By: Russ Goldman
The Patriots are coming off of an impressive 38-24 victory over the Miami Dolphins to open the season, and now they’re back in action on Sunday to face the San Diego Chargers in their home opener. 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 Sunday on WBZ-TV Channel 4 at 4:15 PM EST. You can also listen to the game on 98.5 The Sports Hub in Boston.
GAME NOTES: The Chargers came from behind in the second half to beat the Vikings in their first game 24-17 at home at Qualcomm Stadium. They held the Vikings scoreless in the second half to earn the win.
Last season, the Patriots held onto a 23-20 road victory against the Chargers where San Dieog kicker Kris Brown missed a 50 yard field goal at the end of the game to insure the Patriots win. The Chargers will obviously be looking for a different result this time in Foxboro.
On defense, this team last season was ranked #1 overall in the entire NFL. In rushing defense they were ranked #1, and in passing defense they were #4. This unit is strong on all 3 levels of the defense, and their front seven is excellent in their 3-4 scheme. On the line, Dan Connolly will have his hands full with Antonio Garay at nose tackle. The former Boston College standout had 5.5 sacks last season. At linebacker, the Patriots are going to have contain Shaun Phillips on the outside. He had 11 sacks last season, and has the ability to harass Tom Brady. They also brought in veteran linebacker Takeo Spikes to control the middle of the defense.
The Chargers are also very solid in the defensive backfield led by cornerbacks Quentin Jammer and Antoine Cason. However, the player that could still wreak havoc on the Patriots is former Indianapolis Colts safety Bob Sanders.
On offense, this unit is led by quarterback Phillip Rivers who is definitely one of the best in the entire NFL. Rivers in his last game was 33-48 for 335 yards and 2 touchdowns. He has played very well against the Patriots in the past.
He happens to have many weapons for the Patriots to worry about. Tight end Antonio Gates is still expected be a huge factor in the passing game, and last week he had 8 receptions for 74 yards. Also, the Chargers have two very tall and active receivers who did not face the Patriots last season. Vincent Jackson and Malcom Floyd both have the ability to go deep, and the Patriots defensive backfield will need to contain these players.
The running game is very good with Ryan Matthews who is in his second season. Last season he averaged 4.3 yards per carry. Also, Mike Tolbert is a real threat near the goal line, as he scored 11 touchdowns last season.
The Chargers have the talent to be a legitimate threat to go to the Super Bowl. I expect them to be on top of their division, and be a factor in the playoffs. The Patriots are facing a top opponent on Sunday. However, I do like the Patriots in this game, but by no means will it be easy.
Here are my “five keys” which I believe could play a role in a potential victory for the Pats.
1. The Patriots need to contain tight end Antonio Gates. It is no secret that the Patriots have struggled in the middle of the field on defense. Gates can still take over a game, and the Patriots will have their hands full.
The Patriots defense had a tough time last week with Anthony Fasano. Whether it is Gary Guyton or possibly Patrick Chung covering the tight end, limiting his touches could be a huge key to this game.
2. The Patriots tight ends have to be huge in the middle of the field. Against Miami, Aaron Hernandez had 7 receptions for 103 yards, and 1 touchdown. Rob Gronkowski had 6 receptions for 86 yards, and 1 touchdown.
I think it is vital that these 2 players take advantage of the middle of the field, as it could open up the entire offense for Brady. The Patriots other receivers could benefit tremendously from the tight ends, if they become the focus of the San Diego defense.
3. The defensive tackles need to be disruptive and push the pocket back. Albert Haynseworth showed glimpses last week what he can bring to the line. He could make things uncomfortable for Rivers if he and Vince Wilfork could get pressure on him up the middle.
Also, watch out for Myron Pryor and Kyle Love. These two other defensive tackles show promise, and you might not see a huge drop off when they are in the game. If the defensive tackles can affect the pocket from the middle, it could throw Rivers timing off with his receivers.
Patrick Chung will need to raise his game on Sunday. (FILE:Icon/SMI)
4. Patrick Chung needs to be very active in this game. Chung is the veteran now of the safeties, and he will be needed to raise his game on Sunday. He was an impact player against Miami with 1 sack and 9 tackles.
Whether he is asked to cover Gates, or come up on a blitz, this player could have the ability to be a play-maker. The Patriots need him to be one against the Chargers.
5. Center Dan Connolly needs to stabilize the offensive line. Taking over for Dan Koppen is not an easy job, but it certainly could be pivotal on Sunday. I expect the Chargers to try to take advantage and attempt to challenge him.
Connolly was solid last week coming in from Koppen, as the Patriots did not skip a beat with him in there. They will need him to play again at a top level against a defense that could be throwing the kitchen sink at him.
This is a very tough opponent coming to Gillette Stadium on Sunday. I expect this to be a back and forth one score win for the Patriots. I think it might take time, but Brady will eventually figure out the Chargers’ defense and I am predicting a 35-28 victory for the Patriots.
What are your predictions? Feel free to post them in the comments section below.