The New England Patriots roller coaster schedule rolls on this week as they head out west to take on the Los Angeles Chargers.
In what has become a bi-weekly occurrence, New England is coming off of a promising victory and hoping to keep their forward momentum rolling against a really good football team. And the LA Chargers, that really good football team we mentioned, has about as much high end talent as the Patriots will have seen in a long time. Justin Herbert, Joey Bosa, Derwin James, Keenan Allen, Mike Williams and Austin Ekeler is a core that first year head coach Brandon Staley could have only dreamed about having to start out his head coaching career, and they’ve been as advertised.
Los Angeles’ top players have already stole them a couple games this year, Herbert and Ekeler combined for six total touchdowns to out pace Baker Mayfield and Kareem Hunt in a win over the Cleveland Browns, while Mike Williams and Keenan Allen have combined for three touchdowns on two separate occasions, both in wins over quality opponents. So, with the idea that LA’s top players are the ones that win them games, it wouldn’t be crazy to say that if New England can win some of those one on one matchups, they have a shot at pulling off the upset victory. What exactly are those matchups? Let’s take a look.
Jalen Mills vs Mike Williams
Jalen Mills is in an unenviable position. Signed on as a do-it-all defensive back, Mills has been forced to occupy the second cornerback spot throughout the season following the departure of Stephon Gilmore. These are the types of matchups to make that situation hurt a little bit.
Mike Williams is one of the biggest and strongest receivers the NFL has to offer, his 6-foot-4 frame and jump ball style are conducive to helping him reel in touchdown catches, something he’s done six times over the course of LA’s six games. He’s a true throwback to those big bodied receivers that we saw back in the mid-2000’s.
So how exactly is Mills expected to win this matchup with Williams? Get scrappy. Despite his large frame and strength at the point of attack, Williams has never been very good at getting off the line and into his routes. By pressing him at the line of scrimmage you're not going to allow him to post up and pluck Justin Herbert passes out of the air. As cornerback #2 last season, J.C. Jackson gave Williams the business early on in routes and ultimately held him to just four receptions.
J.C. Jackson vs Keenan Allen
Speaking of J.C. Jackson! New England’s new number one cornerback will look to duplicate the success of former teammate Stephon Gilmore, who held Allen to less than 50 yards in this matchup less than a year ago. Of course Jackson is a much different corner than Gilmore, while the former defensive player of the year can literally run routes for his opponent, Jackson makes his living off of playing a trail technique that usually allows for him to get his hands on the football. That may not be the best idea against Keenan Allen.
Allen is one of, if not the best route runner in all of football. His footwork is second too none, and he feasts off of cornerbacks playing to trail, as he can snap off his routes at the drop of a hat.
How does Jackson win this matchup without completely abandoning his play style in favor for one more conducive to the receiver he’s matching up against? Well, he doesn’t. Part of what made Gilmore so great was his ability to have success against different style receivers, he had that success because he was able to mold their game to his. The challenge for Jackson is to see how exactly he could do that for the first time against Allen.
Joey Bosa vs Michael Onwenu
It took five weeks worth of terrible group offensive line play for the Patriots to finally make the switch, but eventually they got to the point where they knew they needed Michael Onwenu at right tackle. Of course, since arriving back to that role he has looked great, and definitively taken that job until Trent Brown gets fully healthy and forces New England into making a decision. The question remains, what took so long? The easiest answer to that is the Patriots must believe that Michael Onwenu’s future is on the interior. This week is a good one to find out if that is true.
There’s an argument to be made that Joey Bosa is the NFL’s best pass rusher. Since entering the league in 2016, Bosa has racked up 51.0 sacks and 117 quarterback hits. That’s pretty dang good. Rushing from the left side in Los Angeles’ defense, Bosa feasts on right tackles using a mixture of speed, raw power, and some of the best hands you’ve ever seen from a defensive lineman.
Bosa vs Onwenu is a matchup between a guy who has all of the skills needed to excel at his position, and a guy who has defied all of his physical limitations to excel at a spot that he was never supposed to play. New England is hoping their guy continues to do what they didn’t think he could, if he can, they should be successful on Sunday.
Kyle Dugger vs Jared Cook
Despite his excellence in the run game and back to back weeks with an interception, Kyle Dugger has been surprisingly inconsistent in coverage this season. His inability to stick with quick moving tight ends has been noticeable, especially in New England’s matchup with Dallas when he was consistently beaten by Dalton Schultz.
Jared Cook isn’t what you would call a quick moving tight end, but he is a veteran who has seen just about everything the NFL has to offer. He understands leverage and when he is right, can go off against just about anybody.
The key for Dugger to win this matchup is by having a quick trigger to the ball. We’ve seen Dugger make a lot of tackles in the secondary after giving up a catch, because he tends to hand back in coverage to keep the receiver in front of him. Jared Cook and Justin Herbert are too good to do that against.
Mac Jones vs Derwin James
Mac Jones’ advantage over fellow rookies and young quarterbacks alike has been his mind. In simpler words, he makes the right reads. Where he struggles, is with physical limitations on getting velocity on the ball. Of course there are mental lapses and times where Jones throws a beautiful pass, but generally speaking those are the sticking points. Being as smart as he is, he tends to know when and where people will be before they get there, and is able to work from that point.
Unfortunately for New England and their rookie quarterback, Derwin James is everywhere all at the same time.
One of the NFL’s best athletes, James has racked up 50 tackles, an interception, 1.5 sacks, two pass breakups, and three tackles for loss. He is a nightmare for opposing offenses. Jones, being a rookie, has never quite seen anyone like Derwin James before. There’s an argument to be made that this will be the first time Jones will have someone to keep his eye on during every single play of the game. If he can do that, and limit James’ production, the Patriots have a shot to be successful.