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Patriots vs Chargers preview: New England aims to get back to .500 in Week 8

Related: NFL playoff picture: Patriots move up into 9th seed after blowing out Jets

Los Angeles Chargers vs Dallas Cowboys Set Number: X163816 TK1

The New England Patriots have a lot to feel good about after their 53-14 dismantling of the New York Jets last Sunday. However, they will need to turn the page quickly to keep their momentum going against a superior opponent this week: the Los Angeles Chargers, owners of a 4-2 record and the current sixth seed in the AFC.

The Chargers are a different animal than the Jets, and the Patriots are entering the game as underdogs despite their Week 7 blowout win. According to DraftKings Sportsbook, New England is listed as a 5.5-point road underdog as of Wednesday morning. It is not hard to see why given Los Angeles’ impressive play before its bye and the fact that the Patriots have yet to beat a quality opponent.

With all that being said, let’s take a closer look at the Chargers.

Offense

Points scored: 24.7/game (13th)

Yards gained: 2,272 (12th)

Passing offense: 161-for-247, 1,704 yards, 14 touchdowns, 4 interceptions, 0.138 EPA (15th)

Rushing offense: 139 carries, 568 yards, 5 touchdowns, -0.018 EPA (7th)

While the Chargers are only ranked 13th in points per game this season, their offense has been quite productive so far. The unit is ranked sixth in yards per drive (37.1) and seventh in points per drive (2.48), while also having been able to successfully move the ball both through the air and on the ground.

Defense

Points against: 25.0/game (22nd)

Yards given up: 2,186 (19th)

Passing defense: 127-for-185, 1,211 yards, 9 touchdowns, 6 interceptions, 0.043 EPA (10th)

Rushing defense: 179 carries, 975 yards, 8 touchdowns, 0.071 EPA (32nd)

The Los Angeles passing defense has been solid so far this season, but the same cannot be said about the team’s ability to stop the run: the Chargers are ranked dead-last in both run defense EPA, rushing yards and yards given up per carry (5.4). Add it all up and you get a unit that is ranked only 22nd in the league in scoring.

Week 1 at Washington Football Team: W 20-16

Week 2 vs Dallas Cowboys: L 20-17

Week 3 at Kansas City Chiefs: W 30-24

Week 4 vs Las Vegas Raiders: W 28-14

Week 5 vs Cleveland Browns: W 47-42

Week 6 at Baltimore Ravens: L 34-6

Week 7: Bye

After opening the season with a 1-1 split against two teams from the NFC East, the Chargers went on a three-game winning streak against some of the (supposedly) best teams in the conference. They celebrated back-to-back convincing victories against division rivals — the Chiefs and Raiders — before winning arguably the most spectacular game of the season so far against Cleveland. What followed, however, was a let-down of massive proportions: Los Angeles did not stand a chance against the Ravens in Week 6.

Offense

QB Justin Herbert; RB Austin Ekeler; WR Keenan Allen, WR Mike Williams; TE Jared Cook, TE Donald Parham; LT Rashawn Slater*, LG Matt Feiler, C Corey Linsley, RG Michael Schofield, RT Storm Norton

*rookie

Led by former first-round draft pick Justin Herbert, the Chargers offense features some big names at all skill positions. The offensive line, however, should also not be underestimated given that the team made some big investments up front this offseason: Rashawn Slater was drafted 13th overall in April, after Los Angeles had already handed out big-money contracts to free agents Matt Feiler and Corey Linsley.

Defense

OLB Joey Bosa, DT Jerry Tillery, NT Linval Joseph, DE Christian Covington, OLB Uchenna Nwosu; LB Kyzir White; CB Michael Davis, CB Asante Samuel Jr.*, CB Chris Harris Jr; S Derwin James, S Nasir Adderley

*rookie

While not as star-studded as its offense, the Chargers defense also has some quality players within its ranks. Even with second-year linebacker Kenneth Murray remaining on injured reserve for now, the group is a talented one up front and in the backend — one filled with early-round draft selections and experienced players.

Specialists

K Dustin Hopkins, P Ty Long, LS Matt Overton; KR Larry Rountree III*, PR K.J. Hill

Los Angeles made a move at place kicker this week, signing Dustin Hopkins to replace a struggling Tristan Vizcaino. In general and despite changing coaches, however, the Chargers’ kicking game continues to be somewhat suspect after being a major Achilles heel for the team last year.

QB Justin Herbert: The reigning NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year is in the middle of making the famous second-year jump. Herbert has completed 65.4 percent of his passes so far this year for 1,771 yards as well as 14 touchdowns and just 4 interceptions. An outstanding talent capable of making all the throws and also extending plays due to his mobility, the 23-year-old appears to be well on his way to become one of the better quarterbacks in football.

RB Austin Ekeler: Ekeler is not just the Chargers’ lead running back with 73 carries that he took for 356 yards and 4 touchdowns, he also is ranked third on the team with 27 receptions (for 242 yards and 3 scores). A true do-it-all running back, the 26-year-old is leading the team in touches (100), yards from scrimmage (598) and touchdowns (7), and a vital part of Los Angeles’ offensive success.

LB Joey Bosa: The third overall pick of the 2016 NFL Draft, Bosa has established himself as one of the best edge linebackers in the entire league. This season so far, he has registered 3.5 sacks among his combined 25.5 quarterback disruptions; he also has a pair of fumbles on his résumé. An outstanding pass rusher and run defender, Bosa is a challenging matchup for any offensive line.

S Derwin James: After missing the entire 2020 season due to a torn meniscus, James is back on the field to serve as the leader of the Chargers’ secondary. A true jack of all trades, he is aligning all over the formation — from deep safety, to box safety, to slot cornerback, to perimeter cornerback — and has proven himself a force against both the pass and the run. James is a player New England quarterback Mac Jones needs to have on its radar at all times.

Head coach: Brandon Staley

Coordinators: Joe Lombardi (offense), Renaldo Hill (defense), Derius Swinton (special teams)

Brandon Staley’s first head coaching opportunity is off to a good start. The former Los Angeles Rams defensive coordinator, who was hired by the Chargers after Anthony Lynn was let go, has led his team to a 4-2 record six games into its season. The 38-year-old is supported by an experienced offensive coordinator in Joe Lombardi, but has trusted similarly inexperienced coaches to run the show on defense and in the kicking game.

The Patriots and Chargers have met 39 times so far, with four of the meetings coming in the playoffs:

  • Patriots wins: 23 wins (including 3 playoff wins)
  • Chargers wins: 14 wins (including 1 playoff win)
  • Ties: 2

The two organizations have a storied history going back all the way to the old AFL of the 1960s. The Chargers, back then based in San Diego, defeated the Patriots in the 1963 Championship Game with a final score of 51-10, with three more postseason meetings following in the 2000s — all of which ending with New England on top.

The Patriots beat the Chargers on the road in the 2006 divisional round (24-21) and also got the better off them in the AFC title game at Gillette Stadium the following year (21-12). In the 2018 divisional round, meanwhile, New England won 41-28 en route to its sixth Super Bowl championship. Since that game, the two teams met only once: last year, the Patriots blew out the Chargers 45-0 in Los Angeles.