Tag Archives: Hunter Henry

Patriots Free Agency Wish List, Let the Madness Begin

Steve Balestrieri
March 12, 2020 at 10:04 am ET

With the start of the league year less than a week away it is time to get our early wishlist going and hopefully, the Patriots are already making some inquiries…wait, what???

“I know what you’re thinking…” as Thomas Magnum used to say every Thursday night. “The Patriots can’t be making overtures to free agents…that would break the rule for tampering!” And yet like every other year, we’ve already heard about Team A. is going to offer Tom Brady $60 million, yada, yada. If you don’t believe that has happened, is happening now and is going to happen this weekend, well I have this little bridge for sale you see. 

So, with that said, let’s look at some of the potential targets that we feel the Patriots should look at in the 2020 free agency feeding frenzy. Everyone has been saying that they really need help at wide receiver and tight end. I won’t argue that, however, I believe the latter is a much bigger need than the former. 

I’ve been saying ad nauseam that I think they just need some speed to go along with the talented possession guys that are already on the roster. I believe, that N’Keal Harry is going to have a very solid 2nd season after missing much of his rookie year hurt with a couple of injuries. Ditto for Jakobi Meyers. With Mohamad Sanu playing hurt, I expect that he’ll be much better in 2020. And Julian Edelman is still Julian Edelman. Give them a speedy guy outside that can run all of the routes and take the pressure off the guys underneath…and they’ll be fine. 

Tight end is another story. The Patriots’ tight ends were…to put it politically correct “challenged” in 2019. Okay, they stunk up the joint. So this year they need to sign a quality free agent and then double dip and try to draft a good one in the middle rounds of the draft and get the middle of the field, down the seams a friendly target area again. 

However, my first two names that I’d love to see the team chase are on defense. What, you say??? “Say what again, I double dare you,” (see who remembers that reference). Yes,  defense. So, before anyone yells, “Gedoutta HEAH!” we shall explain. 

Jordan Phillips, DT, Buffalo Bills:

The Bills scooped up Phillips when he was being let go by the Dolphins in 2018. The Patriots put in a claim for him, as did others, but he went to Buffalo due to their lesser record at the time. So, we already know that the coaching staff likes him and believes that he would be a fit in their defensive system. 

Phillips is one of those big immovable objects in the interior of the line at 6’6, 340 pounds. But he’s much more than that, he’s a penetrator. Playing the 3-technique who aligns on the outside shoulder of an offensive guard in the B-gap between the guard and tackle. The player is responsible for controlling and/or penetrating that gap inside. He tallied 9.5 sacks for the Bills, a career-high in 2019 as an interior DL.

The Patriots’ Danny Shelton is a free agent this season, Shelton had a very good 2019 and could find a nice market for himself. But Phillips brings the added dimension of pressure inside. He won’t come cheaply, but they may be able to entice him to play for Bill Belichick rather than against him in the division. Paired with Lawrence Guy inside, Phillips could have a huge season on this defense. 

Nick Kwiatkowski, LB, Chicago Bears: 

I’ve always liked this player since he entered the league in the 2016 NFL Draft and was taken by the Bears in the 4th round from West Virginia. An interior or MLB, depending on the formation, he is an excellent run stuffer who has steadily improved in coverage and has good range to move sideline-to-sideline.

Listen to what Aaron Rodgers who has played against him twice a year had to say.  “Well, 44, I’ve always thought he’s been a really solid player. I don’t want to butcher his last name. But he rocked me a couple of years ago and I know where 44’s at most times when he’s in the game. I have a lot of respect for him.”

Kwiatkoski wore the green dot for the Bears, who are cash-strapped (less than $25 million under the cap) and with Kyle Van Noy, Jamie Collins, and Elandon Roberts all free agents this spring, bringing in a guy like Kwik (his nickname on the Bears), would make perfect sense. 

Okay… now the offense.

Austin Hooper, TE, Atlanta Falcons: 

I know most people are clamoring for Hunter Henry from the Chargers, but he’d be a distant second here given his injury history. I really like Hooper who was a dynamic target for Matt Ryan and the Falcons last year hauling in 75 passes for 787 yards and 6 TDs. 

He’s still not a great blocker but the 6’4, 255-pound tight end has improved in that aspect but what the Patriots really need is a big, reliable target down the seams, Hooper can do that and would be a matchup nightmare for defenses in the middle of the field. 

The issue with him will be money. He’ll probably command some big bucks on the open market. This is why re-signing a certain somebody at QB would be of paramount importance early in the process. Getting to play with “that certain somebody” could go a long way in enticing Hooper to New England. 

Trade for O.J. Howard/Cameron Brate, TEs, Tampa Bay Bucs:

The Patriots reportedly made a move to get Howard last year at the trade deadline but Bruce Arians, who doesn’t use a tight end extensively in his offense balked. It came down to a ‘we’re not going to use him and neither will you’ type of deal. 

Howard is another guy that I’ve always thought would thrive here in the Patriots offense. It might be a good time to kick the tires one more time with the Bucs to try to swing a deal. We read that Brate may be on the trading block as well. While not as talented as Howard, he’s a huge upgrade over what they have here…either one is a big plus.

Yesterday Adam Schefter wrote that the Packers were going to release Jimmy Graham…pass

Emmanuel Sanders, WR, 49ers:

Sanders was targeted by the Patriots a few years ago when a restricted free agent and reportedly they tried to get him at the deadline but didn’t have the cap space…thanks AB. Sanders made noise about wishing he had gone to NE all along. Will the third time be a charm? 

Although he’s 33, he still has the speed to burn and is a tremendous route-runner. If everything falls into place under center, then it may just work out for the Patriots and Sanders. We’ve said all along, he’d be a tremendous fit here. 

What will hold it up? Money. I know that Sanders said that the cash won’t be the driving force in his decision this time…but I wish I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard that. So, we’ll see. 

Second choice: the Jets Robby Anderson. Anderson has a ton of speed and even had a dream of playing with Tom Brady. I’ve heard some people say that we don’t know if he’d be able to pick up NE’s passing offense. Isn’t that a legitimate question with every WR at this point? 

The Vikings Stefon Diggs is becoming this decade’s Larry Fitzgerald, every year, we’re going to hear rumors he’s coming to New England. Would I like him? Who wouldn’t? But do I see him here…nope.

There’s our early wishlist…which usually means that Bill Belichick won’t be interested in any of them this spring. Stay tuned…

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and myself from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news and game analysis.

New England Patriots News 1-19, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
January 19, 2020 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here is your Sunday Patriots news 01-19 and AFC East notes this week. 

With the latest winter storm rolling through the area, it is a good time to relax and stay home and watch some playoff football, unfortunately, the Patriots aren’t involved in the conference championships for the first time in many years. 

 Quick Hitters For the Pats and the NFL:

Tom Brady – It turns out, he didn’t move to Greenwich, and didn’t buy a house there, but wait, he’s moving as soon as his kids finish school now? Ugh, the next almost 60 days are going to be unbearable with this stuff. 

Stephon Gilmore – Congrats to the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year. Gilmore was outstanding all season long and was very much deserving of the honor. 

Ben Watson – One of the nicest guys to play the game announced that he played all season on a partially torn Achilles. Unbelievable toughness there. But it does beg the question…Are the Patriots going to get in trouble by not listing Watson on the injury report? We know other teams have seemingly fudged on it as well… but, this is NE.

Luke Keuchly – The excellent Panthers and BC linebacker announced his retirement at age 29. He along with Rob Gronkowski, Andrew Luck, and others are finishing their careers before they reach the age of 30. But premature retirement as some say? Keuchly’s eight-year stint is twice as long as the average player. But he’ll be missed. 

Jimmy Johnson – The former coach had a very emotional moment on the Fox broadcast when he was announced as being selected for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. And then when they cut to Green Bay where Troy Aikman, who played for Johnson in Dallas was clearly moved by the news, it was an incredibly moving moment. Well deserved coach.

CBA – Don’t expect much movement on the next Collective Bargaining Agreement between the Players Association and the Owners anytime soon. 

The league sent out a letter to all 32 teams stating that “[a] number of important issues remain to be resolved and we remain committed to the bargaining positions reviewed with you at the December meeting.”

Tre Roberson – The Patriots have brought in yet another ex-QB for a workout. Roberson was on the Vikings PS as a cornerback but has played in the CFL for the past two seasons. With Calgary in 2018, he won the Grey Cup and had 3 INTs. Last season he had seven INTs and returned a fumble 93-yards for a TD.  

4th & 2 Podcast – If you’ve haven’t checked out our PatsFans.com podcast, “Patriots 4th & 2” in a bit, Please do check it out.  

Curious Timing With AH Docuseries or Coincidence:

I haven’t watched the Aaron Hernandez docuseries on Netflix yet, but judging from the reactions I’ve seen on social media, it has inflamed many of the same reactions it did when the news first broke about him being arrested for the murder of his friend, Odin Lloyd. Some were still outraged at him throwing away a promising career while others still have sympathy for him, mainly because of who he played for. 

I just find the timing of the release of this series a bit suspect. If the Patriots had won their last regular-season game, they’d have been playing the Chiefs at home last week, and this week could have been hosting the AFC Championship (a lot of ifs…to be sure). But don’t for a second think that that exact scenario didn’t enter the minds of the folks in charge of Netflix. It seems like every year, there pops up something in the middle of a playoff run…sorry folks. Your miniseries isn’t going to get near the attention it would have gotten if Brady and Co. were playing today. 

Belichick’s Staff Has Been Raided A Lot:  

Last week we wrote: “With every passing year, it always seems that Bill Belichick’s coaching staff is getting picked through as many of his coaches, move up and move on. The latest was STs Coordinator/WR coach Joe Judge.” 

We read a great bit from a good friend on Twitter @Patriots7thRing who posted that in the 20 years that Bill Belichick has been the Patriots coach, he’s had 54 assistants get poached from other teams in that timeframe. That’s nearly three per year. 

So the next time someone says that the only reason the Patriots win is that they cheat, then ask why the rest of the league is so anxious to hire his staff. This year, they lost ST’s Coordinator Joe Judge, while OC coordinator Josh McDaniels and Head of College Scouting Monti Ossenfort interviewed for open GM positions with the Cleveland Browns. 

 Speaking of Judge, he’s off to a good start. He retained excellent STs coach Thomas McGaughey and then he hired former Patriots assistant and Dolphins DC Patrick Graham to run the defense. On Friday, they signed former Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett as their offensive coordinator. Say what you will about Garrett as a head coach. But he’s a very good coordinator and it will be interesting to see what he can with Daniel Jones.

Some Interesting Free Agents to Help the Passing Game:

The Patriots need some playmakers to help the passing game in 2020. Especially at tight end. The team needs an influx of playmakers to stretch the seams and attack the middle of the field. At wide receiver, they can really use a speedy wide receiver that can turn a 5-yard slant into a 55-yard touchdown. 

Here’s a look at some of the free-agent tight ends that will be available in March. I’d expect that the team may look at both free agency and the 2020 NFL Draft to restock the position. However, we thought that last year, so this is just spit-balling at this point. But the lack of production in 2019, pretty much concludes that something has to be done at the position. 

Austin Hooper – 2019 with the Falcons. Hooper is only 25 years old and had a really good year in Atlanta. He had 75 catches for 787 yards with 6 TDs. Hooper is more of a “move” tight end than a traditional in-line tight end. He isn’t a great blocker but for production, he’d be a great fit. Whether Atlanta lets him walk is another story.

Hunter Henry – 2019 with the Chargers. Henry is just 25 as well, he’s 6’6 and had 55 catches for 652 yards with 5 TDs. Again, he’s more of a receiving threat than a traditional blocking TE, but he’d be a great fit in the offense. 

Eric Ebron – 2019 with the Colts. Ebron had modest numbers this year, 31 catches, 375 yards with 3 TDs. But in 2018, he had 66 catches for 750 yards and 13 TDs. GM Chris Ballard made it clear that Indy was probably moving on, believing that the TE had regressed. Would it possible for the Patriots to make another run at O.J. Howard? Maybe, but they’ll have to convince Tampa Bay to let him go. 

Just a couple of wide receivers to look at right now, I’m sure they’ll have plenty of other targets at wideout. Several people are saying that the team will target A.J. Green in free agency, maybe, but I don’t think they’ll be interested…we’ll see. 

Robby Anderson – 2019 with the Jets. Anderson had 52 catches for 779 yards and 5 TDs in 2019. He’s just 26 and has that speed that the Patriots wide receivers lack. And he has the ability to put it to use. 

Emmanuel Sanders – 2019 with Broncos/49ers. Sanders is a player that the Patriots have coveted for some time. They tried to sign him a few years ago but the Steelers matched their offer. Although he’s 32, he’s still very productive. He had a combined 66 catches for 869 yards and 5 TDs this year. As a fit, absolutely. How much will it cost? That may be a show stopper. But definitely worth kicking the tires on. 

NFL Schedule Conference Championship Weekend, Who Are Your Winners:

How are you feeling about the games this week? We have a post on our PatsFans Forum where our readers can predict the slate of games for that week. Here is the link if you’d care to pick your own: https://www.patsfans.com/new-england-patriots/messageboard/picks/
Final Regular Season:162-93-1
Divisional  Weekend: 3-1

Conference Championship Round –

San Francisco over Green Bay – Aaron Rodgers hasn’t fared well on the road in general and especially against good teams. Facing teams at least six games over .500 on the road, he’s 0-7. Facing the #1 defense on the road…he’s 0-4. The Niners running game and their TE George Kittle should be the difference as well as their defense here.

Kansas City over Tennessee – This should be a very interesting matchup. The Titans won an earlier matchup 35-32 in Nashville when Derrick Henry rumbled for 188 yards. But Patrick Mahomes threw for 446 yards and three touchdowns. The Chiefs are at home and should present a tough matchup for the Titans defense. I believe Henry will keep the game close, and maybe close enough to win, but at home, I like the Chiefs to advance to Miami.

No AFC East Notes this week, we’ll have those back next week after the Conference Championships.

________________

“So, how was your week?”

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and myself from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news and game analysis.

 

Patriots – Chargers Key Matchups, Who Has the Razor’s Edge?

Steve Balestrieri
October 27, 2017 at 8:52 am ET

The New England Patriots reach the halfway point of the regular season when they take on the Los Angeles Chargers at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro on Sunday afternoon.  

This week’s game will be broadcast by CBS on Sunday, October 29 at 1:00 p.m. ET and can be seen on WBZ-TV Channel 4. Ian Eagle will handle play-by-play duties with Dan Fouts as the color analyst. Evan Washburn will work from the sidelines. The game will also be aired on the Patriots flagship radio station 98.5 The Sports Hub with Bob Socci and Scott Zolak on the call, produced by Marc Capello.

The Patriots (5-2) beat the Atlanta Falcons 23-7 as the much-maligned defense held Atlanta scoreless for 56 minutes while the running game churned out 162 yards on the ground. Tom Brady passed for 249 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

The Chargers (3-4) shutout the Denver Broncos 21-0 for their third win in a row after dropping several close contests.They’ve climbed back into contention in the AFC West.

We here at PatsFans.com are continuing our “Razor’s Edge” column in 2016 to give some quick analysis on some of the key matchups of the game and what you can look for in how the game plays out.

Series History:

The Patriots and Chargers have a history back to the beginnings of the AFL and will meet for the 41st time in their shared history. The Chargers beat the Boston Patriots in the 1964 AFL Championship Game and the two teams met two more times in the playoffs following the 2006 and 2007 seasons. New England holds the overall lead in the series 23-15-2 including the playoffs.

The teams last met in 2014 which was a 26-10 Patriots win in San Diego. The Chargers haven’t been to New England since an early season matchup in 2011. Since opening Gillette Stadium, the Patriots are 10-1 against the Chargers at home.

Here is a look at some of the key matchups and who holds the Razor’s Edge.

First up is the Patriots offense:

Patriots RBs vs Chargers Front Seven – Razor’s Edge New England

The Patriots running game easily had its best game of the season last week, gashing the Falcons for 162 yards on the ground which allowed the team to control the tempo of the game and the clock.

Dion Lewis has been the workhorse the past two weeks and he figures to see the bulk of the carries again on Sunday. But this week, Mike Gillislee and Rex Burkhead could also see a spike in work as they look to keep the Chargers defense off balance. James White will get a carry or two mixed in as the Patriots have a true running back by committee group. James Develin provides the big presence as the lead blocker at fullback.

The Chargers were allowing over 150 yards per game on the ground this season, but they rebounded against Denver last week and held the Broncos to just 69 yards rushing in the shutout win.

However, they are still 31st in the league allowing 140 yards per game. Look for the Patriots to run right at them behind Shaq Mason on the right side this week. Controlling the tempo and keeping the pass rush of the Bolts at bay is key this week. The running game must keep them out of third and long situations for the offense to be successful.

Patriots WRs vs Chargers Secondary – Razor’s Edge New England

The Patriots passing game is averaging 300 yards per game, 2nd best in the league this season, despite Tom Brady being under a lot of pressure every week. He’s been sacked 18 times this season, more than all of last year. But with Brandin Cooks, Chris Hogan, Danny Amendola, tight end Rob Gronkowski with James White and Lewis out of the backfield, Brady has a plethora of targets to throw to

The Chargers have a tremendous pass rush led by Melvin Ingram with 8.5 sacks, Joey Bosa, (7.5) and Chris McCain (5.0). They sacked Trevor Siemian five times last week in the whitewash of the Broncos. They have a pair of good corners in Casey Heyward and Trevor Williams. They are 10th in the NFL against the pass for just that reason.

Look for Brady to try to target the middle of the field this week, specifically with Gronkowski. As with every game, if Brady can find the time to throw, they’ll create an opening for him to exploit. The running backs in the passing game especially White has been key this year. If they are forced to remain in to block, it will be a win for the Bolts.

Next up the Chargers offense:

Chargers RBs vs NE Front Seven – Razor’s Edge New England

The Chargers running game has been pretty anemic this season. They rank 31st in the running game averaging only 79 yards per game. Melvin Gordon, however, is the team’s workhorse and during their three-game winning streak, they’ve relied on him more and more and he’s produced. He was limited in Thursday’s practice with a foot injury, something that will have to be monitored to see if he’s going 100 percent on Sunday.

The Patriots have not been good against the run especially up the middle, although they’ve made strides the past three weeks. Alan Branch seems to be rounding back into form and has been much better inside. David Harris should see some added workload in the Base and goal line situations

Chargers WRs vs NE Secondary- Razor’s Edge Los Angeles

Philip Rivers has had a quietly solid season, probably because of their four-game skid to start the year. But he too has plenty of weapons to use in the passing game. Keenan Allen is healthy again and is Rivers favorite target on third down. And his secondary targets include the 6’4 Tyrell Williams and the speedy Travis Benjamin on the outside. Benjamin returned a punt 65 yards for a touchdown and also caught a 42-yard touchdown pass from Rivers on Sunday. Gordon is particularly effective out of the backfield and has four TDs in the passing game. Mix in two very good tight ends with Hunter Henry and Antonio Gates and the Chargers can create their own mismatches.

The Patriots pass defense has been atrocious this season. But last week, for the first time, we saw the unit that we originally envisioned this summer. They held Matt Ryan scoreless until garbage time, however, with Stephon Gilmore and Eric Rowe still hurt and now facing the loss of Dont’a Hightower for the rest of the season, this will hurt their already inconsistent pass rush.

Special Teams- Razor’s Edge New England

The Patriots’ Stephen Gostkowski has had a very solid season. The coverage units have been very good and they’ve been adept at pinning opponents deep. Cassius Marsh blocked a field goal attempt on Sunday, getting pressure up the middle.

The Chargers jettisoned kicker Younghoe Koo earlier this year and brought in veteran Nick Novak who has been solid. Benjamin returned a punt 65 yards for a score last week to open up the Denver game and will have to be watched closely.

Next up, who wins and why…

Prediction:

This one should be a good tight contest. The Chargers have a pass rush that can really affect New England’s passing game. The key from a Patriots perspective is to stay out of those second and long and third and long situations by having an effective running game. Then play action passing should be much more effective. Which New England defense will we see this week? If it is the one that played versus Atlanta, the team should be in pretty good shape, considering the Chargers and Rivers have a lot of weapons that they can use. It would be nice if the team can get Gilmore back this week as the loss of Hightower really hurts the defense.

The Chargers have the disadvantage of flying to the East Coast and playing at a 1 p.m. start time. That may come into play early in the game. Traditionally West Coast teams haven’t fared well during the early games. New England will hold serve in this one in a tough matchup that will put them into the bye week with a solid 6-2 record. Brady and Gronkowski are the keys here.  Patriots 30-21

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

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Chargers Rivers, Defense Carrying Team in Recent Surge

Steve Balestrieri
October 25, 2017 at 11:15 am ET

When the 2017 NFL schedule was released, the Patriots Week 8 matchup at home looked like a slam dunk win, an obvious blowout….hold the fort there.

After a 0-4 start with a couple of close losses, the San Diego, err Los Angeles Chargers are suddenly resurgent and climbed right back into the mix in the AFC West by winning their last three games. The final one, an impressive white-wash blowout 21-0 victory over Denver was an eye-opener. While the 2016 version of the Chargers lost 11 games, it should be noted that eight of those losses were by seven points or less. The snakebit Chargers lost two games this season on a last-second blocked field goal and another late miss which would have tied the game. They are always in their games.

Here are a couple of our early impressions of the Chargers before Sunday’s game.

Rivers Remains Constant, Despite the Commute: The Bolts have several things going for them, not the least of which is QB Philip Rivers. The 35-year old QB just notched the 100th regular season win of his career in the shutout win over Denver. And while he hasn’t got the press because of the team’s slow start, he’s still very productive. Rivers is fifth in passing yards (1,816), fifth in completions (156) and seventh in touchdowns (12).

The impressive thing about Rivers is that he has that ability to carry a team on his back and will them to a victory. We’ve seen it time and again with some of those tough matchups in the AFC West. He’ll hang in the pocket and do whatever is necessary to win.

Rivers’ toughness is without question, leading up to the 2007 AFC Championship Game, he tore his ACL and still played the entire game in New England against the Patriots. He gutted out the entire game and never used it as an excuse. It speaks volumes about his character, especially considering in that game, his Hall of Fame running back sitting on the end of the bench because of a hurt toe.

Rivers didn’t make the move to Los Angeles, opting to stay with his family in San Diego, he and his wife have eight children and didn’t want to uproot the family. So he makes the commute from San Diego to LA in a luxury SUV where a driver takes him to work.

Defense Has a Trio of Good Pass Rushers: The Chargers defense is ranked 8th in the NFL allowing just 18.7 points per game. Their pass defense is currently ranked fifth in the league allowing only 185.4 yards per game. And much of, but not all of their success can be attributed to their pass rush.

The Bolts have a plethora of riches in the pass rush department and have three quality pass rushers who have at least five sacks. Only two teams in the league have three players with five or more sacks. Melvin Ingram leads the way with 8.5 sacks, Joey Bosa has 7.5 and Chris McCain has five. The Chargers 23 sacks rank fourth in the league. With the talent they have, they can slide Ingram inside to an interior pass rusher position and still have two excellent edge rushers.

Their pressure has contributed to turnovers, during the present three-game winning streak, the Chargers have forced seven turnovers. LA ( I still can’t get used to saying that), has a pair of very good corners in Casey Heyward and Trevor Williams. They are very competitive, each has an interception thus far this season, while Heyward has eight passes defensed this season while Williams has five. The Chargers sacked Trevor Siemian five times on Sunday.

Allen, Gordon Leads the Way for Pass Receivers: Keenan Allen who was injured the past two years, is healthy again and is Rivers favorite target with 36 catches for 487 yards and one touchdown. Melvin Gordon, the Bolts lead running back is a terrific pass receiver with 29 catches for 228 yards and four touchdowns coming out of the backfield. Allen is the league’s most productive target on third down, with 16 receptions for first downs which is five more than the next closest player. Third down? Allen will be the primary target on most plays this week.

The Chargers have good secondary targets with the 6’4 Tyrell Williams and the speedy Travis Benjamin on the outside. Benjamin returned a punt 65 yards for a touchdown and also caught a 42-yard touchdown pass from Rivers on Sunday.

Rivers still has his old reliable target in Antonio Gates, but the tight end is finally beginning to slow down and has just 14 catches on the season. But taking up his slack is the talented Hunter Henry. The big second-year tight end from Arkansas is having a very solid season with 21 catches for 301 yards and two scores. Rivers has only been sacked 10 times this season. Fifth best for a QB with at least 200 attempts.

Weak Areas Both Center on the Running Game: Despite Gordon being an excellent receiver out of the backfield, the running game for the Chargers remains one of the worst in the league. They rank 31st in yards per game with 79.5 and 28th in the NFL in yards per carry averaging only 3.5 yards per rush. Against the Broncos, Gordon failed to score on four consecutive attempts from the one-yard line. He’s at his best in space but despite having 394 yards rushing with three touchdowns, he is at his best while in space.

The Chargers other weakness has been in stopping the run. However, last week against Denver, they held the Broncos to just 69 yards rushing. But teams have been able to run on them, perhaps because of the aggressiveness of the pass rush. They are 31st in the league against the run, allowing 140.6 yards per game on the ground. With the Patriots the last two weeks finding their groove running the ball, this may be a particular point of emphasis this week. With them allowing 17 sacks thus far this season, they may opt to run more to keep Tom Brady upright and to open up play action passing.

We’ll have more later this week in our detailed matchups.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.