Later today, the New England Patriots will host the Los Angeles Chargers with a berth in the AFC Championship Game on the line. Having met in 2006 and 2007 (and 1963), the two teams are no strangers to each other when it comes to postseason contention. However, they are no strangers to meeting period: the teams played each other five times since their last postseason clash, with the latest of the games coming last October.
Given that teams change fast in the NFL, the two clubs look quite a bit different one season later. Let’s take a look at how they have changed since their 2017 regular season meeting.
New England’s cornerback group looks drastically different...
Possibly the biggest turnover since the Patriots and Chargers last met came in New England’s secondary: the unit’s starters from that game — Malcolm Butler and Johnson Bademosi — are both gone and have effectively been replaced by Stephon Gilmore and J.C. Jackson, all while Jason McCourty has taken over the primary slot role from Jonathan Jones. Safe to say that the group has been significantly upgraded.
...while two starting Chargers defensive backs are out
L.A. opened last year’s game with six defensive backs on the field, and two of them are no longer on the club’s active roster: safety Tre Boston is now playing for the Arizona Cardinals, while boundary cornerback Trevor Williams is on injured reserve. The duo has effectively been replaced by standout rookie Derwin James at the safety position and second-year man Michael Davis at perimeter.
Los Angeles’ offensive line has seen plenty of turnover
While the left side of the Chargers’ offensive line looks the same as it did last year, the center and right side spots have changed quite a bit: Maurkice Pouncey is the team’s new center, while right tackle Michael Schofield has moved inside to guard. In the meantime, Sam Tevi has been inserted into the lineup to take over Schofield’s old spot. Last year, the unit gave up only one sack to the Patriots — below the 1.9 sack average the group is surrendering in 2018.
Only one of the Patriots’ top three wide receivers remains
The story of New England’s wide receiver is well known: last year’s top-two, Brandin Cooks and Danny Amendola, left the club in the offseason and the team has struggled to properly replace their production this season. When it comes to last year’s game between the Patriots and Chargers, however, Chris Hogan actually played more snaps than Amendola — and he will be active today as well as the number two wideout alongside Julian Edelman, who missed last year’s game with a season-ending knee injury.
The days of Alan Branch, Cassius Marsh and David Harris are over
New England’s front seven was without Dont’a Hightower and Malcom Brown last October, while three men no longer with the team saw considerable playing time: defensive tackle Alan Branch, edge defender Cassius Marsh and linebacker David Harris were all on the field for 38 or more percent of the Patriots’ defensive snaps. Marsh in particular is worth pointing out: not even a month after the Chargers game, one during which he was unable to set the edge on an 87-yard touchdown run, he was released.
The Chargers have a rebuilt special teams operation
Los Angeles kicker Nick Novak saw his lone field goal attempt of last October’s game blocked, while punter Drew Kaser averaged 39.8 yards per kick. Both men are now no longer with the club as the Chargers upgraded at both positions: rookie Michael Badgley is the team’s new place kicker with Nick Rose handling kickoff duties. Meanwhile, veteran Donnie Jones is coming on the field for punting duties.
Almost half of New England’s running back snaps have been replaced
The Patriots relied heavily on their running backs the last time they played the Chargers, but the position group has seen some turnover since. Gone are Dion Lewis and Mike Gillislee, who combined to gain 78 of the club’s 97 rushing yards that day and played 48% of New England’s running back snaps. In their place, first-round rookie Sony Michel is expected to see most of the team’s carries today.