1. What has been the biggest change for the Chargers over their past three games that wasn’t happening over the first four weeks?
Some of this has just been luck. The Chargers did not get the bounces during the first four weeks of the season and they did in weeks 5 and 6. Week 7 is a different story, however. Against the Broncos last week, the Chargers played the most complete games I have seen from them in years. Anthony Lynn and the coaching staff appeared to have finally figured out their personnel and were putting the right guys in the best situations to succeed. Lynn also challenged the team to be physical and to go out and score on 4th and goal. The fact that they didn't convert didn't change anything. It was a pivotal moment for the team and the beginning of Lynn putting his stamp on the organization. They have played with a physicality the last few weeks that I did not think was possible from the roster as it was constructed. While they looked like the same old Chargers looking for a way to lose early in the season, they appear to have shed that now. This week will be huge when it comes to seeing how true that is.
2. Can you explain the Chargers usage of Hunter Henry and Antonio Gates? Is it rotational? Situational? Two tight end sets?
Hunter Henry has finally taken over as the primary tight end for the Chargers. He is now out-snapping Gates by a considerable margin. This is honestly the way it should have been from the start of the season, but better late than never, I suppose. Antonio Gates was never a particularly strong blocker, but at this point, it borders on sad to watch. Henry is not only the better blocker (by a ton), he is the better receiver at this point, as well. He also gives the added bonus of not tipping that the offense is going to throw the ball just by being on the field.
Gates still gets on the field, but it's in situations where he is still useful such as obvious passing downs and in the red zone. He is no longer taking snaps away from Henry.
3. RB Melvin Gordon has been the workhorse this year, how have teams been able to slow him down, if at all?
Gordon is seeing a lot of carries. Nobody else on the team really is, though Austin Ekeler saw an increase last week. In that sense, he's a workhorse. He's been slowed down by just about everyone, though. He is not particularly efficient. His success tends to stem from sheer quantity of touches. He lacks vision and is slow to hit the hole. If the Patriots don't completely run themselves out of the play, I don't think they will have much trouble with Gordon.
4. The Chargers secondary is pretty strong across the board; how has Gus Bradley and the coaching staff used them? Man or zone? Any weaknesses or strengths?
The Chargers defense under Gus Bradley is primarily zone coverages. They do an excellent job of watching the quarterback and contesting throws. Their biggest issue is the same issue the defense has as a whole, their tackling is simply not good enough with the exception of cornerback Trevor Williams. Jahleel Addae has developed a bit of a reputation as a hard hitter and good tackler, but that's mostly due to the fact that he is reckless. He's not actually a particularly effective tackler.
5. Teams seem to be able to run against the Chargers defensive line. How should the Patriots attack them on the ground?
Run at them right up the middle. The Chargers do not have a quality healthy middle linebacker on the roster and their safeties are no great shakes either. If you get past Brandon Mebane (and that has not been terribly difficult this season, though he has looked better of late) there is a lot of space to work with for opposing running backs. I would expect that all of the non-James White running backs should have little to no trouble running between the tackles on the Chargers on Sunday.