Each week I am hoping to bring a view of the upcoming game from a writer who covers the Patriots opposition, andÂ this week we have Tim Sullivan who covers the Chargers as aÂ columnist for the San Diego Union Tribune.
Tim was generous enoughÂ to take some time to answer my questions about Sundayâ€™s game, and itâ€™s always interesting to get someÂ insight from someone who covers the opposing team on a daily basis.
Here are myÂ â€śFive Questions About The Upcoming Chargers Game with Tim Sullivan Of The San Diego Union-Tribune.â€ť
1. The Patriots beat the Chargers 23-20 last season in a game where the home team made several mental errors that really cost them the game. Do you feel the Chargers this season will be a disciplined complete team that can go far into the playoffs?Â
I think the Chargers can be a team that goes deep in the playoffs, but they will have to play better than they did Sunday and avoid the kind of key injuries that left them shopping for a kicker this week.
Philip Rivers remains an elite quarterback and he starts this season with his key receivers all on the field at the same time. Thatâ€™s a significant step forward from last season.
The larger questions are on defense. Specifically, can the Chargers stop the run and rush the passer? They did a decent job on Adrian Peterson Sunday and held Donovan McNabb to 39 yards passing, but I suspect Tom Brady will present a significantly greater challenge.
2. The Chargers lost Louis Castillo to injury in their opening game against the Vikings. What type of impact does his loss have on the Chargers defense?
I donâ€™t think Castilloâ€™s injury is as significant as Nate Kaedingâ€™s because of the Chargersâ€™ depth at defensive end. Vaughn Martin and Jacques Cesaire are both serviceable players and rookie Corey Liuget has been impressive.
3. The Chargers had the #1 ranked defense in the NFL last season. What do you feel are the strengths and weaknesses for this unit for the 2011 season?Â
As I wrote previously, there are still questions about the run defense and the pass rush. The acquisition of Bob Sanders and Takeo Spikes have provided some veteran leadership on a unit that sometimes seemed rudderless, but I donâ€™t know that either of them are going to generate a lot of sacks.
4.The Patriots have once again been vulnerable in the middle of the field on defense. On the Chargers offense, do you feel Antonio Gates is the biggest threat to the Patriots on Sunday, or would it be the deep threat with the wide receivers?
Antonio Gates, at the top of his game, is one of the biggest threats in pro football. But heâ€™s been something less than his old self because of a nagging/chronic foot injury.
I would expect the Chargers to try to stretch the field with Jackson and Floyd and exploit short-range openings with Gates and passes to the running backs. Which player has the best day will likely depend on how the Patriots deploy their defense.
5.Â And finally, what do you feel will be the key match-up to watch for between these two teams?
It will be interesting to me to see how much Takeo Spikes learned about Tom Brady during his years in Buffalo, and whether those insights make any difference in efforts to slow the Patriots down.
Bradyâ€™s work against the Dolphins was dazzling. I have to think the Chargers pose a bigger challenge, but if I were betting on this game, I would be inclined to take the â€śover.â€ť
Mr. Sullivan is predicting a 31-24 Patriots victory.
A special thanks to Tim for taking his time to give his thoughts on this weekendâ€™s match-up. You can alsoÂ follow himÂ onÂ twitter at sdutsullivan.