By: Russ Goldman
Each week I am hoping to bring a view of the upcoming game from a writer who covers the Patriots opposition, and this week we have Tim Sullivan who covers the Chargers as a columnist for the San Diego Union Tribune.
Tim was generous enough to take some time to answer my questions about Sunday’s game, and it’s always interesting to get some insight from someone who covers the opposing team on a daily basis.
Here are my “Five Questions About The Upcoming Chargers Game with Tim Sullivan Of The San Diego Union-Tribune.”
1. For a few seasons now San Diego has gotten off to slow starts. They’re currently 2-4 in the AFC West, yet fortunately that’s the case with three out of the four teams in that division so they’re certainly still in contention. What do you think is the major cause for the tough beginning of this season for the Chargers?
The primary cause of the Chargers’ problems has been special teams. In three of their four losses, they have experienced significant lapses that have put points on the board for their opponent: two kickoff returns for touchdowns in Seattle, a punt return for a touchdown in Kansas City and two blocked punts in Oakland. Last week, a critical field goal attempt was blocked, possibly because of a groin strain that limited kicker Nate Kaeding. Without these severe lapses, the Chargers figure to have won at least two of those four games, maybe more.
2. The Chargers are currently number one in the NFL in total offense and defense. Are these statistics an indication that the Chargers are close to turning their season around?
The offensive number is indicative of the firepower the Chargers had when they had most of their offense healthy. Now, with Antonio Gates nursing a sprained ankle and Malcom Floyd battling a hamstring pull, they may have fewer weapons for a few weeks. The statistics are slightly misleading, though, for a couple of reasons: 1) The comparatively weak schedule the Chargers have played to date; 2) The lack of time the defense has spent on the field because of special teams breakdowns.
3. The Chargers in the past have been very balanced attack on offense. However, Phillip Rivers has had some success in the past against New England taking some shots down the field in the passing game. Do you see them trying to take some chances against the Patriots’ young secondary?
The Chargers drafted Ryan Mathews in an effort to bring balance to their offense, but they are certainly a pass-first outfit. I don’t know how many deep balls Rivers will throw this week if Floyd is unable to play, though, so it may be more of an underneath passing game.
4. On defense what do you feel are the strengths and weaknesses for the Chargers after what you’ve seen so far this season?
The strength of the Chargers’ defense had been their cornerbacks, until last week. Rams’ rookie Sam Bradford exposed Antoine Cason repeatedly in St. Louis. Quentin Jammer remains a very solid cover corner, but he doesn’t have a big reputation because he doesn’t seem to make a lot of plays on the ball and, when he does, his hands don’t always hold on.
The weakness of this defense, as I see it, is up the middle. I don’t think this is a team that goes toe-to-toe very well, as evidenced by Stephen Jackson’s successful third-down runs when the Rams were trying to run out the clock. If you’re getting pushed back at the line of scrimmage, it’s not usually a good sign.
5. And finally, what do you feel will be the key match-up to watch for between these two teams?
One matchup I will be watching is Chargers’ left tackle Marcus McNeill against Patriots’ outside linebacker Rob Ninkovich. McNeill returned to action last week following a lengthy holdout and the Chargers allowed seven quarterback sacks – the highest total of Philip Rivers’ career. If the Chargers can’t protect Rivers’ blind side any better against the Patriots, it promises to be a long afternoon.
Mr. Sullivan is predicting a 27-23 Patriots victory.
A special thanks to Tim for taking his time to give his thoughts on this weekend’s match-up. You can also follow him on twitter at sdutsullivan.