The Chargers defense vs. the Patriots offense
Tom Brady and company came out and executed their game plan. They wanted to throw the ball and were actually effective at doing so as the Patriots marched across midfield every time they had the ball. The Patriots did not test Quentin Jammer nearly enough and he came up with some big hits as the game went on. Junior Seau was tested. He responded with a gutsy game, timing his blitzes which were occasionally a step slow, and was the main reason Donnie Edwards intercepted a ball as he had a hand in the face of Brady when he threw the ball to an area where no Patriot was in sight. The Chargers kept the Patriots in front of them all game and were able to capitalize on mistakes coming up big when they were needed.
The front four kept the Patriots to 3.8 yards per carry for the game. They did not get a sack on Brady but contributed with solid pressure and made Brady throw before he wanted. The result was the Chargers linebackers and safeties were in position to make quick tackles and eliminate the long gains.
The linebacking crew was a highlight reel of great plays. Seau with his heart filled game brought up the level of play for the unit. Edwards was again fantastic in coverage and it is a wonder why any team would let him go. Ben Leber came up huge on a fourth and 1 stopping Marc Edwards short by inches.
Overall they did not have their best game. Deion Branch caught 13 balls against them and Tom Brady connected on 36 passes. Each drive had its defining play, and one play per drive can change the face of the game. Ryan McNeil intercepted a ball, Alex Molden recovered a fumble; these plays define the unit. They never gave up and after 2 quick scores they settled down enough to hold the Patriots who came into the game averaging 38.3 points per game to 14 points.
The Chargers offense vs. the Patriots defense
How does one stop the blitz? Block it and run the ball. Bill Belichick tried to disguise blitzes often running them right over Center Jason Ball and Guard Toniu Fonoti. Ball and Fonoti responded with a solid game and was the anchor for a line that paved the way for the Chargers to gain 238 yards on the ground. 217 of those yards came on the back of LaDainian Tomlinson. The blocking did not end at just the offensive line. Curtis Conway made 2 blocks on the same play that brought Tomlinson into the end zone after a 58-yard scramble. Tim Dwight also made a key block on the play. Dwight started off as a decoy on a fake reverse and got held up at the line. Soon he was sprinting past everyone, including Tomlinson to provide the last block down inside the 10-yard line. That last block allowed Tomlinson to get into the end zone.
The receivers beyond that remained non-existent. It will one day become a concern as we continue to harp on it. One day Drew Brees will be asked to shoulder the load, and his receivers will be the ones who will have to step up. Brees only threw 18 passes and 10 were completed. Four were caught by receivers, four. Reche Caldwell was drafted to provide a solid #3 wideout but his number has not been called. He remains catchless. Deion Branch of the Patriots who was drafted in the same round in the draft as Caldwell had 13 catches this past Sunday. Now 13 may be extreme but he needs to catch a few when it counts. Another big factor was Brees not throwing any interceptions. When a team (the Patriots) can score at will as it has in the past, protecting the ball becomes an important part of the gameplan.
When it works why fix it. When Tomlinson can run the ball effectively and the blocking scheme works there is no need to fix it. Tomlinson ran where and when he wanted. There is little the Patriots could do. For this game, the plan called Marty ball worked to perfection.
Looking to the future
It cannot be stressed enough that another option besides Tomlinson and Conway must take the ball and run with it, literally. When that happens this team will deserve the hype it continues to generate. Brees has proven he can lead a team to victory and plays to the circumstances of the game. The pass he threw to Conway that went for a touchdown was just a small sampling of his talent. When he is asked to do more we may open our eyes and see how good this team really is.
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