AR: The Chargers are being called rating spoilers. Do the Patriots have the same mentality as CBS, would they rather face the Colts?
Jon Scott: To be honest, the Patriots always feel they deserve to go on. It's not about ratings or living up to the hype for this team, it's about defeating the opponent in front of them. When some opponents make it personal like the Jets, Steelers... or in this case the Chargers - the Patriots play with a different intensity. They take the affront personally, and they make it a point to build something into the game plan to show why they're the better team.
I think the Patriots expected the Colts, but they are content to play whomever is their opponent. CBS is in it for the ratings. The Patriots are in it for the victory. Whether that victory comes after beating the Colts or the Chargers or any other team, I'm pretty confident the players could care less.
Some obviously this means more to them, Wes Welker, Rodney Harrison and Junior Seau come to mind. Last year it was Reche Caldwell. But for the leaders, Tedy Bruschi, Richard Seymour and Tom Brady, there's little reason to think this is any more personal than any other game.
AR: This week just about every Patriots player has been asked why the Chargers are a different team than the one they faced in September. A huge change is the addition of Chris Chambers. The Chargers went 8-2 from the bye to playoffs, but more than that Philip Rivers found a target other than Antonio Gates that he can trust. How are the Patriots preparing for the Chargers newfound air attack?
JS: Great question Amberly. To be honest, what you're seeing IS a different team than the one the Patriots faced in week 2. Both sides of the Chargers team are playing at a higher level. The biggest factor is the passing game. New England keyed on LaDainian Tomlinson in their last game and he only managed 43 yards on 18 carriers (2.4 avg.) It was his third worst outing (avg.) of the year.
Now that the Chargers can throw if opponents try to put eight men in the box to stop LT, it forces teams to respect San Diego's passing game. I'm not sure that all of it is based on Chris Chambers as much as teams just not able to stop the run. Play action works when the run is an effective threat. For the Chargers, that didn't happen until LT got on track.
As for how to stop the Chargers attack, the key isn't to stop every pass, but the ones that matter (3rd down, red zone). New England is one of the best defenses in the league inside the red zone.
AR: Last week, the Patriots and the Jaguars were tied at the half. Obviously, the Patriots overcame the draw, but could have a harder time on Sunday. The Chargers are very successful on both sides of the ball on the first drive of the third quarter. How will the Patriots buckle down on a team that leaves the locker room foaming at the mouth?
JS: New England is one of the best second half teams in the NFL. During the regular season, they out scored their opponents 104 - 58 in the third quarter and dialed up the offense in the fourth quarter to out score opponents 152-79.
New England was actually more successful winning games if they lose the coin toss. It gives them the second half advantage that they thrive upon.
If San Diego's defense can stop the initial drive in the third quarter, the danger isn't over. The Patriots will still find ways to score.
A telling stat: The Patriots score touchdowns nearly 70% of the time when starting insider their own 20 (on drives of 80 yards or more). In the red zone they score 94% of the time while opponents scored just 73% of the time.
It's not when the Chargers have the ball in the second half, it's where they have the ball. They must keep New England out of the red zone.
AR: Randy Moss finished with 553 yards last season with the Raiders. What a difference a year makes. Then, Moss also closes out the season with personal drama. What gives the Patriots confidence that he won't go back to his old ways, on and off the field?
JS: Every time Randy has been in the news, it's been a positive thing here in New England. Like he said in his comments in the locker room this week, everything he's done has been positive, so why would he want to ruin it with something negative.
When you see that many players stand up for Randy inside the locker room you have to credit Randy. If he was deserving of the criticism, these are the same guys who would let you know. Nobody's perfect, and Moss certainly hasn't been a model citizen his entire career, but this really seems to be a different Randy Moss. Not many guys get Tom Brady to speak that passionately about their character. If Moss is in with Brady - not just on the field - then it's good enough for a lot of his teammates.
As for returning to the Randy of old on and off the field, I think you'd be better off trying to find a reason why Randy should revert to his old ways. He has far too much to lose right now. He's scheduled to be a free agent. He has never won a Super Bowl. He has never had a quarterback like Tom Brady to throw him the ball. And The Patriots just don't put up with major distractions, they cut or trade guys. The Deion Branch, Ty Law and Lawyer Milloy situations show that when even a contract dispute becomes an issue, the Patriots aren't afraid to cut or trade their best players if it means the team benefits in the long run.
AR: The Patriots defensive line boasts serious experience and depth. Richard Seymour has seven years on his résumé and three Super Bowl rings. His backup, Jarvis Green, has played four AFC Championship games in six seasons. Should Philip Rivers be nervous about that much playoff know-how or could Rivers' youth be an advantage?
JS: I think this game is Philip Rivers' litmus test. The Chargers offensive line needs to stone the Patriots pass rush much like the Jaguars were able to do last week. If they do, then Rivers should have enough time to find guys open down the field.
The issue with the Patriots defensive line, is that they're not asked to sack the quarterback as much as stop the run. It's about gap control in the Patriots scheme. If New England wants to get pressure on the quarterback with the line, then the 3-4 defense alignment isn't the way to do it, they have to bring a linebacker or safety for additional pressure. Seymour and Ty Warren are two of the best pass rush specialists when turned loose, but they're not asked to do that in this scheme, they're asked to chew up multiple blocks.
An example of this on tape: When Warren takes a step outside the guard toward the tackle on his way in, he'll draw the tackle's attention away from the outside linebacker Mike Vrabel, and down inside to prevent the pocket from collapsing in the middle. Vrable uses the space the tackle just moved from to split the tackle and tight end (or RB), to shoot toward the quarterback. Vrabel has had a phenomenal season because tight ends and running backs are not a good matchup against him. He uses his 6-foot-4, 265-pound frame and long arms get to the quarterback and he's managed 12.5 sacks along with 16 quarterback hurries. Warren managed 4 sacks and 15 pressures.
Rivers has to decide where he's going with the ball quickly and get it out of there, or Vrabel, Green, Warren, Seymour and company will find ways to exploit the blocking scheme to get to him. Vince Wilfork, is almost the forgotten man out of that crew, but his mere presence in the middle forces the Chargers to respect the push from up front.
AR: San Diego likes to play takeaway, but the Tom Brady only gave up eight interceptions in the regular season. Will the Patriots organize their attack around the league's hottest cornerback, Antonio Cromartie? Are there any Chargers defenders the Patriots are targeting?
JS: You can bet Olshansky has a big target painted on him. Last week it was Paul Spicer. Did you notice how many runs went to the outside, or split the end-tackle gap in the Jacksonville game? Much wasn't said after the game, but the Patriots find ways to do the little things to let players know that they heard what was said, much like how Anthony Smith was targeted in the Pittsburgh game.
There doesn't seem to be an obvious target on the Chargers defense, but I'm not so sure the Patriots are worried about one particular player. The goal of the team, which has made them so successful, is to find the best matchup. If Cromartie (the Patriots really wanted to draft him a couple years ago) is on his game, then expect Josh McDaniels to call plays to exploit other areas of the defense.
The Patriots adjust their attack on the fly. When one corner is hot, the Patriots will call a play to force him to come off coverage (screens, crossing patterns, short curls ). When the corner moves up to cover those, New England will send one or two players over the top to make the corner choose.
Forcing a corner to commit to the short game with coverage over the top is how the Patriots will try to attack the defense. If there is double safety help (Cover-2), then the Patriots will run a guy deep to get the safety to stay put, then run another pattern underneath to take advantage of the matchup. Few corners can cover both Welker and Moss in single coverage, which is why patterns are so important. It's not about beating the guy, as much as it's about beating the coverage.
I think what you'll see is a lot of Wes Welker if San Diego tries to cover him with a linebacker. If the Chargers go to a nickel or dime defense to cover the receivers, you'll see a lot of Maroney.
Jon Scott is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and a correspondent for Scout.com. He has covered the NFL for over a decade for various publications. His material has been syndicated to Yahoo Sports, FoxSports.com, MySpace Sports and other online publications.