Six Match-Ups to Watch: Chargers vs. Patriots

The Chargers can give their playoff hopes a major lift with a win over New England on Sunday at Qualcomm Stadium. Philip Rivers has never beaten a Tom Brady-led Patriots team, but this game is about much more than just the quarterbacks. Here are six other match-ups the Chargers need to win to secure their fourth consecutive victory.

Corey Liuget vs. Dan Connolly

The key to stopping Tom Brady is getting pressure up the middle and making him move off his spot. No one is better suited to do that than Liuget, who leads the Chargers with 3.5 sacks and nine tackles for loss. He is coming off back-to-back big games, with a sack-strip against the Rams and three tackles for loss against the Ravens. br>
He will line up across from Connolly, assuming New England's left guard is healthy enough to go (he is listed as questionable with an ankle injury and was limited in every practice this week). Connolly has started every game this season and has given up just half a sack. br>
Manti Te'o vs. LeGarrette Blount

It is tough to guess who will be New England's lead runner on any given week, but what is clear is the Chargers must stymie the Patriots running game if they are to have any chance of pulling the upset. In his two games since returning to New England, Blount has averaged 6.2 yards per carry and scored a pair of touchdowns.

The Chargers may need Te'o more than ever this week. The former second-round pick has been playing mostly in the nickel defense since returning from a foot injury, but he will be used more in the base defense this week with Donald Butler listed as questionable with a quad injury that forced him to miss Friday's practice. Te'o has yet to have a signature game -- or even play -- since joining the Chargers. This week's prime-time contest would be the ideal time for that to happen.

Eric Weddle vs. Rob Gronkowski

Two of the NFL's top 100 players will go head-to-head when Weddle does his best to slow down Gronkowski. Weddle, the play-caller and leader of San Diego's defense, leads the Chargers with 83 total tackles to go along with an interception, a forced fumble and eight pass break-ups.

Gronkowski leads New England with 65 catches for 910 yards and nine touchdowns. He has too much size and strength for Weddle to handle one-on-one, so the Bearded One will have to use perfect technique and impeccable timing to win this battle. Gronkowski will catch his share of balls; if Weddle can knock away a couple or maybe haul in one of his own, it will go a long way towards sponsoring a San Diego victory.

Keenan Allen vs. Darrelle Revis

This is reminiscent of the excellent Week 2 matchup between Allen and Richard Sherman. Revis has been just as dominant this season, allowing just 40.3 percent of the passes thrown his way to be completed. New England defensive coordinator Matt Patricia likes to mix up his coverages, but he will likely stick Revis on Allen for most of the game given how hot San Diego's No. 1 receiver has been over the last couple weeks.

Allen has gone over 100 yards in consecutive weeks and has scored three touchdowns over the last two games. He also has a knack for playing big in big games, so Sunday's bright lights and Powder Blues figure to suit him just fine. A third straight 100-yard game may be unrealistic, but look for the Chargers to move Allen around and find ways to get him the ball in space. It should also be noted that Rivers has never been one to shy away from any defender, even one as gifted as Revis.

King Dunlap vs. Chandler Jones

Dunlap did a nice job last week against Terrell Suggs, controlling the edge and giving Rivers a mostly clean pocket. He has allowed 3.5 sacks so far this season (one to Suggs), but overall he has been the most consistent player on the offensive line.

This week may bring another significant test, as the Patriots could get Chandler Jones back from a hip injury. Jones has not played since Oct. 16, but he practiced all week (albeit in a limited capacity) and is listed as questionable. Jones is a dominant pass rusher when healthy, with 15 sacks in his last 23 games. The Patriots picked Jones in the first round in 2012, three spots after the Chargers selected Melvin Ingram.

Branden Oliver vs. Dont'a Hightower

It is critical the Chargers run the ball effectively against the Patriots. That will keep the offense on schedule, neutralize New England's pass rushers and provide some much-needed rest for a San Diego defense that will have its hands full (to say the least). While Ryan Mathews remains the lead dog, a run-heavy attack should provide more opportunities for Oliver, who has just seven carries combined over the last two games.

Hightower (ankle) is one of 10 Patriots listed as questionable. When healthy, he is a tackling machine who can play downhill and meet San Diego's running backs in the hole. Hightower is also the communicator who receives the play calls from the sidelines, so if he cannot go, that would be another change the Patriots must overcome.

Will Oliver have a big game against the Patriots? Discuss inside the message boards.

Michael Lombardo is a long-time contributor to the team. His analysis has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports and MySpace Sports. He has followed the Chargers for more than 18 years and covered the team since '03. You can see more of his updates by following him on twitter.

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