The New England Patriots have gained a bit of momentum the past few weeks, winning two of their last three games to sit at a 3-4 record entering Week 8. For the team to make a run at the playoffs, though, it will need to prove itself against a talented Los Angeles Chargers squad.
The Chargers have everything you want in a young team, with a talented quarterback on the cusp of reaching an elite status as well as great players littered across all position groups. The Patriots certainly have their work cut out for them, but that’s why you play the game.
1. Josh McDaniels needs to attack the defense based on safety looks
The Chargers have typically run two-deep safety looks to counteract the explosive passing teams they have faced over the year. However, the Patriots do not boast such an offense and instead have relied on running and play-action passes to get the job done.
The Chargers’ last game does provide some context on how the team would face a run-first offense. Granted it was a 44-6 blowout and the Ravens got whatever they wanted on offense, but how they lined up still provides some clarity on how they might also line up against New England.
With that in mind, we should also expect L.A. to try to disguise its defense pre-snap to slow down the Patriots’ rookie quarterback. Mac Jones has already shown the ability to run the offense in the pre-snap phase, so utilizing motions, personnel, and formations will be key in solving the puzzle that is the Chargers defense.
If they get a single-high pre-snap look, they have to be ready to attack the defense deep from the boundary. If they stay in a two-deep shell, let Damien Harris carry the rock. Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels should give Jones both a run and pass call and let the QB call which play to run based on pre-snap looks.
2. The Patriots defense must slow down Justin Herbert’s progressions
The Chargers definitely have some offensive line issues that can be exploited, but it will be paramount that the Patriots are able to slow down the offense as a whole. That’s easier said than done, with the amount of weapons the team can throw at a defense. New England’s defense will likely opt to try to keep the play in front of it, which means that completions to the short to intermediate areas as well as the run game could be there for the Chargers.
However, it could play against them if second-year QB Herbert becomes impatient or gives the pass rush more opportunities to get home — something that happened last season: Herbert played the second worst game of his pro career against a Patriots defense that consistently forced him to move through his progressions while under some patient but consistent pressure.
Chargers Player to Take Away: WR Mike Williams
Mike Williams is the Chargers’ best downfield threat at 6-foot-5 and 4.4 speed. The Patriots really don’t have a corner who can match up against him, so I expect a lot of double teams to go his way.
Williams gives the Chargers their most explosive plays in the passing game, so it will be paramount to limit the damage he can do. A combination of cornerback J.C. Jackson plus Devin McCourty as the deep safety may be the solution here. They could opt to plug Jalen Mills here as well and have Jackson cover someone else, but I don’t think they should take chances on that.
Patriots Offense X-Factor: TE Hunter Henry
I say it’s time for the revenge game. Hunter Henry has found the end zone in four consecutive games and is probably itching to get one against his former team.
Henry has slowly worked his way into being the top tight end on the field thanks to his superb route running and sure hands, which has made him Mac Jones’ favorite red zone target early on with four touchdown connections between the two. If the free agency acquisition has a solid outing against the Chargers, the Patriots will have a chance.
Patriots Defense X-Factor: Slot CB Myles Bryant
Jonathan Jones is done for the season, so that means next man up. That next man is Myles Bryant, who had a solid outing against the New York Jets last week. In the slot, he will be tasked with slowing down Keenan Allen. Allen is the Chargers’ primary target on third downs and is their best option when it comes to moving the chains.
Bryant is at a bit of a size disadvantage, standing in at 5-foot-9 versus Allen being 6-foot-2. However, you typically don’t see jump balls in the middle of the field.
Final Score: Chargers 31, Patriots 24
Ultimately I don’t see the wide receiver versus cornerback matchup ending well for the Patriots. If the New England front seven can get some pressure on Justin Herbert, I could see this becoming a tighter game than the Chargers would like, though.
The Patriots offense can feature two tight ends against one of the worst teams at defending tight ends, so there could be opportunities for Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith to make something happen. Ultimately, I think the Patriots fall a bit short here in this one but wouldn’t be surprised if they pull out the upset win.