We all know about the potential injuries against the Chargers. They may be playing on Sunday without their tight end Antonio Gates, or their wide receivers Malcom Floyd, Legadu Naanee and Buster Davis. Even their running back, Ryan Mathews, had limited practice with an ankle injury. So what do the Patriots do to prepare for this game? They don't even know who they'll be playing.
Here's a defense that I believe will work well against the Chargers. It is going to assume that Gates is hobbled by a broken toe and that Floyd and one of Naanee and Davis will miss the game. Therefore, the Chargers will go into the game with the following offensive weapons:
WR1: Patrick Crayton
WR2: Legadu Naanee/Buster Davis
TE: Antonio Gates (playing injured and slow)
RB: Ryan Mathews
FB: Mike Tolbert
So how do the Patriots counter this offense?
Find out after the jump!
Looking at the Chargers offense, it appears that they'll be playing without a star receiver. Crayton is a good player, but he should be shut down with solid coverage by a cornerback and a safety over the top- most of his yardage has come in the 4th quarter with the game out of reach. He did not register a reception against the Rams until the Chargers were down 17-0 and there was a minute left in the first half. He has solid hands, but the Patriots shouldn't give him as much of a cushion as the Rams gave him.
Let's assume that the Chargers will be utilizing an offense with Crayton and Naanee/Davis out wide, with Gates on the line and with Tolbert and Mathews in the backfield.
Patriots Defense: 4-3-4, first string/possible substitutes
RDE: Tully Banta-Cain
RDT: Gerard Warren/Brandon Deaderick/Ron Brace
LDT: Vince Wilfork/Mike Wright/Myron Pryor
LDE: Jermaine Cunningham
WLB: Brandon Spikes
MLB: Jerod Mayo
SLB: Gary Guyton/Rob Ninkovich
CB1: Devin McCourty
CB2: Kyle Arrington/Darius Butler
FS: Brandon Meriweather/James Sanders
SS: Pat Chung
With 2 big lineman and Banta-Cain and Cunningham, the Patriots should have constant pressure on Phillip Rivers, preventing a play from developing down the field. Ryan Mathews should never find a gap open with the defensive line all capable for watching two gaps. Mike Wright may the field in order to apply additional pressure. His main weakness is his inability to watch two gaps, so the 4-3 will help mask that weakness. All four of the linemen are capable of reaching the quarterback. All four are able to stop the run. The defensive ends will be able to prevent screen plays to Darren Sproles to the outside.
At linebacker, the Patriots get to utilize their ILB depth. Spikes can help Tully Banta-Cain prevent the run and can also watch the fullback pass to the outside. Mayo does his bread and butter in the middle of the field. Guyton is on the strong side and has the duty of watching the tight end. He's fast enough to keep up with an injured Gates and should be able to make plays with a safety over the top. Rob Ninkovich may also play SLB in order to utilize his coverage skills against Gates.
In the secondary, McCourty should cover Crayton tight with Chung over the top. On the other side of the field, Arrington/Butler should be covering Naanee/Davis tight, bumping at the line because of their injuries, with Meriweather over the top. This way, there won't be any big plays from receivers, the cornerbacks will be able to keep an eye on potential run plays and the cornerbacks are put in a position where they can make plays on the ball.
I think this defense will cover all the potential Chargers weapons and should put the Patriots in a good position to slow the Chargers potent offense.