Three Keys: Patriots vs Chargers Week 2

What are the three keys to the game? If you read last week's list, we were pretty close on all three. Check in on this week's keys to see what the Patriots have to do to beat the Chargers on Sunday. Hint, one of the keys is in the picture.

1) The Patriots must stop the LT and the Chargers ground game:

LaDanian Tomlinson had an abysmal game last week on the ground (17 carries, 25 yards 1 TD), but he took care of business when the Chargers were in the red zone. Tomlinson took a scoring position. It's the same formula the Patriots use to win their close games. Tomlinson has had amazing success against New England's 3-4 defense. In his last three games against New England he rushed for 217, 134 and 123 yards. When LT isn't running the ball, the Chargers still pose a problem for New England in backup Michael Turner. Turner actually had a better average running the ball than Tomlinson, and is a force to try to take down. Running with a more physical style, expect the Patriots to see a load of Turner near the goal line. Turner actually outgained Tomlinson in week 1 against the Bears (10 carries, 41 yards).

As we've reported before (last week in this space), when the Patriots start the season, it takes a while for their rush defense to get on track. With Richard Seymour on the PUP list till at least week 6, and Mike Wright (Vince Wilfork's backup) nursing a sore knee, it will come down to the Patriots reserve defenders to step in. Names like Jarvis Green and Le Kevin Smith are two players who will see plenty of action. Santonio Thomas also saw action against the Jets.

2) Get The Ground Game On Track:

Laurence Maroney had 20 carries for 72 yards (3.6 avg.) last week, more yardage than both Tomlinson and Turner combined. The issue for Maroney was that he struggled hitting the hole. In comparison, Sammy Morris manage 54 yard on just 11 carries (4.9 avg). If Maroney can get back to the slashing style that he used as a rookie, and avoid dancing while he looks for a hole, his average will improve and the ground game will become more dangerous. Morris' compliment to Maroney make the M and M duo a more viable threat to opposing defenses. Factor in the ability of Morris to block or be a receiving threat out of the backfield, and the Patriots have enough flexibility to establish a powerful ground game.

If the offensive line can manage to provide holes or seams for Maroney and Morris, the Patriots should be able to create some semblance of a rushing threat. The rushing threat is doubly important to the Patriots who will use play action fakes to get the ball downfield. If The Chargers have a tough time stopping the run, then they may need to move their safety into "the box."

3) Protect Brady:

This is no different than the main goal every week, with the exception that the Chargers possess more formidable weapons on defense than many other teams. Their linebackers Shawne Merriman and Shaun Phillips can pressure the quarterback. Brady was sacked just twice in last year's playoff game, but he was harassed and hurried all day. The pressure caused Brady to misfire three times giving the ball to the Chargers and ending Patriot drives - with the exception of the Troy Brown forced fumble.

The Jets put virtually no pressure on Brady last week allowing the Patriots leader to stand flat-footed in the middle of the backfield as he searched for open receivers. Brady's quarterback rating was understandably high at 146.6 from 22 of 28 for 297 yards and 3 touchdown performance. In contrast Brady managed just 27 of 51 for 280 yards with 2 TDs and 3 INTs.

If the Patriots can manage to protect Brady, the Patriots have enough talent in Randy Moss, Donte Stallworth and Wes Welker to give the Chargers fits. It's probable the biggest key to the game.

Jon Scott has covered the NFL since 1995. He is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and a long time contributor to the network. A New England native, Scott has followed the Patriots for over two decades and covered the team since 2001.


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