When the Chargers have the ball, the match ups are much more favorable for them. You can move the ball on this Patriots defense and the Chargers certainly have the weapons to do so. The problem is finding the end zone. Over the last 4 games, opponents are 5-12 at converting touchdowns in the red area. These are good offenses we're talking about, too. That will be the challenge for Frank Reich and the offense. Field goals won't and don't beat the Patriots. Let's get into the match ups.
More new lineman?
Somehow, D.J. Fluker suffered a concussion sometime during Wednesday's practice. Chris Watt has yet to practice this week which leaves 2 lineman to start at right tackle and center, respectively, that have played a combined 81 snaps this year. San Diego will need to continue to get creative with their running game and we've seen that the last few weeks as the offense have sprinkled in more counters as well as wrinkles to their blocking schemes. Jeff diagrammed Ryan Mathews touchdown that had some "pin and pull" action that worked beautifully. New England is 16th in DVOA at stopping the run and are 23rd in adjusted line yards for defensive lines. However, teams haven't been consistent running against them in the past month as they've only given up 3.5 yards per carry the last 4 games.
The Packers had success on back-to-back plays early on in the game on a pair of stretch zone runs. One was to the strong side of the formation, the other to the weak side of the formation. The runs resulted in 24 and 13 yards.
I highlighted both inside linebackers in the first picture because New England will walk up and sugar the A-gaps, but, in my opinion, this makes it easier for offensive lineman in a zone scheme as they're able to just take the man who's lined up head up on them where they want to go. The Chargers don't run nearly as much outside of the tackles as they should. Since his return, Ryan Mathews has 8 carries for 41 yards outside of the tackles. Last week, on one of the only stretch zone runs they ran, Mathews was a split second away from breaking a 60+ yard TD run had he not slipped/King Dunlap not fell off of his blocks. Here is another missed opportunity on a misdirection/counter run (that I'm sure will make Nick happy).
Mathews takes 2 steps to his right to sell the run action to the weak side of the formation. The line all block down to their right as well, causing the linebackers to take a couple false steps. By the time Mathews has the ball, everyone has a "hat on a hat" and there is a good-sized crease right behind King Dunlap, who has 57 walled off at the second level. Mathews presses the line of scrimmage just a bit too quickly and runs into the CB (who is the defender in front of 55 in the final picture). This isn't to blame Mathews. It's just to show that opportunities are there and should be there against New England as well. We all know Vince Wilfork and what he means to the middle of this defense. But whoever is lined up next to him, on both sides, can be ran at and that should be the plan of attack for the Chargers.
Challenging Revis Island?
Unlike last week, it's not like you're trying to fit a square peg into a round hole when trying to run the ball. That said, you still have the advantage on the perimeter. New England has shown to be a very heavy man-to-man coverage team in recent weeks and have gone the 90's Dallas Cowboys route where they'll put their best CB on your number 2 WR and roll coverage to your number 1 WR. They've also faced 3 of the top WRs in the league in the past month. On my podcast, Ethan noted that the Patriots have been susceptible to screens and short, crossing routes, and after watching, it's easy to see why. You can pick their defenders off with rub routes, or create throwing lanes with simple man-coverage beaters like a "slant/flat combo." The Packers ran this with a great amount of success.
I'd expect Darrelle Revis to shadow Keenan Allen. I know I said that the Patriots put their second best CB on other teams best WR's but Brandon Browner isn't fluid enough to stay with Keenan. It would be smart for the Patriots. Revis is special. He's physical enough to take Calvin Johnson out of the game, technical enough to stick with Jordy Nelson, fast enough to cover Golden Tate, and savvy enough to match up with Reggie Wayne. There's literally no weakness in his game. Everywhere else? Advantage, Chargers. When teams have success, it's when they spread the Patriots out and force them to play extra DB's. Just like last week, San Diego needs to do the same this week. I'm also not convinced that this secondary is a sound, or even willing, tackling unit. Eddie Royal and Allen should be able to make things happen after the catch.
The true X factor is at the tight end position. Could this be the week they give Ladarius Green more than 2 targets? Probably not. It'll be interesting to see how they match up with Antonio Gates, who showed what happens when you put linebackers on him a week ago. Against the Colts and Broncos, Browner played against the tight end. Gates seems like he's always open and I'm not sure there is a player on the Patriots, sans Revis, who can match up with him. Now's probably a good time to mention New England is 31st in DVOA when it comes to defending tight ends.
Will Rivers have time?
The Patriots only have 7 sacks in the last 4 games. If Chandler Jones is indeed out, there's no true edge rusher that's a legitimate threat. From the picture above, they do like to bring 1 or both inside linebackers up the middle and they are both very good blitzers. New center Trevor Robinson will have to pick up where he left off a week ago.
Blowing 1 block (against a blitz), with no preparation all week, when all the team did was pass, is a pretty impressive feat. He'll have to be on the same page with both guards this game. The good thing is Rivers will wait until the very last second to deliver the pass, even if it means him getting blasted. It's arguably one of if not his best trait. He showed it against Baltimore.
The last thing I want to touch on is double moves. Because the Patriots play so much man coverage, they're susceptible to biting on underneath routes and giving up the big play. Because there's usually only 1 safety, he's unable to get to these routes outside of the numbers. You can see big chunk plays in the last few games on these. It's something Allen scored on last week and something that's in the playbook that the Chargers have used successfully.
This ones going to be fun. I hate the match up for San Diego on defense, but there's no doubt in my mind that the offense can keep pace. Unfortunately, I think the Patriots will get 1 more score and 1 more stop. Missing 2 lineman is huge and not having anyone in the secondary to match up against Edelman or Gronk leads to this prediction: 33-27, Patriots.