10 QUESTIONS: Chargers vs Patriots Division Playoffs - Patriots Part 2
Jon Scott is an insider for PatriotsInsider.com the New England Patriots site on the Scout Network.
6) The last two times LaDainian Tomlinson has faced the Patriots, he has racked up over 350 rushing yards and four touchdowns. Why has he been so successful against the Patriots and how does Bill Belichick plan to prevent that from happening again?
Scott: That's a great question as a lot of fans have said the Patriots have little chance to stop LaDainian Tomlinson based on what he's done all season and what he's done to the Patriots previously. To them I say, look at the circumstances and decide for yourself. In the last loss (2005 week 5), what jumped out at first sight were the Patriots injury issues. New England was missing LBs Tedy Bruschi (stroke) and Ted Johnson (sudden retirement). Chad Brown and Monty Beisel were the starting LBs, both of whom had no previous experience starting at ILB for the Pats. RB Kevin Faulk, their third down back, was out. OT Nick Kaczur (2005 rookie) was in his first start at LT for the injured Matt Light. Starting SS Rodney Harrison had just been placed on IR that week, and his replacement second year pro S Guss Scott was in his first career start and only his 4th regular season game. Starting CB Duane Starks was in his 2nd start for the Pats, and Richard Seymour left the game early.
Tomlinson rushed for 135 yards on 24 carries and 2 TDs in a game that was over early. Actually, when he carried Beisel 5 yards into the end zone, you knew New England needed a new solution at ILB. New England doesn't have the same level of injuries this time around, and the front seven - the group that stops LT - are in much better shape this time around.
The 2002 game really doesn't apply as many of those players are no longer on the Patriots roster.
What will the Patriots do to prevent the 350 yards? I 'd say don't get caught up in the stats. The issue is stopping LT enough to limit drives in the red zone. New England has one of the best red zone defenses in the NFL. They've allowed a league low 21 TDs (Tied with Baltimore for fewest in the season) They'll let LT run all over them during the game, but when it comes time to score, they'll find a way to stop him like they have with other backs. LT will undoubtedly get his scores, but unless those come on big plays, expect New England to use the short field to keep the Chargers offense kicking FGs rather than making TDs.
7) Belichick is not exactly known for honesty on injury reports. What's the real deal with Rodney Harrison, both for this weekend's game and the remainder of the postseason?
Scott: Harrison is out. He's got a partial tear in his ACL according to some posted reports although it's only been confirmed that he has a sprained MCL. You're right about the Patriots injury report. If any of the Boston media can actually report what's really wrong with a Patriots player it's considered a scoop. You can't always believe what you read on New England's injury reports and Belichick likes it that way.
8) The media seem to focus on Tedy Bruschi and Mike Vrabel during the offseason, but it appears that Rosevelt Colvin is the team's best linebacker. Is this true? How much of a headache will he cause for playoff virgin Philip Rivers?
Scott: Colvin is the benefactor of having Richard Seymour, Ty Warren and Vince Wilfork in front of him. He is quick off the line, and has a great nose for the ball on screens and passing plays. Bruschi and Vrabel make the defense go. They're the team leaders, which is why they get the attention. When they're out, very bad things have happened to the Patriots defense. Two season's ago, Colvin had to come off the bench because the best four LBs were McGinest, Bruschi, Johnson and Vrabel. When Vrabel moved inside, Colvin was able to get on the field, and show what he could do. He's become much more adept in the Patriots scheme with the experience. Plus he's now fully recovered from a hip injury that limited him in previous seasons.
What can he do? That depends on the plays the Chargers run. If Rivers is forced to drop back on third and long, you can bet the combination of LBs and DL will get to him. The double teams Seymour and Wilfork demand mean that Colvin is one on one. He thrives in those matchups and is able to use his superior speed to get to the QB. If San Diego doesn't' give the tackle help with protection on those plays, Rivers is going to be running for cover.
9) Sunday's game figures to be much closer than last weekend's romp over the Jets. How much confidence do the Patriots have in Stephen Gostkowski with the season on the line?
Scott: New England is pleased with the rookie. Some of his kicks are not going straight down the middle, but they're going trough with a little room to spare. That enabled the coach to express confidence in him. He's hit some decent kicks during the season, and he's got a much stronger leg than Adam Vinatieri. The issue for Gostkowski is to control his kick on unsure footing. He has a hard time on sloppy fields.
If the Patriots need a FG late in the game and they're out of time, they'll let the kid take his shot. If they have time, they've typically had success on 4th and short and opted to go for it rather than kick it at long distances. The Patriots have a league-best 80% (16 of 20) successful conversion rate on fourth down.
10) The Patriots finished the season 7-1 on the road. What allows them to play so well away from home? Does that essentially negate any homefield advantage for the Chargers?
Scott: A lot of what the Patriots do on offense has check with me adjustments when Brady goes to the line. Often it's either no huddle, or it's visual adjustments so the group can get on the same page. New England has played in so many loud venues that they've leaned on their experience in these situations.
Some of the previous road games the Patriots defense stepped up to prevent the other team's crowd from really getting into the game. Cincinnati, Minnesota, Green Bay and Tennessee were all games the patriots had big leads late so the crowd couldn't get into the game.
The Playoffs are a completely different animal. You can throw out most of the regular season stats when the ball is kicked off in San Diego. I expect the crowd to be a big part of the game, as the Patriots will have a tough time establishing any kind of lead, let alone a big one.