How Much Will Bob Sanders Play Versus the Patriots?

One game into the Bob Sanders experiment and the man is already looking like he could make that $2 million contract he signed with the San Diego Chargers look like a bargain. He certainly made the Bolts' run defense seem stronger against the Vikings and his presence on the field seemed to fire the guys up. Here's his full line from the game, according to ProFootballFocus.com:

35 total snaps (out of 45 team defensive snaps): 23 against the run and 12 in coverage

4 tackles, 1 missed tackle and 2 "stops" (a tackle that constitutes an offensive failure)

 

Sanders' numbers are actually surprisingly similar to Eric Weddle's, with the one big difference being that Weddle blitzed twice and got pressure on Donovan McNabb both times. However, the Chargers coaches have let it be known that Bob will be taken off of the field in passing situations both for the sake of his health and to hide a weakness in his game (coverage). The picture you see to the right was an early example of Sanders' size making it difficult for him to cover taller WRs and TEs (although PFF has that play down as blown coverage by Spikes).

With San Diego heading to New England to face the pass-happy Patriots on Sunday, how comfortable are the Chargers with having Sanders on the field?

On top of being pass-happy (53 passes against 27 runs against the Dolphins on MNF), the Patriots can and will switch into a no-huddle offense if they spot a weakness in the defense. For instance, if they think they can attack Bob Sanders in the passing game. Switching into the no-huddle makes it near-impossible for the defense to change personnel (just ask the Dolphins, who wore themselves out trying), so the Chargers could be stuck with Sanders on the field until the drive was over or the Patriots switched out of the no-huddle.

Steve Gregory, who is the Chargers' Strong Safety on obvious passing downs, played on 13 snaps on Sunday. If you've done your math, you've already figured out that there were 3 plays in which Weddle, Sanders and Gregory were all on the field for the defense. Those could've been the 3 that Gregory played the run, leaving 10 plays in which he dropped back in coverage.

Last season, with Gregory suspended during the Week 7 game, the Patriots tried to attack Paul Oliver with TE Aaron Hernandez unsuccessfully. After being thrown at 4 times and giving up just 1 catch (for 6 yards), Tom Brady switched his focus to attacking the MLBs, Stephen Cooper and Kevin Burnett. He threw in their direction 11 times and came away with 10 completions for 90 yards. Donald Butler and Takeo Spikes can expect to be similarly tested.

Getting back to Sanders, he's quite a bit smaller than Paul Oliver. Even defending the undersized (for a TE) Aaron Hernandez could be difficult for him. Due to that, there has to be at least some concern among the San Diego coaches about putting him out on the field and having the Patriots go into the no-huddle to attack him. If that happens, and it ends with the Patriots getting six points, I wouldn't be surprised to see Bob getting familiar with the bench for the remainder of the game and for Gregory and Darrell Stuckey to take some of those snaps in his place.

Also, one thing that you won't hear anybody say this to the media but it's certainly being thought about: If the Chargers' plan to keep Sanders healthy is to give him a few plays off here and there, the Patriots could use the no-huddle to keep him on the field with the hopes that he gets winded or injured in the process.

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