The San Diego Chargers are set to kick-off week two of the 2011 NFL season against a team that's already being considered the team to beat in the AFC.
It's no surprise that this game is going to be a measuring stick for the Chargers -- the Patriots' offense looked absolutely unstoppable against the Miami Dolphins Monday night, even with the Fins' top-ranked defense putting the pressure on the Pats' wide-outs.
If the Chargers are going to come out with a win, here are some things the team needs to watch for:
1. Big plays off of short passes. Although it's tough to deny Tom Brady's level of play against the Miami Dolphins, his receivers were a bit over-looked in Miami. Brady was slinging in passes on target and to the right guys, but Wes Welker, Aaron Hernandez and Danny Woodhead all got a plethora of yardage after hauling in a Brady pass.
Both Hernandez and Welker managed to gain 150 yards after the catch. For non-math nerds, that's 30 percent of Brady's 516 yards.
And that's what killed the Dolphins' secondary. Brady didn't get in too many deep passes and settled for those dump-offs to his speedy wide-outs in open space. Brady did an awesome job of placing the ball where it needed to be, but ultimately, the Dolphins' lack of speed and tackling abilities hurt them the most.
If the Chargers want to come away winners, they're going to have to rely heavily on guys like Eric Weddle, Bob Sanders and Takeo Spikes to prevent big YAC. On the plus side? All three are some of the best tacklers the NFL has to offer.
2. The Pats' pass rush. The Minnesota Vikings did a great job of getting into the Chargers' back-field; not only did the running game suffer, but the Chargers' pass game was surprisingly off for the first half of the game.
The Patriots' pass rush is going to be about the same story -- Albert Haynesworth proved to be a disruptive force in the middle as he clogged up lanes and often took the attention of two offensive linemen. Add the Pats' second big-dawg Vince Wilfork to the equation, and things are going to get messy.
The Chargers' offensive line usually boasts one of the better pass-blocking games in the NFL (unless it's the first game of the 2011 season). The battle in the trenches should be fun to watch.
3. The Patriots' running back tandem. It was a little scary to see what BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead did to the Dolphins' front seven Monday night; that's because the Dolphins' down linemen and linebackers are well-regarded, especially with the addition of former Chargers' linebacker Kevin Burnett.
The Chargers' linebackers had one of the best games we've seen from linebackers in San Diego in quite some time against Adrian Peterson -- Takeo Spikes anchored the unit extremely well and helped to slow Peterson down and allow Weddle, Sanders and the rest of the crew to take down AP28. But with the trickery that Bill Belichick employs, will the Chargers be kept on their toes too often to stop the run consistently?
4. The Patriots' weak secondary. It's possible that Chad Henne has improved miles from last year, but it's also possible that Henne was playing a weak secondary when he threw for over 400 yards Monday night.
If there's one way to legitimately exploit the Patriots', it's the secondary. Because while the Dolphins wide-outs are really good, they aren't enough to let Henne put up numbers that good without wondering about the level of defending from the opposition.
Obviously, Philip Rivers is a metric crap-load better at reading secondaries and throwing the ball into tighter coverage. Vincent Jackson and Malcolm Floyd are also a better tandem than Davone Bess and Brandon Marshall. The Chargers can get to an awesome start if they can exploit the Pats' corners early and often.