With the New England Patriots set to take on the 8-4 San Diego Chargers in a primetime Sunday Night Football match-up tomorrow, the Pats Pulpit staff gives their biggest key to victory for the Patriots:
Greg Knopping: Establishing a balance on offense
Even though I think the Patriots passing offense will be able to move the ball with relative ease through the air, they need to establish a balance with the running game. This is something they lacked against the Packers, and something that will assist the passing game against San Diego if they can get it going. The pass protection was less than stellar last week, but a viable play action can help make up for those deficiencies.
Alec Shane: Pressuring Philip Rivers
Pass rush is still an area of concern for New England. Granted, it has been better than years past, but the bulk of the sacks the Patriots have been getting this year have been of the coverage variety as opposed to the front four simply overwhelming the offensive line. Philip Rivers is one of the most accurate quarterbacks in the lead, but he can be pressured into making poor decisions if you get in his face and force him to get rid of the ball before he's ready. Antonio Gates isn't what he used to be, but he can still cause a lot of problems, particularly in the red zone, so it's important that New England generate an effective pass rush to prevent San Diego from getting into any kind of rhythm.
Richard Hill: Bryan Stork and company
Bryan Stork and company. The Patriots need to keep Tom Brady better protected up the middle than they did against the Packers. Luckily for New England, the Chargers 3-4 defense pits their weakest lineman (their nose tackle) against the Patriots weakest linemen. Look for the Patriots do have a solid day in the office.
Adam Fox: Pressure the quarterback!
This unit did manage 3 sacks against Aaron Rodgers last week, but it's simply understood by this stage in the Kingdom of Foxborough that "sacks are overrated." The secondary certainly held up their end of the bargain at Green Bay, but far too often, Rodgers had more than enough time to improvise a play with one of his many receivers or his own feet. Rivers isn't terrifically mobile, but he is deceivingly accurate, and will be able to find the open man if the defense allows him ample time in the pocket. The Chargers have had somewhat of an unfortunate revolving door at Center this year, so being able to provide consistent pressure up the middle will be of paramount importance. A possible return of either Sealver Siliga or Chandler Jones could help bolster this unit and could overwhelm a depleted offensive line ripe for disruption.
What is your key to the game for the Patriots? Let us know!