The Patriots barely managed to hold on to a win against the Chargers last season in a game where the Chargers were doing everything they could to hand the Patriots the win. This year, the Patriots' can't expect that same courtesy. Here are five keys to a Patriots' victory:
1. Who Stops Antonio Gates? - The Patriots allowed Dolphins' tight end Anthony Fasano to put up considerable numbers as a receiver and, as I'm sure everyone knows, the Chargers' Gates is much, much, better than Fasano. Gary Guyton wasn't able to defend Fasano and Chung will be needed to help with deeper coverage against the big receivers. Will Sergio Brown make an encore appearance as he helped defend Gates last season? Or will some new player emerge to help the squad, like recent "Practice Player of the Week" A.J. Edds?
2. Can Tom Brady Thrive? - Last season, Tom Brady couldn't generate much offense against the Chargers. Of course, he was operating with a relatively new squad since Randy Moss had been traded a couple weeks prior, and Rob Gronkowski had not yet developed into a receiving option. This year, the Patriots' will have a lot more weapons and experience against the Chargers defense. Can they find a way to put everything together and not leave points on the field?
3. Can Special Teams Be Special? - The Chargers had plenty of issues with their special teams last season and, quite honestly, it was one of their main reasons they didn't make the playoffs. Even against the Patriots, a missed field goal allowed the Patriots to squeak out with a victory. This season, they've already allowed a kick return for a touchdown. Can the Patriots take advantage of this squad and put some points on the board?
4. How Will The Patriots' Secondary Play? - Against the Dolphins, Devin McCourty had an average game in coverage of Brandon Marshall. This week, the Patriots' need McCourty to be a shutdown corner against one of the Chargers' monstrous receivers (either Malcom Floyd or Vincent Jackson). On the other side of the field, rookie Ras-I Dowling needs to continue the success he had against the Dolphins' and not take a large step backwards. Should Dowling have success and McCourty have a solid game, the Patriots can put more pressure on Antonio Gates and prevent the Chargers from having any consistency on offense.
5. Who Will Spy The Backfield? - While it is important to watch for Floyd and Jackson, the top three most productive receivers on the Chargers were Gates, and running backs Ryan Mathews and Mike Tolbert. Mathews and Tolbert are both solid players in the run game, but they're very dangerous as receivers out of the backfield. Who will step up to defend these players in the play? Will it be Gary Guyton? Dane Fletcher? Rob Ninkovich? The Patriots have plenty of options, so hopefully the most dominant player can play and eliminate a couple of the Chargers' more dangerous weapons.