Tag Archives: Keenan Allen

Patriots Thrash Chargers, Move On To Kansas City

Steve Balestrieri
January 13, 2019 at 10:02 pm ET

Patriots Will Go to 8th Straight Conference Championship

All season long the doubters have circled the 2018 Patriots team like vultures over carrion, searching for any cracks in the armor, off-field drama, whether real or imagined, and any vulnerability. Indeed, many of these national pundits, perhaps more out of wishful thinking than actual forethought, proclaimed that today, the Chargers would end the Patriots dynasty.

Well, don’t throw dirt on the corpse of the Patriots just yet. And perhaps Tom Brady isn’t quite at the edge of the precipice as many thought (or in the case of a few national dimwits, outwardly call for). The Patriots dominated the Chargers in every phase of the game and walked away with a 41-28 win that wasn’t nearly as close as the score would indicate.

With a bye week to heal up the assorted injuries and prepare for the Chargers, the Patriots wanted to start quickly. They showed that by winning the toss and opting to receive the kickoff when they normally defer to the second half.

The Patriots came out loaded for bear, and the offense looked more dominant than they have in quite some time. Easily better than they’ve looked at any time this year. The Chargers zone defense was eviscerated by Brady and the running game in the first half. It was total domination for the first 30 minutes. Sony Michel ran 16 times for 105 yards, as the Pats offense rolled up 35 points, 347 yards, and 24 first downs, numbers that usually add up to a good game by halftime.

The Patriots in the first half were 5-6 on third down and 5-5 in the red zone. Remember this LA defense was Top 10 in both rushing (9th) and passing (9th), they boasted a pair of edge rushers in Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram and an athletic group who totally shut down the Ravens a week ago. They were not “tomato cans” or terrible posers. This team was undefeated outside of LA all year. But they were shredded like wilted lettuce.

So focused was Brady, even as the half wore down, he was screaming at the officials for ruling that WR Phillip Dorsett got out of bounds and that the team should have been allowed to go for a last-second field goal.

This game was over by halftime, the Patriots had a commanding 35-7 lead, and at home in Foxboro, they aren’t going to blow that. The Chargers answered the Patriots opening touchdown when Stephon Gilmore who has been so good all season, got totally fooled by Rivers looking inside that he allowed Keenan Allen to zip past him and Rivers hit him for a too-easy 43-yard touchdown pass. The Chargers wouldn’t score again until the game was way out of reach.

The QB pressure on Rivers was immense all day. Trey Flowers, Dont’a Hightower, and Adrian Clayborn were outstanding all day and they harassed, hit and flustered Rivers from start to finish. He finished 25-51 for 331 yards with 3 TDs and an interception. But much of his yardage was 4th quarter garbage time. He padded his stats a bit, but don’t look at the score sheet. This was a butt kicking. The Chargers run game netted 19 yards total. Melvin Gordon was never a factor because the Patriots offense was scoring at will.

Sony Michel ended up with 129 yards rushing on 24 carries (5.1 average) and three touchdowns. Julian Edelman was unstoppable out of the slot making nine catches for 151 yards.  James White caught 15 passes for 97 yards. Dorsett had four catches for 41 and a touchdown.

Gilmore settled down after that one gaffe and was excellent the rest of the game and got an interception off Rivers later in the game. Rookie J.C. Jackson was put on the dangerous Mike Williams, who was targeted 11 times. Williams made five catches for 68 yards.

And Brady, the guy who is done, going over the cliff, and getting ready to be pushed into retirement by the Chargers pass rush? He finished 34-44 for 343 yards with a TD and 0 INTs. The play calling of Josh McDaniels on Sunday was outstanding, he kept the Chargers off-balanced all game long and their pass rush was rendered to a milk carton by a dominating performance by the Patriots offensive line who dominated the point of attack.

Brady summed it up best by stating what everyone from the Patriots was thinking when he told CBS’ Tracy Wolfson after the game, “everyone thinks we suck and can’t win games.” Indeed, ESPN’s Power Poll lists New England as just having a 15 percent chance of winning the Super Bowl, the lowest of the four teams remaining.

Well, as they showed Sunday, you can doubt them all you want, but they’ve been counted out countless times before and if they play like they did today, they are capable of beating anyone.

And now they’re on their way to play in their 8th consecutive AFC Championship Game. Think about that for a second. How will that turn out? Nobody knows, but…

We’re on to Kansas City.

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.

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

Steve Balestrieri
January 11, 2019 at 7:30 am ET

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

The New England Patriots take on the Los Angeles Chargers at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro on Sunday afternoon as they play in the Divisional Round of the 2018 playoffs.

This week’s game will be broadcast by CBS on Sunday at 1:05 p.m. and can be seen on WBZ-TV Channel 4. Jim Nantz will handle play-by-play duties with Tony Romo as the color analyst. Tracy Wolfson 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 (11-5) beat the Jets two weeks ago but as the #2 seed were idle during the bye week. They are hoping to win on Sunday and move on to their 8th straight AFC Championship Game.

The Chargers (13-4) beat the Baltimore Ravens 23-17 on Sunday in Baltimore. The Chargers dominated the game and were comfortably ahead 23-3 when the Ravens scored two late touchdowns to make it interesting.

Series History:

The Patriots and Chargers have a history back to the beginnings of the AFL and will meet for the 42nd 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 24-15-2 including the playoffs.

The teams last met last year which was a Patriots 21-13 win in Gillette Stadium. Since opening Gillette Stadium, the Patriots are 11-1 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 (127.3 yards per game, 5th NFL) is now a three-headed committee with Sony Michel getting the lion’s share on the ground with Rex Burkhead and James White also getting in some work. But a large portion of what makes the ground game go is the use of wide receivers in Jet Sweeps with Cordarrelle Patterson and Julian Edelman.

The Chargers have a good run defense are were the 9th best unit against the run in 2018 allowing just 105.8 yards per game. They stuffed the powerful Ravens running game by utilizing a smaller defense consisting of seven defensive backs. This week they get back a big, big piece of their interior defensive line with Brandon Mebane who missed last week due to the tragic death of his daughter.

I think the Patriots will be able to run some at this defense by mixing things up. Look for the Patriots to run the pony formation with two backs on either side of Brady. I think the Jet sweeps would be of particular use when the Chargers line up in their Wide 9 look with some cutback lanes that they’ll try to exploit.

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

The Patriots passing game (266.1 yards per game, 8th NFL) will miss the speed, size and sure hands of Josh Gordon in the playoffs now that the pretenders have been wiped away from the schedule. While Patterson has the size and speed, he’s nowhere near the accomplished route runner or receiver that Gordon is. They still have a good, but not great group with Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, Phillip Dorsett out wide with Rob Gronkowski at tight end and White and Burkhead out of the backfield. The key for them is to utilize everyone, which makes them much harder to stop, something they’ve haven’t always done this season.

The  Chargers have also the 9th best unit against the pass this season, allowing just 227.9 yards per game thru the air. It starts up front with the pass rushers Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa. Those two can disrupt the passing game of anyone. They frequently slide Ingram inside and line him up on a guard which can be a mismatch, and overload one side with both on one side, which frees up rushers on the opposite side to make plays.

Derwin James the rookie out of Florida State has been huge for the defense leading the team with 105 tackles with 13 passes defensed, 3.5 sacks, and 6 QB hits. Expect him to be lined up with Gronkowski and I like James to win that matchup.

Look for Brady to get the ball out quickly and target the Chargers LBs in the passing game. If they have a weakness it is there. Last year, Brady completed 14-15 for 163 yards against the Chargers when targeting his running backs. Protection will be key here. Look for Josh McDaniels to use uptempo too to keep the Chargers from substituting personnel. It won’t be an easy game on either part of the Patriots offense against this group, but if they play the way they have all season at home, they should find some success.

Next up the Chargers offense:

Chargers RBs vs NE Front Seven – Razor’s Edge Los Angeles

The Chargers running game is 8th in the league averaging 117.1 yards per game. They lean heavily on Melvin Gordon who gained 885 yards, averaged 5.1 yards per rush and had 10 touchdowns in 2018. They have Austin Ekeler as their secondary back and he too averaged a very good 5.2 yards per rush and had 552 yards with three scores. Patriots fans will long remember the 87-yard run he made in Gillette during the first quarter of the game last year, when they didn’t properly set the edge.

The Patriots run defense is ranked 11th in the league allowing 112.7 yards per game, but it has been very inconsistent. At times this season, they were gashed badly up the middle between the tackles. However, the last two regular season games they were much better, albeit against the Bills and Jets. Setting the edge will be a big factor in this one. As well as doing a good job of clogging the middle of the field at the point of attack.

I’m still not sold on this run defense between the tackles and believe Gordon and Ekeler will have some success running inside. Look for Brian Flores to roll the dice a bit and try to send ILB Elandon Roberts on some run blitzes to try to hit Gordon at or behind the line of scrimmage.

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

Philip Rivers had an outstanding season, passing for 4300+ yards, 32 touchdowns and just 12 interceptions for a 105.5 passer rating. He has plenty of weapons to throw to with Keenan Allen, 96 catches, 1196 yards, and six TDs, Mike and Tyrell Williams who each had about 650 yards receiving and Gordon and Ekeler out of the backfield. The venerable Antonio Gates is still a third-down target and they’ve activated Hunter Henry this week, he tore an ACL this spring and is ready to go.

The Patriots gave up an average of 246.7 yards thru the air this year but the secondary, particularly the corners are a position of strength. Stephon Gilmore is now one of the top corners in the league and with rookie J.C. Jackson playing very well, Jason McCourty and Jonathan Jones, the team is in good shape there. Pat Chung and Devin McCourty anchor the safety position with Duron Harmon.

The key for the Patriots is to get pressure on Rivers and force the Chargers to keep their running backs in for pass protection. If Gordon has a weakness it is his pass blocking. Both he and Ekeler are very good receivers and would present mismatches to the Patriots linebackers in the passing game. Look for the Pats to try to condense the inside and rushing the A-gap and try to cut down on Rivers’ time to throw downfield.

It will be the backs and tight ends that will either win or lose this matchup for New England. They have the corners to match up and be very competitive with the Chargers WRs. But if Antonio Gates, Gordon, Ekeler and Hunter Henry, who no one knows how effective he’ll be, have big days then it will be a long afternoon for the NE defense.

Special Teams- Razor’s Edge New England

The Patriots have a very reliable tandem in the kicking game in Stephen Gostkowski and Ryan Allen. The Chargers Michael Badgley had a tremendous game last week against the Ravens and was the difference in the game. But Donnie Jones had a punt blocked in Baltimore and that could be an issue against the Pats who’ve blocked a few down the stretch.

Both teams have big-play returners in the kicking game. Desmond King had a 72-yarder last week. The Pats answer with Patterson and Edelman. Look for NE to come after a punt early in this one.

Next up, who wins and why…

Prediction:

This one should be the best game of the weekend. The Charger provide a very capable opponent on both sides of the ball. They don’t have blazing speed on offense, like New England but have a plethora of playmakers that can keep a defense on their heels.

The Keys from a Patriots perspective are:

Stay Balanced on Offense:

The Patriots will have to run the ball effectively enough to keep those pass rushers on their toes and Brady, in particular, will have to spread the ball around to all of his receivers. That means running out of 11 personnel and passing out 21 personnel.

Keep the Pressure on Rivers and Keep the Backs In:

The Patriots front seven will have to mix things up and bring pressure on Rivers while forcing the RBs to remain in for pass protection. If they can do that and keep them out of the stat sheet in the passing game, it should go a long way.

Win the STs Battle:

There will be some points to be had in STs this week. Ryan Allen and Gostkowski are good at keeping the ball away from opponent’s return men. On the other hand they’ll have to get some production out of their own returners. And attack the punting game and get after a kick. They’ve blocked three kicks down the stretch, and could use another one this week.

This one will go down to the wire. If this game were in LA, I’d easily reverse this score, but the Pats have proven to be a much better team at home this season. Brady and Co. get it done and move on their 8th straight AFC Championship Game.  Patriots 27-24

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.

Chargers Beat Baltimore, Sets Up Great Matchup With New England

Steve Balestrieri
January 7, 2019 at 8:49 am ET

The AFC Divisional Matchups are set with the Colts heading to Kansas City after dispatching the Texans on the road and the Los Angeles Chargers (I keep wanting to say San Diego) travel to New England to take on the Patriots.

We’ll get into some individual matchups with our Razor’s Edge piece later this week but here are a few quick things to know about the San…er LA Chargers before they head to Foxboro next week.

These Aren’t Your Dad’s Bolts:

Okay, that may be a stretch, but while you’re guaranteed to hear ad nauseam all week about how either A. Philip Rivers has never beaten Tom Brady (0-7) or B. This year’s Patriots team is very beatable, you can throw out all that hoopla.

Everybody is beatable, it comes down to having a good game plan and then being able to execute it. Bolts DC Gus Bradley had a great game plan for the Ravens and they worked it to perfection for 49 minutes but then allowed Baltimore to nearly snatching away a game they had no business winning. But the Patriots wins over the Chargers and Rivers were in 2006-2007. Those were over a decade ago and the only remaining links from either team are Brady and Belichick and Rivers and Antonio Gates.

This Chargers team seems much mentally tougher than those teams, who always it seemed to find a way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Anthony Lynn has done a great job and is a viable candidate for Coach of the Year. Need proof? The Bolts came back from 16 points down on the road in Pittsburgh and 14 points down on the road in Kansas City to win both games…

Strength Against Strength This Week:

The Patriots were the league’s only undefeated team at home this year with a perfect 8-0 record. The Chargers were the league’s best road team this season with a 7-1 record. And that is even kind of misleading because the Chargers, in reality, played 16 road games this season.

They have no permanent home and are operating out of an abandoned office park in Costa Mesa, California while their new facility is being built. They hold training camp at a high school and play their “home” games in a tiny 30,000 seat soccer stadium where the opposing fans frequently outnumber their own.

The Patriots home field advantage is well deserved, they rarely if ever beat themselves at home and play much better in the friendly confines of Gillette Stadium. We could regurgitate all of the stats about their home record, which you’ve heard (and will hear all week) but you know all of that. You can’t have an 18-year run of excellence like the Pats have had and not take care of business at home.

With a win on Sunday, the Patriots would advance to their eighth straight AFC Championship Game against the winner of KC-Indy. That is ridiculous and attainable if they play their game.

Rivers Is Having Arguably His Best Season:

Philip Rivers is still making the commute to LA from SD every day and still lighting it up this season. Rivers completed 68.3 percent of his passes in 2018 for 4308 yards with 32 touchdowns and just 12 interceptions with a passer rating of 105.5.

Against the Ravens on Sunday, while far from his best game, he did what he had to do to get the win. The Ravens pass rush harried him all game and he completed 22 of 32 for 160 yards with 0 TDs and more importantly 0 INTs against the offensively challenged Ravens.

But at 37, Rivers has lost none of his competitive fire. He played the 2007 AFCG with a torn ACL, that is toughness. He’s also always been a huge trash talker during the game and on Sunday after taking a big hit from Matthew Judon after releasing the ball, Rivers thought it was a late hit. When Judon himself got up slowly, Rivers gave it to him yelling an audible “That’s what you get!” You can expect that type of fight for four quarters on Sunday.

Excellent Balance Offensively/Defensively:

The Chargers road record reflects that this team can win with their running game with Melvin Gordon or thru the air with Rivers, Keenan Allen, Antonio Gates et al. When the offensive unit struggles, their defense is more than capable of taking over a game. Yesterday’s win over the Ravens was a prime example.

With all the talk of the Ravens defense, it was the Chargers defense who carried the game. The pass rush of Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram dominated up front where Lamar Jackson had zero time to throw or to make plays. The secondary is solid and the rush defense is very good allowing just 104.8 yards per game.

The Chargers boast a Top 10 scoring offense as well as a Top 10 scoring defense. There are no glaring weaknesses on this team. The offense averages 26.5 points per game (6th) while the defense allows 20.6 per contest. The Patriots are nearly mirror images on both sides of the ball with 27.2 offensively and 20.3 defensively.

Chargers Are a Little Banged Up:

Playing against the Ravens is always a physical game and that is always a consideration when having to travel back and forth across the coasts twice again. They were already dealing with some injuries before the game. Brandon Mebane was out, and Austin Ekeler, Jaheel Addae, and Dan Feeney were all dealing with injuries.

During the game, Melvin Gordon left for a bit with a knee injury that was unrelated to his other knee injury but did return and finished the game. We’ll see how he feels during the week and if it cuts into his practice time.

Hunter Henry could be the “X-Factor” in this week’s game. He’s been out since the spring with an ACL injury but has been practicing and could be activated for this week’s game and could bring a huge lift to the Chargers’ passing attack.

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.

Patriots  Week 8 Report Card, Lack of Finish In Win Over the Chargers

Steve Balestrieri
October 30, 2017 at 11:55 am ET

The Patriots beat the Chargers 21-13 on Sunday in a soggy Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, in a game that went down to the final possession but really shouldn’t have. The offense stalled in the red zone going just 1-4, despite moving the ball well all day. It has been a recurring problem the past several weeks as they’ve had issues with punching the ball into the end zone. It is definitely something they’ll need to self-scout themselves on this week.

The defense held the Chargers to just 349 yards of total offense and 13 points, with Philip Rivers throwing for less than 200 yards net passing on the day. Other than the one big run they allowed, the defense did their job on Sunday.

So after a slow start to the season, the Patriots are 6-2 at the bye and halfway mark of the season. Which is right where they want to be. They are on top of the division and tied for the best record in the AFC. We’ll do a report card for the halfway point later this week, but for the day against the Chargers, while they may not get a ton of style points, they did what they needed to do and came away with a win. We’re on to the bye week.

So, we’ll start with the offense and the players can come forward to pick up their grade sheets.

Quarterback: B

Tom Brady threw for 333 yards and a touchdown on Sunday, completing 32-47 passes in the win over the Chargers. But he knows and he said it clearly after the game that the offense continues to leave points on the field and they are not finishing drives.

Third down conversions in the red area continue to plague the offense and part of that rests with Brady. Although the team is on a four-game winning streak, they’ve done so by scoring 19, 24, 23, and 21 points, hardly the stuff we expect from this group. He missed some throws on Sunday to be sure, but he also made some fantastic ones.

Brady showed extreme coolness in the pocket and hung in there with his eyes downfield always looking to make a play. Against a very good pass defense of the Chargers who were allowing an average of just 185 yards per game, that was some very good work, driving the ball up and down the field, now they have to work on finishing drives.

Running Backs: B+

The running backs diverseness and versatility were the key ingredient in the Patriots win over LA (it just doesn’t sound right, NOT calling them SD). The four-headed monster, with an able assist from James Develin in the blocking department, were very good, especially in the receiving game yesterday.

The backs were virtually uncoverable in the passing game, they caught 14 passes out of 15 attempts as a group. Rex Burkhead caught 7 for 68 yards, while James White caught 5 for 85. The backs collectively rushed for 95 yards so, they were the go-to guys for the offense against the Chargers.

Short yardage especially, however, remains an issue for this team. Third and one and fourth and one is a sticky area with Mike Gillislee. Is it a problem with Gillislee? No, more of an offensive line/play-calling issue. But they will get it figured out. Overall the backs were the most productive part of the offense.

Wide Receivers: C+

The Patriots wide receivers didn’t have big statistical days on Sunday. Part of that was the Chargers pass defense, which is very good, made it their game plan to take away the deep ball which they did a great job on. The longest passes of the day from Tom Brady were to the running backs and tight ends. But the group didn’t get a lot of separation and was held out of the end zone.

Chris Hogan was the most productive member of the group on Sunday with 5 catches for 60 yards far below his season average. Ditto for Brandin Cooks who had five catches for just 26 yards with a long of just nine. Danny Amendola had just two catches for 14 yards. Not a great day for the wide receivers. A total of 12 catches for 100 yards. While Brady picked on the Bolts underneath with the backs, the WRs could’ve done more, especially in the red zone.

Hogan suffered a nasty looking injury late in the game, taking a hard but clean shot to his arm. It was officially listed as a shoulder injury but it looked like more of an upper arm, elbow type of injury, but we’ll have to wait for the results of his MRI, scheduled for Monday to see if he’s going to miss any time. If so, that would severely limit the team’s depth at the position.

Tight Ends: B

Rob Gronkowski had a fairly quiet day… for Gronk, catching five passes for 57 yards and a touchdown. He’s also held and interfered with more than anyone I watch, week and in and week out without getting the benefit of very many calls. The old standard of gauging defensive backs for PI (“if the left arm goes around the back, it is going to get called by the officials”) doesn’t apply to Gronkowski. Officials watch him so closely for pushing off, sometimes I think they forget to watch how often he’s getting tugged on.

Jacob Hollister showed up on the stat sheet with a catch for 13 yards in the passing game and also was key on Gronkowski’s touchdown. He fired out from his stance on the right side to the middle linebacker trying to sell run. It froze the safeties and linebackers just long enough with Brady’s play-action fake to allow Gronk, in one on one to get easily open on the outside for a 2-yard scoring play…It was a good effort but also dangerously close to offensive pass interference, but the refs let it slide as it was close to the line of scrimmage.

Dwayne Allen played about 20 snaps and ran a couple of patterns on the day but never got looked at. I believe he’s being frozen out now by Brady and McDaniels in the passing game. That well-known trust factor isn’t there and at the midway point of the season. Things aren’t looking good for Allen to have a role in this offense.

Offensive Line: A-

The offensive line overall did a great job of protecting Tom Brady. Nate Solder easily had his best game of the year and did a tremendous job of battling Joey Bosa all game long. Marcus Cannon injured his ankle and LaAdrian Waddle came in and played very solidly at right tackle. The big three of Bosa, Melvin Ingram, and Chris McCain had just one sack between them on 47 passes attempted by Brady.

It was a concerted effort by the coaches to have Brady take a much shorter drop and stand closer to the line. So the tackles were allowing the edge rushers to burst to the outside where they kept pushing them farther and farther outside. Which means the interior of the line had to step up and play solidly….which they did.

However, the OL didn’t do a great job of opening up those running lanes for the backs. The Patriots rushed for just 97 yards on 32 carries which is just 3.0 yards per carry. LA came in allowing over 140 yards per game on the ground and it was thought, that the Pats would be able to run more efficiently.  

Defensive Line: B

The Patriots defensive line was missing arguably their best player in Malcom Brown on Sunday but they held up pretty well against the run. There was the one play in the first quarter, a Melvin Gordon run to the right side that deserves mention.

On the zone running play, the Chargers did a great job of sealing Cassius Marsh and forced him inside and creating a lane. The center fired out and cut MLB Elandon Roberts, stopping him from getting over to the outside in time. And the safeties took a bad angle to the play. The defense can survive any single one of those scenarios without any big trouble. Couple all three of those things together and you have a highlight reel 87-yard touchdown run by Gordon that put the Bolts up 7-0.

But for the rest of the game, the Chargers ran 20 times for 70 yards 3.5 yards per carry average, much, much better. Travis Benjamin had two Jet-Sweeps for 14 yards where the edge could have been set better.

The pass rush was for the most part inconsistent again, it is something they’ll have to either address internally by blitzing more (see below) or possibly adding a piece before the trade deadline.

Linebackers: B

With Dont’a Hightower gone for the season, Kyle Van Noy took over the green dot responsibilities for calling the defense but Hightower’s role as well, moving out on the edge. He had a very solid game. David Harris and Elandon Roberts were both solid inside in the middle in the running game. They are both at their best when playing aggressively downhill styles.

The coaches dusted off their Double A-Gap blitz for the first time in a while where both inside linebackers shot up the middle. Harris forced Philip Rivers out of the pocket on the play.

One area where we thought they’d struggle was in pass coverage against Gordon. But the productive back had just a single catch for seven yards. While they had help in that aspect…that was a win for the defense.

Secondary: A-

With Eric Rowe and Stephon Gilmore still out with injuries, the team once again with Malcolm Butler, Johnson Bademosi and Jonathan Jones at cornerback. Was it perfect? No, but it was plenty good enough. Rivers threw for just 212 yards (192 net) and the coverage, for the most part, was very good.

Rivers caught the defense napping on the touchdown pass to Benjamin. They were still trying to get set and he alertly snapped the ball where Benjamin blew past Butler without the benefit of a jam for a 24-yard touchdown. Smart play by RIvers. We always praise Brady for making those kinds of plays and it was a good one by Rivers.

The safeties, Devin McCourty, Pat Chung and Duron Harmon played nearly the entire game each and they were very solid. We mentioned that Gordon caught just one pass for seven yards, TE Hunter Henry caught just two passes for 11 yards and Antonio Gates caught two for 25. That is a big win for the defense.

Special Teams: A-

Stephen Gostkowski made 4 of 6 field goal attempts in the rainy swirling conditions yesterday. While everyone is focusing on his two misses, his kickoffs were a big reason why the Chargers started with poor field position all game. Plus he made four kicks that were the difference in the game. The coverage units were simply outstanding. While Benjamin made a boneheaded play in an attempt to outrun the coverage, the Patriots had the numbers and nailed him for a safety. Dion Lewis had a tremendous 71-yard kickoff return that was unfortunately wasted at the 2nd half kickoff when the offense went three and out.

Coaches: A-

Bill Belichick and Matt Patricia had a very good game plan and for the majority of it, the team accomplished it. They held the Chargers to just 349 yards of offense and 13 points, which we’d take every week of the season. Offensively, the team moved the ball well but couldn’t finish drives. Is it an issue with play calling, or a production issue with Tom Brady and the skill position players? Probably a little of each.

But the team is in a great position at the bye week and the halfway point of the season at 6-2 where they are on top of the division and tied for the best record in the AFC.

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.

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

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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.

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.

MNF: Steelers at Chargers Preview, Prediction and Pick Against the Spread

John Morgan
October 12, 2015 at 1:10 pm ET

Despite an abundance of injuries, NFL week five’s Monday night football game should be a good one. Although the two clubs are just 2-2, the San Diego Chargers and Pittsburgh Steelers both have legitimate playoff aspirations for this 2015 season. Pittsburgh is coming off a 23-20 home overtime loss to the Ravens a week ago Thursday, while the Chargers eked out a 30-27 home victory over the Browns last Sunday. Both teams are currently 2-2 and are seeking to keep within two games of undefeated leaders in their respective divisions (the 5-0 Denver Broncos and Cincinnati Bengals). Game kicks off at 8:30 pm eastern time and is broadcast on ESPN.

 

San Diego entered the week with the NFL’s number one offense (since surpassed by the Patriots), averaging 421 yards per game. Quarterback Philip Rivers has single handily carried the Charger offense, completing 71% of his throws and averaging 312 passing yards per game. San Diego will be without three starters on offense: LT King Dunlap (concussion), LG Orlando Franklin (ankle) and WR Stevie Johnson (hamstring), and has five other starting or key offensive players injured (C Chris Watt, RG D.J. Fluker, OL Chris Hairston, WR Jacoby Jones, WR Malcom Floyd). The Chargers do get TE Antonio Gates back after serving a four-game suspension for a banned substance, but the biggest obstacle for San Diego will be giving Rivers a clean pocket behind a banged-up makeshift offensive line.

 

The Pittsburgh secondary has improved since the debacle against the Patriots in week one, but it is still a work in progress. That group has been helped out by an effective pass rush; the Steeler front seven versus San Diego’s o-line will be the key to the game. If Rivers has enough time he is capable of torching the Pittsburgh defensive backfield with throws to Gates, WR Keenan Allen (33 receptions for 387 yards and 3 TD) and old friend Danny Woodhead (16 catches for 203 yards; 347 yards from scrimmage and 7.1 yards per touch).

 

The Steelers will have had 11 days to get Michael Vick acclimated to the offense, so he should be more productive than he was a week ago. With Antonio Bryant (an NFL-best 119.5 yards receiving per game) on the field, San Diego cannot focus on stopping RB Le’Veon Bell. Bell is averaging 4.7 yards per carry and 95.5 yards rushing per game, and should feast on a San Diego defense that is allowing 4.9 Yards per carry (third worst in the NFL).

 

Both the Steelers and Ravens have had a tendency to let down and underachieve in games after they play each other; we saw a glimpse of that Sunday when Baltimore was defeated at home by the Cleveland Browns. Add in OC Todd Haley‘s often perplexing and overly conservative play calling, and Pittsburgh is far from a lock to win this game – despite San Diego’s woes on defense (they have allowed at least 24 points in every game thus far) and their MASH-unit of an offensive line. The Steelers are 2-7 west of the Rockies in the Mike Tomlin era; the last time Pittsburgh won a game in the pacific time zone was ten years ago. To get an idea of how long ago that was, Ben Roethlisberger was in his second year in the NFL.

 

Prediction: I don’t feel strongly either way in this game; it’s easy to find reasons why either team should win (or lose). I’ll go with the Chargers to win, but Pittsburgh keeping it close enough to cover before a Tomlin brain cramp gives the game away.

 

Pick: Chargers 27, Steelers 24

Steelers +3½; over 45½; Steelers +155