10 QUESTIONS: Chargers vs Patriots Division Playoffs - Patriots Part 1
Jon Scott is an insider for PatriotsInsider.com the New England Patriots site on the Scout Network.
1) What kind of impression is former-Charger Reche Caldwell making in New England? How are he and his collegiate teammate, Jabar Gaffney, clicking with Tom Brady? Is there any chance of going after Taylor Jacobs this offseason?
Jon Scott: Caldwell came on strong when the Patriots needed a receiver to step up. Considering he wasn't even with the team last year, you could say he had a long way to go to catch up. The playcalling changed from the beginning of the season as New England tried to establish the ground game while the new players (the entire receiver corps except Troy Brown) worked on their timing with Brady.
Aside from Troy Brown, Caldwell has worked with Brady the longest, and is the only receiver to work with Brady as part of the starting / regular roster since the preseason. When Gaffney joined the team, immediately he and Caldwell started working well together. Both players complimented each other, and you can see their progress as the season wound on. Both are decent receivers and have given Brady options downfield as the other receivers work to fit in.
Adding Taylor Jacobs next season is possible if the team decides they need to add yet another Florida receiver. If Chad Jackson can step into the role the team projected for him when they drafted him (No. 1 role), then the need for someone like Jacobs diminishes. What New England really needs is a guy like Troy Brown or even Deion Branch - a quick, shifty smaller wideout with great hands who can get open on those 5-yard outs on third and four or like Brown 11 yards on the 3rd and ten. I'm not sure how a guy like Taylor could fit into that mold, it's more likely the Pats will look to solve this through the draft.
2) The Patriots and Chargers have the two best 3-4 defensive lines in the league. Which line is more impressive and which faces the bigger challenge on Sunday?
Scott: You have to think New England gets the edge in this matchup for the front three while San Diego may get the nod at the linebacker level. It's so close, as both teams have playmakers at both levels, New England with Richard Seymour and Vince Wilfork up front, while San Diego has Merriman and Edwards and Philips at LB.
The thing about the 3-4 is that if you block the guys up front effectively and seal the end on a toss, then the back can really hit the next level with a head of steam. If that's the case, I think San Diego gets the nod. LT is hands down the best back in the league, and with a couple of solid blocks that scrape off the linebacker (Vrabel, Banta-Cain, Colvin) then LT will take one for a big gain. Other teams have done that effectively against the Pats, so it's not hard to imagine San Diego doing the same.
On the other hand, if San Diego loads the box hoping to pressure Brady, then I think the Pats are the type of team that can change their attack on a dime, something San Diego cannot, or likely will not, do. Looking through the past games for both teams you can see that they've each made adjustments throughout the year. Tom Brady got better each week when the best approach called for the team to change it's game plan on offense. Rivers seemed to go into a slump as the postseason approached and teams loaded up against the LT attack, even if they were unsuccessful in stopping the NFL MVP.
3) Brady is seen as the epitome of postseason cool. Is there a way for the Chargers to rattle this guy or is he completely unflappable this time of year?
Scott: Anyone can rattle Brady if they continue to smack him around and confuse the blocking schemes up front. I'm not sure if you saw Brady yelling at his line last year in the Denver game, this season early on, even as late as the November loss to the Jets or the loss to Miami. What works is getting pressure that Brady cannot adjust out of. Because New England still has a bunch of relatively new receivers, disguised blitzes work the best. Add in the homefield advantage and the crowd noise, and I think San Diego can recreate some of the advantages other teams used to get to Brady.
I'm sure The Patriots have a plan to address that, including plays that are designed to take advantage of overaggressive defenses. Then it comes down to execution. Execution is always the unknown. I expect San Diego to do it's best to get pressure on Brady and I think they'll have a fair amount of success doing it.
4) Some from the nation's northeast believe Brady was snubbed for the Pro Bowl, with Rivers taking his spot on the roster. Will that serve as extra motivation as he and Rivers set to duel for the first time?
Scott: Brady says he's all about Super Bowls not Pro Bowls. With that being said, when you list the top quarterbacks in the league Brady's name is always in the top 3. For him not to make it to the Pro Bowl was a snub, albeit probably an unintentional one as everyone probably figured someone else would vote him in.
The thing about Tom is he won't say it in the press, but you can bet he's going to try to prove who's the better QB on Sunday. Considering both teams' supporting cast on offense, and the strength of the San Diego Defense, I'd say Tom's going to have a harder time showing why he's the best. That doesn't mean he won't try. A California native who grew up idolizing Joe Montana, Brady is focused on one thing winning. Whether he gets the chance to show his skills depends on the game plan. You can bet though, if the plan calls for him to throw it, Brady is going to have that extra level of satisfaction when he makes plays through the air.
5) The Patriots don't seem to have a player on their roster capable of covering Antonio Gates one on one. How will New England scheme to stop him?
Scott: The same could be said for Tony Gonzales, Alge Crumpler, and other great tight ends the Patriots have faced in recent times. There's no denying that Gates will be a huge factor on Sunday. He's probably the second biggest problem for the Patriots who will obviously be gearing up to shut down LaDainian Tomlinson and the Chargers ground game.
Gates' size and speed is too much for the linebackers who will most likely be assigned to cover him, but that's why New England uses a lot of zone schemes. If San Diego had homerun threats in the passing game beside Gates, it would be a much taller task.
If the Patriots can get pressure on Philip Rivers, then they'll probably go with one of their regular zone schemes. If Gates is still getting the ball, or the Pats can't get to Rivers, then you'll see an extra DB shadowing Gates when he releases into patterns.
Look for Part 2 where Jon answered questions about LT's success against the Patriots, Rodney Harrison's health, the Patriots linebackers and much more more.