Pre-Game Meal: San Diego

NEPD Staff Writer: Brian Delabarrera

The Patriots return home from Miami with a ‘W’ under their belts and a home opener on their plates.

The formidable San Diego Chargers come to town. LT’s former teammates come in at 1-0 after putting up over 400 yards of total offense against the Vikings in Week 1, mostly through the air.

San Diego is led by QB Phillip Rivers who tossed a couple of touchdowns to RB Mike Tolbert.

Tolbert, although not the starting back, was a force to be reckoned with in the red zone; it will be key for the home team to douse their fire in these critical 20-yard chess matches.

In their first outing, Tom Brady and the Patriots went into Miami and put up +500 passing yards in a decimation of the Dolphin’s secondary. Brady came out and completed his first 8 or so passes, scoring on his first two drives. Everything just seemed to be clicking.

The injury at center to Dan Koppen is one that will continue to plague the Patriots depth-wise, however, fill-in Dan Connolly did everything the Hoodie ordered with ease. As long as Connolly can keep his shotgun-formation snaps hitting Brady in his hands, the return of OT Sebastian Vollmer should allow Brady to continue to move his offense down the field.

The home crowd must be loud, our home fans haven’t been the best in recent years; this year that won’t be the case. This home opener proves to be highly emotional as the Patriots honor the late, great Myra Kraft.

Before I hop in to this week’s Pre-Game Meal, I want to speak on “Bill Belichick: A Football Life” that aired Thursday night on the NFL network. I was so pleased at the piece of film, I sat there for a straight hour practically in awe.

It was refreshing to see BB as a normal guy, and it was even better to get a glimpse of what it is like to be a member of this squad and hear his private speeches.

Size Matters – Every year that the Patriots play the Chargers, the biggest concern of mine is the overall size of their receiving corps. Pro-Bowl wideout Vincent Jackson has a name that now speaks for itself, but at 6’5″, 230 lbs, Jackson has the ability leap over most and power through many.

To his opposite side is the athletic, also 6’5″ WR Malcolm Floyd. These two guys can cause any secondary to go haywire, but when you throw in San Diego’s overly productive, 6′ 4″ All-World TE Antonio Gates focus on coverage becomes paramount.

It will be so important that the defensive line can create pressure; running too many linebacker blitzes most certainly will open up one of these giants, or at least give them a one-on-one height advantage over McCourty, Bodden, and Dowling. McCourty had a pretty decent first game last week making 11 total tackles, 10 solo.

According to ESPN.com, McCourty was able to defend a NFL-high 14/15 deep passes in 2010-11. Negating the long ball will be mostly on the shoulders of McCourty, I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt too this weekend. Don’t expect him to get burned often, he knows what’s at state. LB Jerod Mayo will have his hands full in the flat keeping an eye on the receivers and making sure RBs Ryan Matthews or Mike Tolbert don’t break out underneath.

Dam the Rivers – Corny, yes. Trivial, no. Phillip Rivers has almost everything you want in a franchise QB, can make the serious throws, and can also put on one heck of temper tantrum. In Week 1, he picked apart the Vikings defense with some ease, considering a special teams mishap in the beginning and the injury to K Nate Kaeding, passing for 335 yards, 2 scores, and 2 picks.

Rivers is protected by a sturdy offensive line and with all of the weapons at the Chargers’ disposal, the Patriots defensive lineman Albert Haynesworth and Vince Wilfork will need to make their presence be known without help from their other front 7.

While Haynesworth only made 2 tackles on the stat sheet in his debut, the story cannot be told there. On the field he caused a couple of holding penalties on Richie Incognito and demanded a lot of double team which opened up the gaps.

Young lineman Myron Pryor also make disturbances when he was on the field Monday night, help from him and Mike Wright would be so clutch. Getting inside of Rivers’ head is a huge piece in the puzzle of defeating him. Antonio Gates is his escape outlet, in order to get those 3-and-outs the safeties and linebackers must keep the football away from Gates – preferably on the ground, in Rivers’ arms, behind the line of scrimmage.

The Pats secondary doesn’t allow another 400-yard passing performance, but Rivers snags another 2 TDs. If we go into a shootout, we may not like the outcome with this defense still trying to figure itself out.

An aside on Gates – in 8 seasons with the Chargers, Gates has racked up over 7,000 receiving yards, 537 receptions, and 69 TDs. He practically revolutionized the TE position and paved the way for the Hernandezes and Vernon Davises while still sitting close to the top of the whole pack.

Safety Patrick Chung has to, has to, has to stay in front of Gates, under no circumstance should Chung avert his attention from a sprinting #85

Tom the Great vs. An Old Enemy – This offseason, San Diego picked up the ever-injured, former Indianapolis Colt S Bob Sanders. Regardless of whatever thickness the glass is that Sanders’ bones are made out of, he still is one of the smartest, top-tier safeties in the game today.

Bob’s number will constantly be in Brady’s vision and his speed constantly on the OB’s mind. Next to him will be safety Eric Weddle-also not one to mess too much with.

The tight end passing attack seems to still be able to work for the Patriots. On Monday night we ever saw them line up some 3 tight end packages. I expect a lot of the same this coming Sunday.

Veteran CB Quentin Jammer is very familiar with New England’s quarterback and vice versa. He has an uncanny ability for making some kind of play on the ball, WR Chad OchoCinco will need to keep his head in the game more this time and his awareness at a high. Brady won’t toss it to Ocho unless he feels confident that 85 isn’t going to undermined by a Charger. After former Patriot Tedy Bruschi’s comments, the spotlight is in your face, Mr. Gold Cleats.

Hernandez and Gronk each brought in a touchdown against the Dolphins and are poised to at least scored another one between the two of them at Gilette in Week 2.

San Diego’s pass rush is a familiar enemy too, LBs Shaun Phillips and new addition Takeo Spikes will keep Brady on his toes all game. Phillips can really get around a corner and make the QB pay. OT Nate Solder did an awesome job silencing Cameron Wake in the season debut, his services will be of upmost importance again this weekend protecting Brady from the defensive push of Phillips.

Takeo Spikes is also a threat, but more so in picking one of Brady’s passes off. However with Brady’s recent accuracy, I really don’t see this issue manifesting.

Welker will also play a huge role in this one. After watching him burst down the field for a 99.5 yards off a Brady quick toss, it’s evident that Welker still has it. Quick throws to Welker and some more of that no-huddle, shotgun draw plays and I think San Diego is in for a long afternoon.

The Mysterious Running Game – For San Diego, RB Ryan Mathews is the guy who gets it in between the 20 yard lines. Mike Tolbert uses his size to give the Chargers an advantage in the red area.

Mathews had 7 TDs and almost 700 rushing yards in his rookie season (’10) with an avg. of 4.3 yards per carry. This year looks very good for the second year running back from Fresno State who should see an increased amount gameplan should he keep his fumbles under control.

That being said, linebackers need to bring the house, it wouldn’t be too bad if they could cause him to cough one up. Big back, Mike Tolbert is a serious threat. His 3 touchdowns last Sunday equal all of the Chargers scores less one field goal. He has increased his production level greatly since last season, already catching one less pass this season than he did in ’09 and ’10 combined. It’s not going to be easy for either team to move the ball easily, as the league becomes more and more of a passing-oriented one, but the line needs to close all the gaps and keep the daylight from shining through those holes.

For New England, BenJarvus Green Ellis is back to his powering through defenders and getting just what the Pats need. He looks to slip through holes left by injured DE Luis Castillo and improve on his 34 yd, 1 TD outing in Miami. A huge advantage for the Patriots comes in the form of 195 lb RB Danny Woodhead. This guy had 30 more yards that Green-Ellis last week, how will Bill distribute the handoffs this week? However, if any team knows how to remove the little fire-starter players from an offense it is San Diego… you may remember a fella they had a while back named Darren Sproles, right?

If Woody can manage to slip through LB coverage from guys like Phillips out of the backfield, Brady will have a field day making San Diego pay underneath. This is why it is so important for Chad to “get his head in the playbook” and make the defensive backs bite on his routes.

Wildcards –

San Diego – WR Patrick Crayton – The former Cowboy has the ability to catch and run, even with some aging. I’m not saying this guy will be a factor, but while paying attention to detail (i.e. Jackson, Floyd, Gates, Tolbert), I expect Crayton to be the easier target to slip through NE’s coverage. It would be a real shame if we had to give up a touchdown to Crayton.

New England – Special Teams – The Chargers let the Minnesota Vikings bring a return back for a TD in Week 1. If the Patriots coaching staff can put the players in position to have some big confidence in their home opener. We may see one of the young Pats bring a punt or a kickoff back. Hey, I wouldn’t mind a blocked field goal either, especially with their starting kicker out. Gotta hit them where their weak.

OchoCinco… we’re still waiting. I’d love to have something good to write here about you.

-B.DelaBarrera

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