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3 things to watch for against the Patriots

Here’s what I’ll be watching as the Chargers look to bounce back following the bye.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v New England Patriots Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

Finally, there will be a Chargers football game on the televission in a little over 48 hours from the posting of this article.

What better way than to try and get back on the right track than by beating the Patriots. It’s not an AFC West rival, but it’s still another franchise that has long been the dominating team throughout the recent history between these two teams.

I think the Chargers matchup well here and are certainly the better team, but it’s just incredibly tough to ever discount Bill Belichick and how he’s always been able to game plan so well against the this franchise.

Will this finally be the game where the Chargers flip the script? Maybe, but there’s still several reasons to keep your optimism reserved. What are they exactly? Well, why don’t get to it then?

1.) Threat of Patriots run game may not be so intimidating

After games against the Browns and Ravens, the Chargers could use a break from playing teams that make a concerted effort to establish the run. The Patriots — who are coming off a lopsided 54-13 victory overt he Jets where they rushed for four touchdowns and 148 yards — are unfortunately expected to try and do just that against the league’s worst rushing defense.

However, we shouldn’t be so quick to assume it’s going to be another long day. Both the Browns and Ravens were, and still are, among the league’s top-four in rushing yards per game. The Patriots, however, are only 24th in the NFL with an average of 95.4 rushing yards per contest. To give that some extra context, the Chargers are the team right below them with 94.7. So what exactly is so scary about this ground game?

I understand the current run defense for the Bolts will likely make that ground game look a lot better in the moment, but by no means should we immediately assume the defense is going to lay down in the same manner that we saw against Cleveland and Baltimore.

2.) Can Mac Jones continue his efficient rookie season against the league’s fourth-ranked pass defense?

So far this season, Jones has faced six different teams through his first seven games, including two games against the Jets in week two and week seven. Through those games, he’s sitting with a completion percentage of 70.6, good for the fourth-highest mark in the league. However, he’s benefitted from a very soft schedule in terms of pass defenses faced. Here are Jones’ first seven opponents along with their current rank in passing yards allowed:

  • Week One: Dolphins - 30th
  • Week Two: Jets - 25th
  • Week Three: Saints - 20th
  • Week Four: Bucs - 23rd
  • Week Five: Texans - 18th
  • Week Six: Dallas - 28th
  • Week Seven: Jets - 25th

Heading into Sunday, the Chargers are currently ranked fourth in the NFL with 201.8 passing yards allowed per game. This is by far going to be the biggest challenge for Jones and a big reason why you can likely expect a healthy dose of Damien Harris and the Patriots’ stable of backs.

If the Chargers are able to pull out some stops on early downs and keep the Patriots behind the chains, there’s a chance that Jones will start looking more like a rookie than he has been, similar to what New England did to Justin Herbert around this time last year.

3.) EDGE Matthew Judon will move to wherever the weakest link is so....over Storm Norton

Judon is arguably the biggest impact player for the Patriots defense other than cornerback J.C. Jackson. After putting on some Patriots film, I noticed Judon was lining up mainly on the right side of the defensive front. This was good news as that meant he’d likely be lining up against Rashawn Slater for most of Sunday’s game. However, depending on the team they were facing, Judon would flip sides. From what I could determine, Bill Belichick was oving Judon to whichever side gave them the biggest matchup. Against the Texans, it was the left side to avoid Laremy Tunsil. Against the Bucs, he was on the right side to avoid Tristan Wirfs.

Against the Chargers, it’s a safe bet to expect Judon to see most of his snaps on the left side. Belichick is too smart not to exploit that obvious mismatch against Storm Norton and Michael Schofield. I add in Schofield that matchup as we’d all be fools not to expect a good amount of stunts and games from the New England front seven. That’s how they throttled this team last year, they’ll likely try some of the same stuff again.

With this in mind, the Bolts may be forced to start giving Norton and the right side some help if things get out of hand early. That’d be a net-negative if the running backs — mainly Austin Ekeler — get forced to start chipping before running their routes.