FOXBOROUGH – While everyone’s busy getting lubed up, here are five keys (and a few more) to the Patriots emerging with a victory in today’s home opener against the San Diego Chargers:
1. Control TE Antonio Gates: He is the whole key to the Chargers’ passing offense. Philip Rivers likes to throw short – 70 percent of his passes went to backs and tight ends against the Vikings. Take away his favorite target and make him throw deep to his receivers, who aren’t great if you’re physical with them.
2. Watch the run fits: If there’s something that concerns me about the Patriots’ defense in the early going is it’s run fits. The Dolphins exploited them a little early on Monday night, and it was shaky at times in the preseason. The 3-4 defense is a better run defense. As a 4-3, you have to be precise with your fun fits between the linemen and the linebackers. The Patriots just haven’t had enough time to rep them since seven of the top 14 players missed long stretches of the preseason. Chargers RB Ryan Mathews is type of quick back that could expose the Patriots on some quick hitters, although the Chargers like to run more power.
3. Return of the 3-4? For the top two keys, I’m wondering if today we could see a return of the 3-4 front. It would be the best defense to combat the dinking and dunking of Chargers, and would be difficult to block for San Diego on the ground. Of course, this is predicated on guys like Brandon Spikes and Gary Guyton being available. If the Patriots were truly a hybrid team, you would think this would be the game where they at least mix in more 3-4. Play Albert Haynesworth and Shaun Ellis at the ends, with Vince Wilfork in the middle. Andre Carter and Mark Anderson would be sub rushers.
4. Exploit special teams mismatch: The Chargers’ special teams still aren’t good, and with Julian Edelman (punts and kickoffs) and Matthew Slater or Shane Vereen (kickoffs), the Patriots should have a big advantage. Edelman should be able to have a big day. He’s a good football player.
5. Make the Chargers go on long drives: San Diego has never started 2-0 under Norv Turner as they’ve constantly had slow starts. The Chargers are very prone to making dumb mistakes. Make them run as many offensive plays as possible to give them a chance to hang themselves.
Bonus #6: Protect Tom Brady. This is an every-game kind of thing but the Patriots couldn’t block the Chargers last year. New England was lucky the Chargers turned it over four drives in a row. Matt Light must be better against Shaun Phillips and Antwan Barnes. Dan Connolly needs to control the middle against Antonio Garay, among others.
Bonus #7: Get Chargers S Bob Sanders isolated on one of the tight ends and exploit that matchup all day. He can’t matchup in the pass game.
I won’t believe in the Chargers, at least early in seasons, until they prove otherwise. They obviously have a very talented team but they are so undisciplined. We’re thinking the Patriots capitalize on an early mistake or two and it’s off to the races.
Patriots 37, Chargers 23