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Patriots-Chargers: 5 observations from New England’s 21-13 win against Los Angeles

This is what we learned.

Los Angeles Chargers v New England Patriots Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images

Here are the instant observations from the New England Patriots’ 21-13 victory over the Los Angeles Chargers.

New England used running backs to lead offense

Dion Lewis, Mike Gillislee, Rex Burkhead, and James White combined for 95 rushing yards on 32 plays (2.97 YPC), which is terrible production against a run defense that ranked 31st in the league against the run coming into the game, allowing 4.9 YPC.

But the running backs also paced the Patriots receivers, with White (5 for 85), Burkhead (7 for 68), and Lewis (2 for 10) combining for 14 catches and 163 receiving yards.

This means the running backs combined for 258 yards on 46 touches, which represents a huge chunk of the 414 yards generated on 83 offensive plays. The Patriots wanted to use their running backs against Chargers defensive coordinator Gus Bradley. They succeeded.

Patriots still have a lot of red zone issues

The Patriots reached the Chargers red zone four times and scored just one touchdown. That’s abysmal and unacceptable for the New England offense. The Patriots also reached the Chargers 25-yard line on three straight drives and kicked a field goal each time.

There was a stretch of time where the Patriots reached an average of the Chargers 19.8 yard line and they kicked five straight field goals. Part of the problem of relying so much on running backs to generate offense is that the open space vanishes by the end zone.

If there is one place that the Patriots need to work on during the bye week, it’s on red zone efficiency.

2 important Patriots suffered important injuries

Chris Hogan (right shoulder) and Marcus Cannon (ankle) left the game with injuries. Hopefully they’re not serious and that they will be able to return after the bye week because they are two extremely important members of the offense.

Hogan and Cannon joined Malcom Brown, Dont’a Hightower, and Stephon Gilmore as key starters that were sidelined due to injuries. With Hightower out for the year, the Patriots need the other four to regain their health.

Defense did a pretty good job against the run

Sure, the Patriots allowed a fluke 87-yard touchdown run to Chargers RB Melvin Gordon. EDGE Cassius Marsh lost contain on the edge after he moved to the inside- something he’s done a few times this year- and Gordon had an open lane to the end zone.

Gordon’s other 13 carries on the day? 3.46 yards per carry.

That’s pretty good for a unit that was missing Malcom Brown and Dont’a Hightower, and one that was relying on rookies Adam Butler and Deatrich Wise to pick up the slack. The strong performance by the Patriots run defense forced the Chargers into longer distance situations and New England capitalized by allowing just 3 of 10 third downs to convert.

Stephen Gostkowski had a roller coaster day

The Patriots kicker had 7 kick attempts on the day and converted 5 of them. He hit an extra point, along with a 25-, 36-, 43-, and 26-yard field goal, but he missed a pair of 43-yard field goals. He did a great job on kickoffs, with the Chargers’ average start on the 19.7 yard line, but those are field goal attempts he would like to have back.

Those were Gotskowski’s second and third missed field goals on the season and he has four misses all year. He’s still decidedly better than he was in 2016, but hopefully these misses aren’t a sign of problems coming back.