the Patriots have to do on Sunday
An Insiders perspective from New England.
By Patriots Insider Staff
Three things the Patriots have to do on Sunday in order to get the win.
1) Get the ground game going. The Patriots continue to struggle running the ball. They have faced some tough defenses, experienced some injuries and taken time to gel. One thing they have been unable to do well is to open holes for the running backs. Corey Dillon is having a sub par season so far averaging close to 53 yards per game, putting him on pace for a sub-1000 yard season. Contrast that with Dillon's average last year of 109 per game (he missed one), and he's gaining yards at half his record rate.
The Patriots line has seen a little change in the offseason, at least, if the loss of Joe Andruzzi can be called a little thing. The rest of the line remained intact until the injury bug started to bite. Matt Light went down in Pittsburgh thrusting rookie third-round pick Nick Kaczur into the lineup at left tackle. Rookie first-rounder Logan Mankins is in Andruzzi's spot. Tom Ashworth is splitting time with Brandon Gorin at right as both fight off nagging injuries from the preseason.
This unit has to do a better job of opening holes for Dillon and the other backs so Tom Brady doesn't have to throw the ball 40 times a game. Against the Chargers front seven, the job won't be easy. The Chargers have a number of playmakers both on the line and at linebacker, who can plug the running lane. If the Patriots want to build a lead and sit on it, they're going to have to figure out a way to get Dillon on track.
2) Stop the triplets. New England has seen quality running backs each week, to go along with quality receivers and quarterbacks. It's no different this week as Chargers QB Drew Brees will either be handing the ball off to LaDanian Tomlinson, or throwing it to his top two targets Keenan McCardell and Antonio Gates.
Tomlinson is the biggest threat. He has done more in his 59 carries than Dillon, to the tune of 316 yards vs 160 (5.4 Vs 2.7 yard average). Tomlinson has the ability to take over a game, as he did against the New York Giants last week. If the Patriots stack the line to slow him down, they still have to worry abut McCardell and Gates. The key will be to find a way to slow Tomlinson while keeping enough bodies in coverage to prevent the long ball by McCardell or Gates. The Patriots have been able to slow down good backs, but LT is a great back, one of the best in the game, and slowing him down will be a huge challenge.
3) Protect Brady. It cannot be said any clearer than this; If Tom Brady gets hit, or even worse, hurt, the Patriots are in trouble. They have no real threat in the running game, their line is having trouble protecting against heavy rushes, and the diminutive Doug Flutie is not the solution if Brady gets hurt.
Brady is listed on the injury report as probable with a shoulder problem. He was listed on the injury report every week in 2004 except the Super Bowl with the same thing. If Brady has to fall back and throw the ball 40 times a game, at some point a blitzing safety, cornerback or linebacker is going to get to him. The Chargers have talent they can bring to make that happen. If they get to him, there's always the chance they can knock him out of the game.
Expect to see more two and three tight end sets in an effort to give Brady the kind of protection he needs, while allowing the talented ends to go out in a pattern if not needed to protect. Max protection was used to slow down Pittsburgh's blitzers, but the Patriots found success when they spread the field. If they can keep enough bodies in to protect Brady from the blitz and allow those blockers to release,
Watson is averaging 18 yards a completion, better than Gates 14.3. The problem with Watson is that he's been needed to help stay in to block. The wise move is to keep him there until a comfort level with the blocking has been established so that Watson can go downfield.
If the Patriots protect Brady, all good things will happen. When given time, Brady has shown he can pick apart even the best defenses by finding receivers open as they get the complete their routes. The Chargers secondary has been suspect of late, ranking 28th in the league against the pass.
More Panther coverage can
be found on SDBoltReport.com
The Patriots Message Boards: http://mb.scout.com/bpatriotsinsider