Behind Enemy Lines: Chargers vs. Patriots III

Our Scout.com experts, Jon Scott of PatriotsInsider.com and Amberly Richardson of SDBoltReport.com, analyze Sunday's playoff game between the Patriots and the Chargers at Gillette Stadium. Let's keep going with six questions from Jon to Amberly.

Jon Scott: Igor Olshansky appeared to back away from some comments he made about the New England Patriots just after the Colts win. FB Lorenzo Neal went on record chastising Olshansky for being too confident. Do you think there is a division in the locker room between those players who know better than to give the Patriots bulletin board material and the others who can't control their trash talking?

Amberly Richardson: Neal is one of the classiest players in the NFL, but he isn't shy about speaking his mind. Neal blocks for the reigning MVP, who is the most down-to-earth superstar. If Olshansky is more confident than LaDainian Tomlinson, then there is a problem.

In his 15 years in the NFL, Neal has seen it all and if he thinks the trash talking should take place on the field. He does not disagree with what Olshansky said, only the venue in which he said it. Given Bill Belichick's ability to create motivation from the slightest of slights, the Chargers would be well advised to heed the words of Rob Burgundy and "stay classy, San Diego."

JS: There are conflicting reports of Philip Rivers' health for Sunday. Is it possible the Chargers would be better off with a healthy Billy Volek? Who's the third option of Volek gets knocked out and Rivers can't play?

AR: Rivers has a partially torn ACL in his right knee, something the Chargers neglected to divulge early in the week. He is listed as doubtful but is expected to start on Sunday.

Volek is a solid backup but the Chargers would be better off with Rivers, even if he is not 100 percent. Rivers has more experience in the system and has been on fire since Thanksgiving.

In the No.3 spot the Chargers have Charlie Whitehurst, a second-year player out of Clemson. Whitehurst knows how to push the ball down field and plays with a lot of moxie, but he struggles to protect the ball. Whitehurst will ascend into the No. 2 role next season after Volek leaves as a free agent.

JS: The Patriots were able to run the ball well against the Jaguars last week by stretching the field and running horizontally to wear out the big-bodied run stoppers on Jacksonville's defense. What's the best way to gain yards on the ground against the Chargers?

AR: It will be difficult for the Patriots to wear down San Diego's Pro Bowl big guys. Jamal Williams anchors that crew and Luis Castillo can handle the job. Stephen Cooper will be there to play cleanup. He leads the team in tackles and trains under the best inside linebackers coach in the league, Ron Rivera.

The Chargers have too much team speed to allow success with a horizontal running game. The best way to attack to the Chargers is to pass on first down and run on later downs, preferably when Williams is on the sidelines.


QB Philip Rivers
Donald Miralle/Getty

JS: Philip Rivers was selected to the Pro Bowl last year ahead of Tom Brady. Do you think Rivers is a Pro Bowl level QB, or was it a byproduct of San Diego's success that season?

AR: Rivers definitely rode on the coattails of San Diego's 14-2 season. Even more, he was catapulted into the public eye with Tomlinson's record breaking season and Shawne Merriman's steroid drama.

Last season, Rivers was the luckiest quarterback in the league because defenses keyed in on LT. In Rivers' second year at the helm, Tomlinson got off to a slow start and Rivers struggled to pick up the slack.

Rivers has adjusted to throwing the ball more. Teams have dared Rivers to beat them and he has delivered, leading his team to an 13-5 record this season. It helps that he has big, talented targets in Antonio Gates and Vincent Jackson. Rivers will be back in the Pro Bowl in the near future, although it will unlikely be at Brady's expense.

JS: There's a lot of speculation that the Chargers will use man coverage on Randy Moss, putting their best defender -- Antonio Cromartie -- on him much like other teams have done. What will they do if the Patriots move Moss around to the slot, or run him out of alignments not in his usual spot? Do you think the Chargers will shift to zone and hope Moss doesn't find an opening, or something else?

AR: The Chargers are going to try to take away the Patriots' long pass and make a lot of quick tackles. It sounds simple, but that's Ted Cottrell's game plan. The Chargers want to make the Patriots use 10 or more plays to get down the field, giving their defense more opportunities to make plays on the ball. That strategy worked against the Indianapolis Colts, as the Chargers picked off Peyton Manning twice in the Divisional Round and six times in week 10.

If the Patriots move Moss around the field, the Chargers will stick with their man coverage assignements. Quentin Jammer is a more disciplined corner than Cromartie - he just lacks the ball skills. Drayton Florence is very familiar with Moss -- they work out together at Moss' off-season speed camps -- so he feels he is up to the challenge as well.

JS: What's the biggest weakness on this Chargers team? How can it be exploited, and do you think the Patriots will be able to do that?

AR: The biggest weakness for the Chargers is their inability to stop the short passing game. Their defense is built to stop the run on early downs and to harass quarterbacks in obvious passing situations. If the Patriots throw the ball on first down and pick up 6 or 7 yards per clip, the Chargers will have a difficult time getting off the field.

Former Charger Wes Welker is in for a big day. The Chargers don't have anyone that can match his quickness, so I expect him to finish with somewhere around 10 receptions.

Amberly Richardson is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and a correspondent for Scout.com. She has contributed to the official Web sites of Shawne Merriman, Lorenzo Neal, Shaun Phillips and others for Sixthman Communications.


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