Pre Game Meal: San Diego Chargers

It's Back To The Future in New England.

NEPD Staff Writer: B. Delabarrera

Tomorrow afternoon at Qualcomm Stadium, for the first time since 2008, the Patriots (4-1) face off against their AFC pals from the west IN the west: the San Diego Chargers (2-4).

However, these Chargers are not quite the same as those from years past or quite as healthy. Injuries to Antonio Gates, Malcolm Floyd, Buster Davis, Legedu Naanee, and Ryan Matthews have really slowed down this high-flying offense. It looks like Patrick Crayton may be starting at wide receiver for the Chargers and while no one probably saw that coming two weeks ago, I’m sure no one in New England is complaining.

Seeking to add on to their crucial, overtime home win against Baltimore and a 3-game winning streak, the Patriot defense should be foaming at the mouth over the thought of this potential road-win on Sunday.

Don’t let the stats fool you, this top-ranked passing offense boasts big numbers not because of their success in the offensive phase, it’s mostly due to the failure of the special teams’ phase. The Chargers’ special teams have played poorly all season and constantly put QB Phillip Rivers in a position to spend more time on the field trying to salvage their record.

The Battle of the Special Teams – With that being said, the injuries that will be limiting the potency of San Diego’s offense will coincidentally also be creating opportunities for New England’s punt and field goal blocking units. I can’t help but feel that Patrick Chung is especially excited for this game.

The Chargers have had two punts blocked in Oakland and Patriots’ second year safety has had a knack for special team heroics since his days back in Oregon. In five games, the Chargers’ ST have allowed four touchdowns and a safety; three of those touchdowns came in the form of returns, so Brandon Tate should be pumped up to get out there and try and take one back himself.

Norv Turner vs. Antonio Gate’s toe – Missing practice all week and having a broken toe are two really bad things if you are a player in the National Football League.

Even for a superstar player like TE Antonio Gates, a broken toe will put some kind of hamper on the toughest guys. His status will probably stay unannounced until game-time. And if he does line up, it will likely be against the physical safety Patrick Chung.

Chung knows just how good Gates is and credits it to his physical skill as well. In his recent comments to Boston Herald’s Dan Duggan about Gates’ ability he explained, “He knows how to use his body, that’s why he’s very good.” With 7 TDs and almost 500 yards in five games, it’s clear that Antonio Gates is a problem for any defense. Every play that he is not involved in the offense is a greater chance to make a big play.

Aaron Hernandez vs Himself – After dropping way too many passes against the Ravens, expect Hernandez to shake off his spotty play from last week and continue on his impressive rookie campaign.

Tom Brady knows just how much of threat a player as versatile as #85 is, and will look to get him the ball if the coverage looks promising. Aaron will still be shaking off defenders and getting open just like his all-world opposition in the powder blue.

The Little Guys vs. The Best Guys – The San Diego defense if ranked first in pass defense and Patriots’ wide-receivers Deion Branch and Wes Welker are both 5’9″. While one might be quick to give the advantage to CBs Antoine Cason and Quentin Jammer, the Chargers are still going to have to game-plan to keep speedster Brandon Tate from breaking loose for a big one.

That in itself should present chances for the little guys like Welker and Branch to get open. Brady-to-Branch picked up right where it left off a few years ago; these two looked like they had a whole bunch of practices together last week. Welker will manage to continue accumulating 5-7 catches per game and probably a couple of first downs underneath.

Phillip Rivers vs. Brandon Merriweather – Now even with Patrick Crayton, Buster Davis, and probably not Malcolm Floyd at wide-receiver, Rivers is a good passer and will still be able to move the ball. The bottom line is that these guys playing WR are not starter-material. If they were, they probably would be, right?

At home this season Rivers has completed about 75% of his passes for 575 yards, 5 TDs, and 2 picks. That results in a pretty passer rating of 130.9 for anyone who likes that kind of thing. I expect his performance tomorrow to be lackluster in comparison to those statistics if the Patriots starting defensive backs can manage to smother most of the Chargers second string. That’s how it should be, at least. (here’s your shot, Darius Butler)

Wild Card – A two-way tie between rookie OLB/DE Jermaine Cunningham and Phillip Rivers’ temper! Jermaine Cunningham looked good against Baltimore’s Michael Oher last week, getting around the edge quick and even recording his first sack by forcing a Joe Flacco fumble that Flacco eventually picked back up.

If he can get in Phillip Rivers’ head or, even better, his pocket on Sunday, it could send Rivers off the deep end. My dream scenario looks somethings like this: late in the second quarter, after constant passing woes on every drive, an angry Phillip Rivers gears up for an epic drive to tie the game. On third-and-long, great coverage by Darius Butler and Devin McCourty allows Jermaine Cunningham to get to Rivers. He fumbles.

The Patriots recover with great field position and squeak in another touchdwon before the half. Over on the sideline Rives gets into an argument with a fan and throws his Gatorade at him/her. He’s ejected and Billy Volek comes in for the second half to send the Chargers to 2-5 without so much as a fight.

This game might not be so close as some people may think.

“You are what your record says you are.” – Bill Parcells

-B.DelaBarrera

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