- Chargers: Keys to the Game
By Chris Goodhue, Patriots Insider
The Patriots defense may have their hands full vs. the San Diego Chargers pass attack this Sunday at Gillette Stadium. The Chargers offense is run much like that of the Kansas City Chiefs in the sense that most of their plays go through an elite running back with great pass catching ability, as well a tight end that is a nightmare in terms of matching up.
Patriots Run Defense:
RB LaDainian Tomlinson has topped 1,200 rushing yards and 50 receptions in each of his 4 previous seasons. It goes without saying that stopping him is the top priority for the Patriots defense. In the last meeting between the two teams back in Week 4 of 2002, Tomlinson torched the Patriots defense for 217 rushing yards and 2 TDs on 27 carries, with an alarming average of 8.0 per carry. New England has done a good job of stopping the run so far this season, allowing only 91.7 rush yards per game, 3rd best in the AFC. Opponents have mustered only 3.4 yards per carry against the Patriots, which is 4th best in the conference. Here is how the Patriots have fared on a game-by-game basis versus opponents featured backs:
The biggest problem facing the Pats defense this week is replacing the run support abilities of SS Rodney Harrison. Guss Scott will be his replacement, and much like Rodney, he likes to play physical. Scott will need to come up and stuff the run as well as help quell the receiving abilities of TE Antonio Gates. The Pats 2004 3rd round pick recorded 4 tackles last week after Harrison went down.
For the Chargers, having Antonio Gates in the lineup is instrumental to the success of QB Drew Brees. Brees has been a significantly different passer since the addition of the former college hoops standout. Here is a comparison of Brees career numbers with and without Gates in the lineup:
|With Gates|| |
As the numbers prove, just having Gates on the field draws enough attention to allow players like Keenan McCardell and Eric Parker to draw single coverage and make plays thus making life on Drew Brees that much easier. The task of covering him will probably be up to Scott downfield, but look for Richard Seymour or Willie McGinest to jam or chip him at the line of scrimmage to disrupt the timing of Brees as well as preventing Gates from running a clean pattern.
Opposing defenses have done an adequate job of getting to Brees, sacking him 6 times in 3 games, which is around the middle of the pack in the AFC in terms of sacks allowed. The Patriots themselves have gotten to the QB 7 times so far this season, as well as limiting opposing passers to a paltry 44.1 completion percentage. New England will most likely not get too blitz-happy on Sunday due to the receiving prowess of Tomlinson.
Patriots Pass Defense:
The depleted secondary of the Patriots has yet to record an interception on the season. The only INT the team has all year is the 24-yard INT return by LB Mike Vrabel in Week 2 vs. Carolina. Duane Starks and Assante Samuel will most likely be the two starters with Chad Scott playing the nickelback. The secondary has been susceptible to the big play a couple of times this season, allowing 2 TD passes of 80-plus yards. FS Eugene Wilson will have to step up to help the corners defend the ageless Keenan McCardell and the speedy Eric Parker on the deep outside. Here is how opposing QBs have fared against the Pats defense thus far:
On the offensive side of the ball, the Pats will face a 3-4 defensive scheme for the second consecutive week. They will need to find a way to run the ball against a very underrated linebacking corps. ILB Donnie Edwards is 4th in the NFL in combined tackles with 32. ILB Randall Godfrey has spent most of his career in obscurity with mediocre teams in Dallas, Tennessee, and Seattle, but is an extremely intelligent player who has a nose for getting to the ball carrier. In the middle, DT Jamal Williams is a rock at 63, 348 lbs., and he is one of the leagues best at pushing his blocker into the backfield and forcing the running back to bounce outside.
Chargers Run Defense:
The Chargers run defense has been good in the first 3 games allowing 97.7 yards per game and only 3.6 per carry. Here is how theyve done against their opponents featured backs game by game:
The true challenge for the Patriots offense will be keeping pressure off of Tom Brady. San Diego doesnt blitz that much, but they surely will want to take advantage of the injury to OT Matt Light. His replacement Nick Kazcur held his own pretty well against Pittsburgh last week. With the status of DE Igor Olshansky unknown, the Chargers may move 1st round pick DT Luis Castillo out to the end vs. Kazcur.
Chargers Pass Defense:
The pass defense of the Chargers is near the bottom rung of the AFC. They are allowing 275.3 yards per game through the air and opposing QBs are completing passes at a 63.7% clip. WRs Deion Branch and David Givens should be successful in slipping underneath safties Terrance Kiel and Bahwoh Jue, and Branch should be able to stretch the field if play action can be established. Here is how opposing QBs have fared vs. the Chargers this season:
Just like last week, the Patriots will have to do their best to keep the ball out of the hands of their opponents. The less Tomlinson and Gates are on the field, the fresher the defense will be to make the big plays they need to shut down the two-headed monster.
Key Matchup Summary:
The Patriots must contain Tomlinson. If he is allowed to have a big game, then that will open things up for Drew Brees to get the Ball to Antonio Gates or Keenan McCardell and the rest of the Chargers receivers. Gates against the Patriots secondary favors San Diego and could be the biggest advantage the Chargers have.
The Patriots defensive front has been able to shut down opponents rushing game forcing the opposition to throw the ball to win. The strategy has paid off for them the first three weeks, with the exception of Carolina in week 2. If it wasn't for the penalties and the turnovers in the Panthers game, it's possble the Patriot's strategy could have them at 3-0.
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