Behind Enemy Lines: Part II

The Patriots and Chargers will meet Sunday. Jon Scott of Patriot Insider and Michael Lombardo of SD Bolt Report talk injuries, match-ups and more. Part 2 of this series. What to expect on special teams, The real story with Deion Branch, One player who can change the game and a Prediction...

Don't Miss Part 1 - Chargers Questions, answered by San Diego Insider Michael Lombardo

PATRIOTS QUESTIONS

1. It seems the key to stopping Tom Brady is a strong pass rush. Unfortunately, the Chargers don't have one of those. Any chance San Diego can frustrate him by dropping seven and eight men into coverage? Or is this a turkey just waiting to be carved?

Jon Scott: If everyone's covered downfield, the Chargers can stop Brady if it's third and long. Tight coverage works best. Unfortunately for teams, with Deion Branch, Wes Welker AND Aaron Hernandez, tight coverage hasn't always been possible. I think the Chargers will do well if they can keep Brady and co to third and long, which means a tough run defense could be more important than a strong pass rush, unless the pass rush is really good.

2. Deion Branch had a sensational coming-home party last week. Can he be that good on a weekly basis? Or was that an emotional aberration?

Scott: Teams are very concerned with Wes Welker and Aaron Hernandez, rightfully so. Because coverage rolls in their direction Branch gets singled up, or allowed to carve space out in a zone. The tricky part is how teams play these guys going forward. If the zone coverage is good, then Branch is little better than your average receiver. It's his timing and intuitive connection with Brady that makes him dangerous.

I remember one week after practice when Branch and Brady played pass and catch. Brady never called the play (or the route), just lined up and threw it before Branch made his cut… the ball was right on, every time.. They know where the other guy wants the ball, and they don't even have to talk about it. That's why they're such a dangerous (and successful) combination.

3. The Chargers will be without WR Malcom Floyd this week, while TE Antonio Gates will be limited or possibly unavailable. As a result, San Diego may be forced to lean on its running game. Would the Patriots dare come out with eight men in the box against a Philip Rivers-led offense?

Scott: A good running game is the worst possible scenario for the Patriots to have to defend against Rivers. The New England secondary has given up far too many plays downfield, and not just the big ones. They give up third and long often. If the Chargers can get the ball rolling on the ground to keep it at 3rd and 3 (or less), it will be a big day for Rivers and co. New England yields a first down on average 49% of the time in every third down situation regardless of distance. Rivers doesn't have to hit the big play to shred the Patriots defense, all he has to do is have enough time to find the open guy, because there's always an open guy.

4. Speaking of New England's defense, that unit has received a lot of criticism so far this season. What is the biggest weakness on that side of the ball?

Scott: As mentioned in the last answer, it's the secondary. The Patriots defense ranks 30th overall giving up 383 yards per game on average. But it's the pass defense that yields 273.4 yards per game average (29th overall) that is the real culprit. The run defense is a respectable 17th overall yielding just 109.6 yards per game. Just 9 yards (avg.) separate them from being a Top 10 run defense.

Put it this way, Rivers has faced the Seahawks (30th), Jaguars (28th), Chiefs (27th), Cardinals (26th) and Rams (20th) pass defenses. Only Oakland's (8th) pass defense has shown consistency on average. With New England (29th), I expect Rivers will have a good day despite anything the New England rush defense does.

5. The Patriots, especially Patrick Chung, have made some sensational plays on special teams this season. The Chargers, on the flip side, can do nothing right in the third phase. Could this literally be the biggest special-teams mismatch in NFL history?

Scott: The Dolphins special teams were pretty bad as well. If the Chargers block normally, and cover normally, they can contain the Patiots special teams. Chung talked about his two blocked kicks in the Miami game, it was a scheme to put the protection away from him, and it worked beautifully. Miami's special teams coach was fired over it, as was Bobby Carpenter who was at fault during much of those troubles. If San Diego watches film of the Ravens game, they'll find ways to slow down Brandon Tate as a returner and ways to protect themselves from giving up a block against Chung or the rest of the unit. I expect this will be a big part of Sunday's game, but probably not as big as the Rivers vs Patriots secondary matchup.

6. Who is one non-star player who could win the game for the Patriots?

Scott: OLB Jermaine Cunningham. He's a rookie, but he's beaten out Tully Banta-Cain for the starting role. The 2010 second round pick out of Florida has the isze and strength to get past big offensive tackles like Michael Oher, or cause them to make mistakes (Holding). If Cunningham can force San Diego to account for protection against him, then every other assignment on the DL changes… that wil allow guys like Vince Wilfork to get pressure on Rivers, and cover up some of the secondary's deficiencies by causing Rivers to throw sooner than he wants. Cunninghame wears No. 96.

Prediction: Patriots 30, Chargers 27
I see the Patriots accounting for their deficiencies on defense long enough to keep a small lead at the end. Tom Brady has another week working with Deion Branch while Offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien finds ways to game plan without Randy Moss. The Chargers defense will make it a tough, tough game, but they're not quite as good as the Ravens who New England got into a rhythm against in the second half last week. Still, I expect Philip Rivers to have a big day, but come up short in the end.

Jon Scott has covered the NFL since 1995, and has been a regular contributor to Patriots Insider, Comcast SportsNet New England. and FOXSports.com Magazines. A member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA), Jon has appeared a guest analyst on the NFL Network, Sporting News Radio, ESPN Radio and other outlets around the web. Follow Jon on Twitter: @JscottNFL or You can

Michael Lombardo is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and a long-time contributor to the Scout.com network. His analysis has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports and MySpace Sports. He has followed the Chargers for more than 15 years and covered the team since 2003. You can see more of his updates by following him on twitter @SDBoltReport.


Patriots Insider Top Stories

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Michael Lombardo is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and a long-time contributor to the Scout.com network. His analysis has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports and MySpace Sports. He has followed the Chargers for more than 15 years and covered the team since 2003. You can see more of his updates by following him on twitter @SDBoltReport.
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","mobileBody":"

Don't Miss Part 1 - Chargers Questions, answered by San Diego Insider Michael Lombardo

PATRIOTS QUESTIONS

1. It seems the key to stopping Tom Brady is a strong pass rush. Unfortunately, the Chargers don't have one of those. Any chance San Diego can frustrate him by dropping seven and eight men into coverage? Or is this a turkey just waiting to be carved?

Jon Scott: If everyone's covered downfield, the Chargers can stop Brady if it's third and long. Tight coverage works best. Unfortunately for teams, with Deion Branch, Wes Welker AND Aaron Hernandez, tight coverage hasn't always been possible. I think the Chargers will do well if they can keep Brady and co to third and long, which means a tough run defense could be more important than a strong pass rush, unless the pass rush is really good.

2. Deion Branch had a sensational coming-home party last week. Can he be that good on a weekly basis? Or was that an emotional aberration?

Scott: Teams are very concerned with Wes Welker and Aaron Hernandez, rightfully so. Because coverage rolls in their direction Branch gets singled up, or allowed to carve space out in a zone. The tricky part is how teams play these guys going forward. If the zone coverage is good, then Branch is little better than your average receiver. It's his timing and intuitive connection with Brady that makes him dangerous.

I remember one week after practice when Branch and Brady played pass and catch. Brady never called the play (or the route), just lined up and threw it before Branch made his cut… the ball was right on, every time.. They know where the other guy wants the ball, and they don't even have to talk about it. That's why they're such a dangerous (and successful) combination.

3. The Chargers will be without WR Malcom Floyd this week, while TE Antonio Gates will be limited or possibly unavailable. As a result, San Diego may be forced to lean on its running game. Would the Patriots dare come out with eight men in the box against a Philip Rivers-led offense?

Scott: A good running game is the worst possible scenario for the Patriots to have to defend against Rivers. The New England secondary has given up far too many plays downfield, and not just the big ones. They give up third and long often. If the Chargers can get the ball rolling on the ground to keep it at 3rd and 3 (or less), it will be a big day for Rivers and co. New England yields a first down on average 49% of the time in every third down situation regardless of distance. Rivers doesn't have to hit the big play to shred the Patriots defense, all he has to do is have enough time to find the open guy, because there's always an open guy.

4. Speaking of New England's defense, that unit has received a lot of criticism so far this season. What is the biggest weakness on that side of the ball?

Scott: As mentioned in the last answer, it's the secondary. The Patriots defense ranks 30th overall giving up 383 yards per game on average. But it's the pass defense that yields 273.4 yards per game average (29th overall) that is the real culprit. The run defense is a respectable 17th overall yielding just 109.6 yards per game. Just 9 yards (avg.) separate them from being a Top 10 run defense.

Put it this way, Rivers has faced the Seahawks (30th), Jaguars (28th), Chiefs (27th), Cardinals (26th) and Rams (20th) pass defenses. Only Oakland's (8th) pass defense has shown consistency on average. With New England (29th), I expect Rivers will have a good day despite anything the New England rush defense does.

5. The Patriots, especially Patrick Chung, have made some sensational plays on special teams this season. The Chargers, on the flip side, can do nothing right in the third phase. Could this literally be the biggest special-teams mismatch in NFL history?

Scott: The Dolphins special teams were pretty bad as well. If the Chargers block normally, and cover normally, they can contain the Patiots special teams. Chung talked about his two blocked kicks in the Miami game, it was a scheme to put the protection away from him, and it worked beautifully. Miami's special teams coach was fired over it, as was Bobby Carpenter who was at fault during much of those troubles. If San Diego watches film of the Ravens game, they'll find ways to slow down Brandon Tate as a returner and ways to protect themselves from giving up a block against Chung or the rest of the unit. I expect this will be a big part of Sunday's game, but probably not as big as the Rivers vs Patriots secondary matchup.

6. Who is one non-star player who could win the game for the Patriots?

Scott: OLB Jermaine Cunningham. He's a rookie, but he's beaten out Tully Banta-Cain for the starting role. The 2010 second round pick out of Florida has the isze and strength to get past big offensive tackles like Michael Oher, or cause them to make mistakes (Holding). If Cunningham can force San Diego to account for protection against him, then every other assignment on the DL changes… that wil allow guys like Vince Wilfork to get pressure on Rivers, and cover up some of the secondary's deficiencies by causing Rivers to throw sooner than he wants. Cunninghame wears No. 96.

Prediction: Patriots 30, Chargers 27
I see the Patriots accounting for their deficiencies on defense long enough to keep a small lead at the end. Tom Brady has another week working with Deion Branch while Offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien finds ways to game plan without Randy Moss. The Chargers defense will make it a tough, tough game, but they're not quite as good as the Ravens who New England got into a rhythm against in the second half last week. Still, I expect Philip Rivers to have a big day, but come up short in the end.

Jon Scott has covered the NFL since 1995, and has been a regular contributor to Patriots Insider, Comcast SportsNet New England. and FOXSports.com Magazines. A member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA), Jon has appeared a guest analyst on the NFL Network, Sporting News Radio, ESPN Radio and other outlets around the web. Follow Jon on Twitter: @JscottNFL or You can

Michael Lombardo is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and a long-time contributor to the Scout.com network. His analysis has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports and MySpace Sports. He has followed the Chargers for more than 15 years and covered the team since 2003. You can see more of his updates by following him on twitter @SDBoltReport.

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