By: Russ Goldman
This week the Patriots are playing the San Diego Chargers on the road at Qualcomm Stadium. So before each Patriots game this season, as always here’s a preview with my five keys to the game that I hope will lead to a Patriots victory.
WHERE TO WATCH: The game will be shown live on CBS Sunday at 4:15 PM EST. You can also listen to the game on 98.5 The Sports Hub in Boston.
GAME NOTES: The Chargers are coming off a bad loss on the road to the St. Louis Rams 21-17. Their current record is 2-4. However, all of Chargers losses have come on the road, and their home wins have been blowouts. This team has started slow the last few seasons, and they’re still very dangerous playing in front of their home crowd.
On defense, the Chargers are currently ranked number one in total defense. The strength of this defense is in the front seven. On the defensive line Luis Castillo is a dangerous player to stop. Their linebackers are solid, and are led by Shaun Phillips coming off the edge at outside linebacker, and Stephen Cooper at inside linebacker. The weakness of this defense could be the secondary.
On offense, this unit is also number one in total offense in the NFL. The Chargers are led by Phillip Rivers who is still considered to be an elite quarterback. Rivers has already started strong this season, throwing for 12 touchdowns and only having 5 interceptions and has a passer rating of 100.7. The running game is led by rookie Ryan Mathews who has a 5.1 yards per carry average. Darren Sproles also is always a threat running the ball.
In the passing game the Chargers have Antonio Gates at tight end, who continues to be one of the best in the league. However, he is questionable for the game with an injury. The wide recievers also have several injuries going into this game. Malcom Floyd and Legedu Naanee are listed as doubtful. However, the Chargers still have Buster Davis and Patrick Crayton to count on for Sunday.
The Chargers might be 2-4, but this team is always dangerous and especially at home. The Patriots will need to play at a high level to come home with a victory on the road.
Here are my “five keys” which I believe could play a role in a potential victory for the Pats.
1. The Patriots Special Teams need to take advantage of the Chargers unit. The Chargers this season have had issues with special teams. They have had two kickoff returns for a touchdown, a punt return for a touchdown, and have also had two blocked punts against them. The Patriots special teams has been on the other side of that, and have made plays so far this season. Brandon Tate has returned two kickoffs for touchdowns, and he might have a chance to really make a difference in this game. The Patriots in the Miami game blocked a punt and a field goal. They have also given the Patriots great field position to start drives. This unit on Sunday has a real chance to take advantage of the Chargers.
2. The Patriots need to stop Antonio Gates. The Patriots have had a tough time stopping tight ends this season. I thought they struggled to contain Todd Heap of the Ravens. Gates is still an elite tight end and has the ability to take over the game. He might be injured but I expect him to play. He leads the Chargers in receiving with 31 receptions and 7 touchdowns. If he plays, the Pats will have their hands full.
3. The Patriots defense need to prevent the big play in the passing game. Rivers loves to take deep shots against the Patriots defense, so you have to believe he’ll try and go after Devin McCourty and Kyle Arrington. The Chargers still have deep threats on Sunday with Patrick Crayton and Buster Davis. If the secondary can prevent the big play, the Pats could be in good shape.
4. The Patriots offensive line needs to play at high level in protecting Tom Brady. I thought last week this unit struggled at times to protect Brady. The Chargers can still get after the quarterback. Shaun Phillips already has 6 sacks and Kevin Burnett has 5 sacks. For the Pats to win, the offensive line is going to need to give Brady enough time to find an open receiver.
5. Tom Brady needs to take advantage of the Chargers Secondary. If there is a weakness on the Chargers it is their secondary. Quentin Jammer is still back there, but Brady should be able to find several openings in the secondary. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Deion Branch and Wes Welker have big games on Sunday.
San Diego is a tough place to win for any road team. However, the Chargers have many injuries that I think will hurt them on Sunday. I still think Rivers will be able to score several points against the young Patriots defense. In the end I think Brady will be able to generate enough offense to win. This game could be a shootout. I am predicting a 35-28 Patriots victory.
What are your predictions? Feel free to post them in the comments section and I look forward to reading them.