NEPD Staff Writer: Doug Kyed
Ah Sunday afternoon, not only can we look forward to never hearing again about what former Patriots think of current Patriots cell phone activities, but there’s also a pretty good football game on.
With Philip Rivers coming to town, here’s what I’m looking forward to:
WHO WILL COVER ANTONIO GATES?
I can see this being a pretty big problem area for the Patriots’ defense. The Pats had a hard enough time trying to stop Anthony Fasano Monday night, and now they’re facing the most dominant receiving tight end in the NFL. Gates will be double teamed by New England and my guess is that will mean a lot of Gary Guyton and Sergio Brown.
WHAT ABOUT THE OTHER CHARGERS TARGETS?
Ras-I Dowling had an impressive debut on Monday night and his size and physicality should be perfect to stop the Chargers big WRs. Devin McCourty was targeted 15 times by the Dolphins and allowed 9 receptions for 150 yards. It wasn’t the most encouraging start to his sophomore season, but those stats are better than they seem.
I wouldn’t be surprised to see Dowling start the game again this week, with Leigh Bodden coming in to cover the slot since Vincent Jackson and Michael Floyd offer similar skill sets to Brandon Marshall. Patrick Chung and the Patriots safeties’ cover skills will be tested as Jackson and Floyd are both deep threats.
The Chargers have an impressive left side of their offensive line protecting Rivers, but the right side should be no problem for the Patriots pass rush. The Pats need to get to Rivers early and often to help out the secondary. Jermaine Cunningham and Mark Anderson will be counted on to take over Mike Wright’s production while Wright is out with a concussion.
STOPPING THE CHARGERS RUNNING GAME
Mike Tolbert is currently the Chargers most complete back, but my guess is that Ryan Mathews will actually give the Patriots more trouble. Luckily, since Mathews has had trouble with blitz pickup, Tolbert is likely to be used more often, especially against the Patriots stout pass rush.
The Patriots have the size up the middle to stop Tolbert, but they’ve had trouble with speedy running backs rushing to the outside since transitioning to the 4-3 base. Hopefully with Brandon Spikes healthy (and potentially out of the doghouse) New England can have more success in this regard. More Spikes means less Guyton which means a better rush defense.
MORE RUSHING ATTEMPTS
Last week saw the Patriots carry the ball only 22 times mostly relying on a pass heavy no huddle offense. With Luis Castillo out for the Chargers I wouldn’t be surprised to see a lot more BenJarvus Green-Ellis this week. The more the Patriots get out of the no huddle and the more they rush the ball, the more likely we are to see rookies Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen.
I still expect Danny Woodhead to see more snaps than any other Pats back, but I doubt he’ll dominate the touches and snaps as much as he did last week.
OFFENSIVE LINE ROTATION
Bill Belichick already admitted that we’ll see all three offensive tackles this week against the Chargers, so unless Sebastian Vollmer has a setback on his back injury, I’d expect to see a rotation at both left and right tackle.
Nate Solder might also come in as a 6th offensive lineman in goal line situations and there’s an off chance he could see some time at right guard if Brian Waters isn’t yet ready for a full workload. I have faith in Dan Connolly as a more than capable fill in for Dan Koppen at center.
HOW MUCH OCHOCINCO WILL WE SEE?
Here’s my chance to defend Chad a little bit. Any rookie or veteran typically has about five or six months to learn a new system when he joins a new team. Ochocinco had six or seven weeks to do the same.
I’d also argue that it might be harder as a veteran coming from a simplistic Cincinnati offense than it is coming in with a clean slate as a rookie. With the Patriots going so no huddle-heavy against the Dolphins, it’s obvious why Ochocinco wasn’t getting a heavy snap total. First of all and obviously, the rest of the Patriots targets know the system better.
Second, having both tight ends on the field for the no huddle creates an even bigger advantage for the Pats. Since Aaron Hernandez can line up wide, in the slot or inside, the opposing team has to make a decision whether to bring in another defensive back to cover him or use more of a base defense and they have to stick with that decision.
With a typical third receiver on the field for that same no huddle and there’s essentially no decision to be made there, the opposing team with use a nickel package. The problem for Ochocinco is that there’s really no reason to choose him over Hernandez at this time. Hernandez knows the plays better, he knows Brady better and he’s as fast as a WR. Ochocinco will need to prove that he knows his routes well enough to rotate in with Deion Branch to get playing time.
I do think Chad will get more targets this week, and I’d expect somewhere in the 3 receptions, 50 yards range for him stat-wise.
My prediction for the inactives this week are: Koppen, Wright, Ryan Mallett, Shane Vereen, Taylor Price, Donald Thomas, A.J. Edds.