10 QUESTIONS: Chargers vs Patriots Division Playoffs - Part 2
Michael Lombardo is an insider for SDBoltReport.com the Chargers site on the Scout Network.
6) Speaking of Draft picks, San Diego selected 5 tackles in the past two seasons, with one of them being Wesley Britt who is now with the Patriots. What was it about Britt or the Chargers situation last year that allowed them to part ways with Britt?
Lombardo: The Chargers drafted Britt in hopes of him pushing journeyman offensive tackle Leander Jordan. The Chargers elected to go with the veteran, a move that paid off when Jordan was forced to start nine games last season due to injuries to Olivea and Roman Oben.
The Chargers prefer to use multiple low-round picks on offensive linemen, as General Manager A.J. Smith believes big-time blockers can be found late. Sometimes it works, as Olivea was a seventh-round pick and Dielman was an undrafted free agent. Sometimes it doesn't, as was the case with Britt. That was also the case with Brandon Gorin, a former seventh-round pick whom the Chargers drafted in 2001, cut in 2003, and who started for New England's 2004 Super Bowl team.
7) Obviously teams add players through the Draft, free agency and trades. Aside from Marcus McNeill Which player who wasn't on the roster last season has had the biggest positive impact on the team this season, and why?
Lombardo: Brandon Manumaleuna was acquired via a draft-day trade and has been vital to the team's success. At 288 lbs., he essentially functions as an extra offensive lineman. Also, he will line up in the backfield during obvious passing situations and is superb at picking up the blitz. He's a red-zone threat as well, as his three touchdown receptions are just enough to keep defenses honest.
8) TE Antonio Gates lead all Chargers receivers with 71 receptions for 924 yards (13.0 avg.) and 9 touchdowns. Patriots TE Ben Watson was on pace for a similar season (projected 65 rec for 860 yards [13.1 avg] no TDs) until he got hurt. When Teams took Watson away, the Patriots spread the ball around. What will Philip Rivers do if the Patriots are able to take Gates away as an option downfield?
Lombardo: Honestly, I don't believe the Patriots are capable of taking Gates away. But, should they find a way to get that done, the duo of Eric Parker and Vincent Jackson will be counted on to pick up the slack. Parker is the team's most precise route runner and will fight to make plays for his quarterback. Jackson is the team's best downfield threat and will be given a few opportunities to test the Patriots downfield. Keenan McCardell, 37, will have an opportunity to catch a few ball as well, but he is starting to show his age. He is, however, the team's most playoff-tested player.
9) There's a lot of discussion that Shawne Merriman doesn't deserve postseason accolades or honors after violating the NFL's banned substance policy. Has the furor died down from that issue, or is it an ongoing concern with Merriman?
Lombardo: That issue is finally dying down. The drama had all but ceased until Jason Taylor felt the need to bring it back up in order to boost his Defensive Player of the Year campaign. Actually, the Chargers two best defensive players have both been marred by positive steroid tests. Luis Castillo admitted to using steroids to help a slow-healing injury prior to the 2005 draft. Remember, it was Mike Vrabel who publicly slammed Castillo and called him a cheater.
So, San Diego seems to have moved on and forgiven its dominant defensive duo. It's the AFC East that is having a hard time letting go.
10) The talk about Marty Schottenheimer reverting to his old conservative game plan of playing "Martyball" has gained momentum with some analysts, especially when considering who San Diego is playing. Schottenheimer has obviously allowed Philip Rivers to open up the offense during the season. Do you think Martyball will return against New England?
Lombardo: No. I think Schottenheimer is a self-aware man who knows his conservative nature can be a hindrance during the playoffs. That is why he will have little-to-no impact on the play calling. Cam Cameron will run the show and will call an aggressive game. That may cost the Chargers against a complex Patriots scheme, but San Diego is going to stick to the type of play that resulted in the best regular season in franchise history.
Biggest threat to the Chargers left in the playoffs:
Lombardo: Indianapolis Colts
What's your prediction for the game and why?
Lombardo: Chargers 38 Patriots 20
I predict the story of the game will be Gates. Given the attention the Patriots linebackers and safeties will have to pay to Tomlinson, I do not believe New England will be able to stop Gates over the middle. Schottenheimer will throw more than most expect as he looks to shuck his conservative label and Gates will be the primary beneficiary. I expect Gates to have double-digit receptions on the afternoon.
Who will represent the NFC in the Super Bowl?
Lombardo: Chicago Bears
Look for Part 1 where MIke addressed the amazing year LT had, the loss of Drew Brees, the team that poses the biggest threat to San Diego in the playoffs (Hint: it's not the Patriots) and more.