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MORSE: Can the Patriots Pull One Out? – LA Chargers Preview

Mark Morse
Mark Morse on Twitter
December 2, 2023 at 5:00 am ET

MORSE: Can the Patriots Pull One Out? – LA Chargers Preview(PHOTO: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports)
Posted: Dec 02, 2023 05:00
🕑 Read Time: 7 minutes

Injuries and coaching are the only things that will derail the Chargers.  Well, that’s just what has happened to the 4-7 Chargers.  Justin Herbert had shoulder surgery in the off season and injured a rib last year.  He currently has a nagging finger injury on his non-throwing hand.

A lot of the blame has been hurled at Head Coach Brandon Staley.  The Bolts were a 9-win team last year and with a little luck could have had 13 wins.  They are 4-7 so far and they are one of the teams that Bill Belichick has been linked to should he not come back next year.

OFFENSE

3WR 1TE
STARTER 2ND 3RD 4TH
QB Justin Herbert Easton Stick
RB Austin Ekeler Joshua Kelley Isaiah Spiller Elijah Dotson
WR Keenan Allen Q Derius Davis Joshua Palmer IR
WR Quentin Johnston Simi Fehoko
WR Jalen Guyton Mike Williams IR
TE Gerald Everett Donald Parham Jr. Stone Smartt Nick Vannett Q
LT Rashawn Slater Q Foster Sarell
LG Zion Johnson Jordan McFadden
C Will Clapp Corey Linsley O
RG Jamaree Salyer Brenden Jaimes
RT Trey Pipkins III Q Foster Sarell Zack Bailey Q Andrew Trainer IR

 

Despite the Chargers’ abysmal season, Justin Herbert has managed to have a decent year. In 11 games in this campaign, he has thrown for 2,826 yards, 20 touchdowns, and six interceptions. He has completed 66.2% of his throws and has a passer rating of 96.9.

After 12 weeks, RotoBaller (a fantasy Football site) has him ranked #12 among all NFL quarterbacks.  Pro Football Reference has Herbert ranked 10th.

Austin Ekeler is a top runningback, when healthy.  He has missed 3 games this year, but they won two of those three games.  The bigger reason was that they weren’t feeding Ekeler the ball and in games that he was not the leading rusher, the Chargers have lost 4 times.  Ekeler is 28 this year and he is past his prime.  He may just be a receiving back come next season.  He will be a Free Agent in 2024 and wants a long-term deal.  Sadly, he is drastically underpaid for his production.  He led the league with 18 TDs last season and tied for the lead in 2021 with Jonathan Taylor with 20 TDs.  He is a guy the Patriots should have on their Free Agent radar next year.

Joshua Kelley is the number two back.  For 2023 he has 88 carries for 360 yards, a 4.1 average and 4 TDs.

 

Keenan Allen at age 31 leads the league in receiving.  He has one year left on his contract.  This season Allen has 97 receptions for 1117 yards. 11.5 average and 7 TDs.   Not too bad for a guy that most observers had rated as over the hill.  The injury to Mike Williams that limited him to just 3 games helped boost Allen’s numbers.  We have the Friday injury report and Allen has missed the Wednesday and Thursday practices.  He was listed as Limited on Friday and is Questionable for Sunday.  If he can’t go that would elevate rookie Quentin Johnson, Derius Davis and Semi Fehoko.  Johnson was this season’s 1st round selection from TCU.  He has 21 receptions on 37 targets for 190 yards, a 9.0 average and 1 TD.   Davis has 12 catches on 13 targets, for 44 yards, and a 3.7, and no TDs.  Another TCU grad, Davis was a 4th Round (#125) in this year’s draft.  Fohoko was a player I liked for the Patriots in the 2021 draft.  Los Angeles drafted him in the 5th round (#179) out of Stanford.  He has only 1 catch on 2 targets for 9 yards, but that one catch was for a TD.  Joshua Plamer is also out on IR.

Tight End Gerald Everett is having a fine year with 25 catches on 32 targets, for 210 yards and an 8.4 average and that one catch was a TD.  He has resurrected his career after having a career high 58 catches last season.  Everett was the replacement for Hunter Henry and he has matched Henry’s output.  Backup TE Nick Varnett is probably out for this game.

The Offensive line starts with LT Rashawn Slater who is listed as Questionable for the game by ESPN.   Slater played for Northwestern and was the Chargers 1st round selection (#13) in the 2021 draft.  He was a second team All-Pro and Pro Bowl selection in 2021 as a rookie.  Slater is the son of former NBA player Reggie Slater but is no relation to the Patriots Matthew Slater.

Zion Johnson the highly acclaimed Left Guard from Boston College was the Chargers 1st round selection (#17) in 2022.  He was named to the All-Rookie team in 2022.  The stout guard gives the Bolts a long-term solution on the left side of their line to go along with Slater.  This is how the Patriots should build their line.

Wil Clapp serves as the Center.  The LSU grad was drafted by the Saints in the 7th Round (#245) of the 2018 draft.  He made the team and was on the team for two years as a reserve.  Starting in 2020 he bounced back and forth from the Practice Squad.  In 2022 the Chargers signed him and then re-signed him in 2023 as their starter at Center.

Jamaree Salyer mans the Right Guard position.  The 2022 Georgia grad was drafted in 2022 in the 6th round (#195) by the Chargers.  He was thrust into the lineup in week 4 of his rookie year and has been there ever since.  Salyer is massive at 6’4” 325 pounds and his PFF grade is 59.3 and at this point in his career is a better pass blocker than run blocker.  Compare his grade to Sidy Sow’s overall 67.4 with a run blocking grade of 71.4.

Trey Pipkins joined the Chargers in 2018 in the 3rd Round (#91) out of Division II Sioux Falls.   Pipkins was named the starting Right Tackle last season, and he signed a 3-year contract extension this season.  The 6’ 6” tackle has given up 8 sacks this season and is far inferior as compared to Michael Owenu.

Zack Bailey is Out and Corey Lindsey has been listed as Out by ESPN but doesn’t appear on the Chargers Injury Report.

 

DEFENSE

Base 3-4 D
STARTER 2ND 3RD 4TH
LDE Nick Williams Morgan Fox Scott Matlock
NT Sebastian Joseph-Day
RDE Austin Johnson Otito Ogbonnia
WLB Tuli Tuipulotu Joey Bosa IR
LILB Eric Kendricks Nick Niemann Blake Lynch Tanner Muse IR
RILB Kenneth Murray Jr. Daiyan Henley Amen Ogbongbemiga
SLB Khalil Mack Justin Hollins Andrew Farmer Chris Rumph II IR
LCB Deane Leonard Michael Davis Amechi Uzodinma IR
SS Derwin James Jr. Dean Marlowe JT Woods O
FS Alohi Gilman Jaylinn Hawkins AJ Finley Raheem Layne IR
RCB Asante Samuel Jr. Essang Bassey Ja’Sir Taylor Q

 

Statistically the Chargers have the worst Defense in the league according to Football Database.  They are giving up 23.5 points a game but are giving up 390.6 yards a game.

They are giving up 110.6 yards a game on the ground and a league worst 280 yards a game through the air.

The Patriot’s Defense is ranked 8th.

On the Defensive line the names are very unfamiliar.  Starting his 11th year is Nick Williams at LDE.   The2013 Samford player was taken in the 7th Round (#233).  His first two years he was a Practice Squad player. He was signed off the Pittsburgh Practice Squad by Kansas City.  He has played for 7 different teams in a rather mundane career. He has only 7.5 sacks and 134 tackles in his career.  He’s a JAG.

Nose Tackle is Sebastian Joseph-Day.  He was a 2018 draft choice in the 6th Round (#195) out of Rutgers by the Los Angeles Rams.  He won a Super Bowl with the Rams when he was activated off IR Super Bowl week.  In 2019 he was inactive for every game but became the starter in 2020.    He has 25 tackles and 3 sacks this season.

On the Right side the Chargers have Austin Johnson.  The 29-year-old was drafted by Tennessee in the 2016 draft in the 2nd round (#43).  The former Penn State player has had a non-descript career.  This season he has 24 tackles and no sacks.  The backups are nothing to write home about.

 

The Linebackers really miss Joey Bosa like the Patriots miss Matt Judon.  Starting in his place is Tuli Tuipulotu.   The 2023 rookie 2nd round pick (#54) this season played at USC and is having a good year filling in for Bosa.

Eric Kendricks is a 31-year-old Inside Linebacker that was drafted by the Minnesota Vikings back in 2015 in the 2nd round (# 54).  He spent 8 years with Minesota and signed with the Chargers this year.  The veteran is third on the team with 66 tackles.

Kenneth Murray is the other Inside Linebacker.  He was a 2020 1st Round pick (#20) out of Oklahoma.  He leads the team with 81 tackles.  So, the role of the D Line is to occupy blockers and funnel the plays to the linebackers.

The Right-Side linebacker is Kahlil Mack.  Mack was the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2016, made the 1st team All Pro 4 times and second team once.  He has been selected to the Pro Bowl 7 times in his 9-year career.  The former 1st round pick (#5) in 2014 by Oakland was twice selected for the Butkus award.  This season Mack is more focused on team goals rather than individual accolades.  He is 5th on the team with 48 tackles.  Opposition QBs must account for Mack all the time as he has 13 sacks.

In the secondary the Chargers traded JC Jackson back to the Patriots after spending a boat load to sign him as a Free Agent.  They overpaid and he under-performed.  He hasn’t been great for the Patriots, but they were desperate when they re-acquired him.  The Chargers are paying the majority of Jackson’s contract,

and nothing is guaranteed after this season.

Deane Leonard replaced Jackson and has been picked on so far as QBs have completed 12 of 17 passes thrown against him.  He also has just 10 solo and 18 overall tackles in 8 games.

Asante Samuel Jr is the other corner.  He is 6th on the team in tackles with 44 to go along with 2 INT.  He is the son of former Patriots CB Asante Samuel.   The Florida State player was a 2021 2nd round pick (#47) by the Chargers.

The safeties are the strength of the secondary.  Derwin James is one of the best strong safeties in the league.   The 2018 1st round pick (#17) has made the 1st team All Pro twice and 2nd team once.  He is a 3-time Pro Bowl selection.  James is 2nd on the team in tackles with 73.

Alohi Gilman is the Free Safety out of Notre Dame.  The 2020 6th round (#186) pick was a player I thought the Patriots would be interested in.   He is 4th on the team in tackles.

The Chargers have been hit hard in the secondary by injuries with Chris Rumph, Amechi Uzodinma, and Raheem Layne on IR.  Ja’Sir Taylor is Out and JT Woods has been ruled as questionable.

 

Special Teams

STARTER 2ND
PK Cameron Dicker
P JK Scott
H JK Scott
PR Derius Davis Elijah Dotson
KR Derius Davis Elijah Dotson
LS Josh Harris

 

Derius Davis is 25th in Kick Off Returns and 3rd in punt returns with a 16.3 average.  Keeping the ball away from him on Punts will be a key.

Cameron Dicker is 16th in the league.  That is far lower than he is perceived.  That number is based upon points scored.  He is 30 for 30 0n extra points and 17 of 18 on FGs.  His only miss came on a 50+ yarder.  He is 4 of 5 on 50+.  Very accurate and consistent.  Wish we had him.

Punter JK Scott is 19th in the league according to Pro Football Reference.  The Patriots Bryce Baringer is 3rd.

 

I expect a good game on Sunday, one that the Patriots could win.  If they rely on their running game and get into some play action passes for Zappe to thrown downfield the Patriots could generate enough offense to win.   I would also like to see an occasional pass on 1st f=down to keep the Chargers honest.

READ NEXT:
Patriots News 12-03, Players To Watch Against The Bolts

About Mark Morse

Merrimack Valley native and lifelong fan of the New England Patriots. My earliest memories of the Patriots were attending as a child with my dad, the off-season practice at Phillips Academy. I was at the Patriots game at Harvard Stadium in 1970 where Bob “Harpo” Gladieux was called out of the stands by the stadium announcer over the PA to play in the game. Analyzing the draft since ESPN first started to televise it in 1980 and former writer for the Lowell Sun Newspaper.


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