In the past, a game against the Patriots would be daunting on the schedule. Now, it’s just a minor inconvenience. Despite a losing record at 5-6, Bill Belichick is still their head coach which means you’re going to be in for a tough outing as he’ll fight like hell to exploit your weaknesses from start to finish.
But unlike the past 20 years, there’s actual, tangible hope in this matchup with the Patriots and that’s good enough for me, and probably a lot of you.
This game may also be quite ugly. It’ll likely be low-scoring and have a lack of fireworks, but a potential win, no matter the manner in which it’s acquired, is still a win.
1.) Make Cam Newton pause in the pocket
During Joey Bosa’s presser this week with the media, I asked him if he felt any lingering frustration from the last time they faced the Patriots during the divisional round of the 2018 playoffs. In that game, Tom Brady consistently got the ball out before Bosa could even get near him. It was a big game for slot receiver Julian Edelman and the Chargers had no answers for that connection all game long.
Bosa told me he isn’t too worried about another situation like that because Cam likes to hold on to the ball a bit longer as he knows he’s a big, strong player who can take the punishment compared to most passers. Due to this, Bosa is confident he should be able to get home at least once on Sunday.
To help make that prediction come true, the Chargers pass defense will have to “marry” the pass rush, meaning both units will have to play well to benefit the other. Even without Casey Hayward — he’s questionable this week after logging just one limited practice on Friday — the Bolts secondary held Josh Allen to less than 160 yards passing and Bosa had the best game of his entire five-year career.
If they can have a repeat performance, it’ll make the day just that much easier for an offense that may not need to play catch-up at any point in this one.
2.) Get big on the defensive line
It does not take anything close to a rocket scientist to understand that the Patriots offense is going to give the Chargers all they can handle on the ground. As Anthony Lynn told us this week, the Patriots like to run it with Newton on every down. It doesn’t matter if it’s 3rd/4th-and-short. They’ll test your trenches even when you least expect it.
With Melvin Ingram done for the year, Jerry Tillery playing the base end spot, and Bosa holding down the LEO role, this defense line added a decent amount of size in their front four. Three guys over 300 pounds and Bosa at 275-280 gives this team, at least on paper, one of the bigger fronts in the NFL. Unfortunately, Tillery isn’t the best player of the run yet and the second level is without Kyzir White, and possibly Denzel Perryman, who is doubtful after sustaining an injury against Buffalo. It’ll be up to Kenneth Murray, Nick Vigil, and 2020 UDFA Cole Christiansen to bring the support, and I’m not sure that inspires a ton of confidence in the fan base.
Due to this, I wasn’t surprised to see them promote rookie defensive tackle Breiden Fehoko again to add some mass to their depth along the interior. Fehoko, in single-digit snaps last week, finished with a pair of pressures on Josh Allen, good for second on the team.
3.) Get everyone else involved on offense
The Patriots employ the reigning defensive player of the year in cornerback Stephon Gilmore and it’s highly likely that he gets tasked with covering Keenan Allen on Sunday. After all, he does lead the NFL in receptions and targets, so it’s easy to see that Herbert relies on the Slayer to keep the offense on track. But if Herbert can’t rely on Allen like he normally does, this has the makings of a game where Mike Williams, Hunter Henry, and maybe even Jalen Guyton will have one of their bigger games.
On the year, Gilmore has allowed 21 receptions on 37 targets for 261 yards and a single touchdown.
The Patriots have 12 players with a “questionable” tag heading into Sunday and all of them were limited or non-participants. Among them were cornerback J.C. Jackson, safety Kyle Dugger, and linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley. All of them are starters who could potentially be responsible for covering the secondary offensive weapons in the Bolts offense. If any of them miss this game, the Chargers need to capitalize.