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-- OT Sebastian Vollmer has been limited in practice this week due to a back injury, but all signs point to him returning to the lineup Sunday against San Diego, which limits rookie Nate Solder to more of a backup role. He was listed as questionable on Friday's report.
-- CB Leigh Bodden was back in practice after missing Wednesday's session with a back injury. He should be ready for Sunday's game.
-- C Dan Koppen was not at practice and likely won't be for a while due to a broken ankle that will probably sideline him for at least six weeks.
-- DL Mike Wright reportedly suffered another concussion in Monday's win at Miami. This is problematic considering the issues he dealt with last year regarding concussions. There is no timetable on his return.
GAME PLAN: No need to change what's working thus far. The Patriots should continue to attack the underbelly of every team's weak defense by chucking the ball to TEs Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski until someone stops them.
In between, BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead can pick up the tough yards to keep the chains moving and keep defenses honest. The two haven't been highlight-reel running backs, but they do enough to prevent opponents from doubling up on either tight end or employing more nickelbacks in their coverage.
Defensively, the pass coverage could be better. The Patriots struggled with Chad Henne, who certainly wouldn't be considered an elite quarterback. Philip Rivers could give them problems if they're unable to rush the passer.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
Chargers WR Vincent Jackson v. Patriots CB Devin McCourty. Jackson only had two catches in last week's opener, so expect Rivers to try to get him more involved with the offense. McCourty will need to be sharper than he was last week; he wasn't bad by any stretch, but the Dolphins made some big plays -- several by Brandon Marshall -- which needs to change.
Patriots TE Ron Gronkowski v. Chargers S Bob Sanders. Who's going to stop these tight ends? Sanders isn't the player he once was in Indianapolis, but anyone who's lined up across from him knows he can deliver big hits. All it takes is one or two to change the dynamic of New England's offense. Let's see if Sanders has anything left in the tank.
Patriots WR Deion Branch v. Chargers CB Quentin Jammer. Someone needs to stop Branch, too -- especially on third down. Branch had four catches for first downs Monday in Miami, a big reason the Patriots kept the chains moving so often. Jammer is a physical receiver, which clashes with Branch's style of route-running. Should be a good matchup.
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Going to be new faces among some key players when the Chargers face the Patriots on Sunday.
Defensive end Luis Castillo is out for an extended period of time and he'll be replaced by Vaughn Martin.
Kicker Nate Kaeding is on IR after suffering a season-ending knee injury. Nick Novak is being asked to fill a huge void there.
Keep an eye on the Chargers' secondary as it will be tested by Tom Brady. Among the key players not normally in the spotlight could be nickel back Dante Hughes and Marcus Gilchrist, a backup rookie cornerback who'll be pressed into action with the Patriots going to multiple-receiver sets.
--WR Patrick Crayton (ankle) continues to work in his bid to be healthy for Sunday; he missed the opener. If Crayton is active, it might mean Bryan Walters sits.
--ILB Jonas Mouton (shoulder) isn't practicing and won't be in the mix again this week.
--WR Vincent Jackson could be in for a big game, one game after a similar sized pass-catcher, Miami's Brandon Marshall, exposed the Patriots' undersized cornerbacks. The same is true for Jackson's teammate, the lanky Malcom Floyd.
--OLB Larry English is working, but coach Norv Turner always hems and haws when asked about his chances of going Sunday. English is a former first-round pick slowed by leg and foot injuries.
--WR Vincent Brown (hamstring) continued to practice but he could be a healthy inactive on Sunday.
Is it odd to get away from what you do best -- throw the football -- in trying to win a game? No way -- and that is just what the Chargers might do on Sunday.
The Chargers have talked long and hard about how they want to develop the running game and give the offense a tough-guy persona. There is no better place to prove it than in New England.
If the Chargers, with their two-headed attack of Mike Tolbert and Ryan Mathews, can establish a running game it will keep Brady and his offense off the field. It would also serve well moving forward if defenses start respecting the Chargers' running game as much as their vaunted passing attack.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
Chargers passing game, led by Philip Rivers and an eager Vincent Jackson vs. Patriots pass defense. Rivers was forced to keep it down low in the last game, delivering passes to tight ends and running backs instead of getting it down field to Jackson -- he was targeted but three times. Jackson is itching to have a big game and Rivers is keen on making sure he does just that. Pressure here will be on the Patriots' cornerbacks, Devin McCourty and Leigh Bodden. Those two had a tough time Monday night against another big receiver, the Dolphins' Brandon Marshall.
Chargers defensive ends Corey Liuget and Vaughn Martin against Patriots tackles Matt Light and Sebastian Vollmer. Liuget held up well in his first NFL start last week; Will Martin do the same in his first start? Two youngsters will be getting their feet wet in New England and against Brady -- hardly how you draw it up. But this NFL baptism arrives with the Chargers hoping they can hold their own on the edges. If thinking the Patriots are just about passing, you would be wrong. Ben Jarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead like to get to the edges and there is where Liuget and Martin must be strong at the point of attack. If the Patriots are able to run the ball, that will only make Brady and the passing game that much more formidable.
Chargers coach Norv Turner, and his offensive slant vs. Patriots coach Bill Belichick's defensive scheme. Are there two better gurus on their respective sides of the football than these two? Turner is rightly known for developing quarterbacks -- Troy Aikman and Philip Rivers stand out -- while Belichick has been money in developing defensive schemes that can slow the best of attacks. Turner will be like a mad scientist with his various formations and motions which are constructed to find the matchup to his liking. And with such a versatile offense at his disposal -- the running of Mike Tolbert and Ryan Mathews; the passing attack led by Rivers and featuring Pro Bowl targets in WR Vincent Jackson and TE Antonio Gates -- Turner figures to be a strong foe for Belichick. No doubt Belichick learned much from watching how the Vikings blitzed Rivers early last week, sacking him twice and providing enough heat so that Rivers never looked real comfortable in the pocket the entire game. But if Belichick goes that route, he must be keen on the underneath stuff to Gates -- Rivers seldom went down field against the Vikings, instead going to hot reads and dump-offs as the longer routes didn't have time to develop with such a strong rush. The chess match between these two will be fascinating to watch. Belichick has won five of eight games against the Chargers since taking over in New England in 2000.
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