"I'll be over there in the ice tub" - Antonio Gates (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
The Week 7 against the San Diego Chargers is a potential trap game for the New England Patriots. The Chargers are much, much better than their 2-4 record so the Patriots still need to be on the top of their game in order to succeed and come back from the West Coast with a win. So what should the Patriots look for?
3. Chargers Wide Receivers - Vincent Jackson. Malcom Floyd. Legadu Naanee. Buster Davis. These four receivers should send chills down the spines of any secondary in the NFL. Only problem is that there's a high chance that none of these players will play. Jackson is definitely out with a contract dispute. Malcom Floyd is almost definitely out with a hamstring injury. Legadu Naanee missed last week and did not practice on Wednesday or Thursday with an injured hamstring, meaning that he might not play this week. Buster Davis practiced on Wednesday, but missed Thursday practice with bruised ribs and should be a day-to-day decision.
That leaves Patrick Crayton, former #3 receiver for the Dallas Cowboys, as the only remaining receiver of any real threat to the secondary. Devin McCourty should be up to the challenge as the Patriots try and eliminate all of Phillip Rivers' targets down the field. Crayton can still do some damage on the field; last week he carved up the Rams for 6 receptions and 117 yards.
The Patriots' defense is better than the Rams' defense and should look to limit Rivers' production. If the Patriots can force the Chargers to run the ball with fullback Mike Tolbert (5-9, 243 lbs), Ryan Matthews (rookie, dealing with his own ankle injury) and Darren Sproles (5-6, 190 lbs and has seen reducing playing time this season), the Patriots have a much higher chance of winning the game. Stopping the injured passing attack and forcing a weakened running game plays right into the Patriots game plan on beating the Chargers.
2. Antonio Gates - I didn't forget about Gates. Gates is one of the best, if not the best tight end today. He's also dealing with a toe injury. In Week 6 against the Rams, Gates injured his toe and was seen with a boot for the beginning of the week. He missed practice on Wednesday and Thursday and the Chargers are planning the game as if he won't be available. Gates is expected to be a day-to-day decision, just like their receivers Naanee and Davis, which means the Patriots must still plan for him on game day. An injured Gates, however, further weakens the Chargers offense and takes away another of their down the field threats. Expect the Patriots to push Gates around on the line if he plays and not give him any free releases.
Look for Pat Chung to keep an eye on Gates all day, with help underneath from Dane Fletcher or Gary Guyton. Heck, the Patriots may even put a cornerback on Gates if the Chargers receivers are as depleted as they possibly could be. If Gates gets jammed, the Chargers will have to look to their #2 option (Crayton) or check the ball down to Matthews (possible ankle injury) or Sproles. Taking away the deep pass from Rivers and Gates allows the defense to play closer to the line of scrimmage to prevent running plays and slow down check down passes.
Slowing Gates will bring their passing game to an almost certain standstill. Watch out for Gates as he's a game day decision.
1. Special Teams - Big one. All Pro kicker Nate Kaeding is out with an injury and new veteran Kris Brown, formerly of the Houston Texans, is trying to fill his shoes. Brown is a very good kicker, but he was cut for a reason- he had a cold foot. Hopefully, that cold foot is still around and the fact that he hasn't played recently will be a benefit for the Patriots special teams.
Here are some other Chargers stats to look at:
32nd - League rank of opponents average punt return (24.4 yards/return), worst in the league
2 - Number of kickoffs returned for touchdowns, worst in the league
34.0 - Average net yards on punts, worst in the league
3 - Number of punts blocked against the Chargers, worst in the league
1 - Number of field goals blocked against the Chargers
So there are some things to look forward to. Brandon Tate needs to have a massive game on special teams and give the Patriots some great field position every time he touches the ball.
9 - Fumbles Lost by the Chargers, worst in the league (Raiders have fumbled 13 times, but only lost 2 of them)