this game, letting rookie QB Sam Bradford and the Rams offense convert on 7 of their 17 3rd downs.
What does all this mean for the Patriots? A lot. On paper, this looks like a huge mis-match; The Chargers have a high powered offense and a strong defense (1st in the league in pass defense, 6th in the league in run defense). However, I don’t think you can ever count Bill Belichick out. The-hooded-one always likes to take away the opponents best option.
If Gates plays, you can expect a lot of double coverage. Another thing to watch out for is if Malcolm Floyd plays, after all he did put up a ridiculous 213 yard game against the raiders just 2 weeks ago. Look for Devin McCourty to shadow Floyd if he plays. So far this season, the Pats defense has played a lot of cover 2’s, giving solid coverage and most importantly taking away the threat of a deep play.
I think that will change a little this week, with Belichick calling more Blitzes’s to keep the Chargers horrendous O-line off guard. Having said that, I think Tully Banta-Cain (who only saw about 1/3 of the snaps last week) will be on the field more this week. After all, he did lead the patriots in sacks last year. RB Ryan Matthews is having a solid rookie season, averaging 5.1 yards per carry.
Jerod Mayo will have to continue his exceptional play at ILB to slow Matthews down. Former Florida Teammates Brandon Spikes and Jermaine Cunningham, who both saw the most snaps of their respective seasons last week, will also have to play well. Cunningham showed his speedy pass rushing skills last week, but he also needs to focus on setting the edge on run plays to force Matthews up the middle in Mayo’s direction.
The pats offense needs to continue its aggressive play, having a good balance of run and pass. Danny Woodhead had another very solid game last week, showing that he is more than just a 3rd down back. Look for him and Benjarvus Green-Ellis to again split carries, with Green-Ellis likely getting the short yardage and goal line carries. There’s not much to worry about when it comes to Tom Brady (Mr. Consistency), as last week it looked like him and Deion Branch never left each other.
The offense put up 23 against Baltimore last week, which were the most points Baltimore has allowed all season. Funny stat of the week – Branch caught as many passes (9) in this game as Randy moss had caught all year with the Pats. I’ll also be looking for Aaron Hernandez to have a big bounce back game, as he dropped his first two passes of the season in last week’s overtime period.
Special teams will, in my mind, be the game-breaker. The electric Brandon Tate, who is arguably a top 5 returner in this league right now, will need to have yet another good game to set up the pats offense with good field position.
The Chargers Special teams has given up 2 kick returns for TD’s, a punt return for a TD and also has had 2 blocked punts. Special teams can easily be over-looked, but I think come Sunday afternoon it will be a game changer for the Patriots. Also look for Stephen Gostkowski and Zoltan Mesko, who is being called the NFL’s most interesting man, to continue their strong play this week.
A couple of finishing notes to monitor leading up to the game.
Fred Taylor hasn’t practiced this week, and baring a miracle, he won’t be on the field Sunday.
Julian Edelman, who suffered a concussion in the Baltimore game, was present during Thursday’s practice, so that’s a good sign that he will be able to play.
James Sanders has also practiced this week, which is a big sigh of relief for Patriots coaches as other backup safety Jarrad Page still isn’t practicing.