Storyline: Patriots Won't Be Able To Block The Chargers LBs
San Diego's much vaunted linebacker corps probably deserves a lot of credit for what they were able to do all season, but when you look at the tape of Sunday's game, you would be hard pressed to classify their performance much more than slightly above average. Certainly the Chargers were able to get pressure on Tom Brady, and shut down the running game, but they were decidedly underwhelming when it mattered.
Before the game, most of the hype centered on Shawne Merriman an athletic linebacker who can rush the passer with speed or power. Fellow linebacker Shaun Philips also received a great deal of credit for his ability to get to the quarterback. After careful review what we found was that the much hyped sack attack was less than that. Actually it was the Chargers insider linebackers who played a bigger role.
Combined, both Merriman and Philips sacked Tom Brady twice and were in the backfield seriously pressuring him les than a half dozen times. Philips' big play was a sack and forced fumble when the Patriots were able to overcome when Matt Light recovered the ball and the Chargers Drayton Florence was flagged for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. New England went on to score a FG to close the lead 13-14.
What It Means: The ability of the Patriots to stifle the Chargers vaunted sack attack using just regular protections allowed New England to push the ball down the field when it needed to. It was key that even without help, the Patriots tackles held the Chargers pass rush in check. Of note, Stephen Neal made numerous plays against supposedly superior defensive players. Neal's athletic ability was a key in helping him pickup line stunts the Chargers tried to use to mix up Brady's protection.
Storyline: Chargers DBs will be able to shut down Patriots passing game
Pressure up the middle has been the biggest problem for the Patriots in the postseason. When the front seven can get to Brady, the Patriots quarterback has been off-target or has hurried throws to receivers resulting in fewer completions, interceptions, and lack of third down conversions. Yet when the Chargers pressured Brady at critical moments in the game, Brady came through with his band of unknown receivers.
Where the Patriots receiver shined was on critical drives at the end of each half. When San Diego needed to pressure Brady and force those poor throws, they were unable to disrupt the former Super Bowl MVP's concentration.
Prior to the first half, Brady was able to direct the Patriots to an 11-play 77-yard scoring drive that resulted in a touchdown to get New England back into the game after New England fell behind 14-3. At the half, New England was only down 14-10 and very much back in the game.
In the fourth quarter, Brady was able to drive for a touchdown and a 2-point conversion to tie the game. On the drive Brady passed on every down, completing six to his own team and one to the Chargers who promptly fumbled it back to the Patriots on a heads-up Troy Brown strip.
The second drive which put New England ahead by 3 also started as all passes. The Chargers were able to snuff out the drive after the Patriots opted to keep it on the ground with three running plays. Still New England was able to complete a 49-yard bomb on a deep pass on 3rd and 10 to continue the drive.
What It Means: When the Patriots needed to pass the ball downfield, the receivers were able to get open at critical times.
Storyline: LT will run rampant over the Patriots D
True. LT did run at will against the Patriots at times. The trouble for New England came when LT ran behind a pulling guard and the strong left side of the Chargers offensive line. San Diego doubled Richard Seymour and used Lorenzo Neal to take the outside linebacker out of the play. When they did that, there were large holes on the left side.
What It Means: The encouraging part for New England was when they needed to stop LT, they were able to late in the game. New England used it's game plan to force the Chargers out of they run-first offense and put the ball in Philip Rivers' hands. Rivers was unable to make the appropriate adjustments to take advantage of the Patriots secondary, which is exactly what New England intended.
As it Pertains to Indianapolis:
While much of the Patriots game plan against the Charger and the Jets will change against Indianapolis, one thing stands out -- the Patriots have the ability change their personnel to take advantage of a situation. Rather than being a definable unit, New England opted to use their much-maligned wide receiving corps to take advantage of the Jets and the Chargers who believed - much to their demise - that New England couldn't make plays through the air.
Dwight Freeney will likely get single blocking by Matt Light on the left side, or double protection on the right side if the Colts opt to move him around. Light completely shut down Shawne Merriman to the point San Diego had to move him around to see if they could create a mismatch. They did when Merriman was on the right side, but it was too late, New England figured out how to take away San Diego's primary threat on defense. Only the inside linebackers were able to pressure Tom Brady when the Chargers decided to bring the house. It was on one of those plays; Brady hit Caldwell for the big gain.
Donnie Edwards was a playmaker for the Chargers. He used his exceptional athleticism to intercept a Brady pass, manage 13 tackles to lead the Chargers. His extraordinary effort is what helped San Diego contain the Patriots attack. If New England wanted yardage in the middle Edwards was usually around the ball.
Indianapolis doesn't have the same type of defense as San Diego. New England should be able to continue that ability to control the ball on offense. Their size can intimidate the Colts on defense if they can manage to control the clock. If they are forced into a speed matchup, it could be trouble as New England doesn't' have the same speed as the Colts.
Should the Colts attempt to stuff the New England Run, the Patriots have the receivers to make the plays downfield. The only question is can the Patriots stop Peyton Manning? Quite honestly, no one knows, but you've got to believe Manning is light years ahead of Rivers and Chad Pennington (Jets) so whatever happens, if it comes down to a final drive by Indy, we're not confident the Patriots can stop Peyton. We are confident after reviewing the tape, that the Patriots will be able to score when it matters.