The New England Patriots kick off a three game road trip with 2 games in Los Angeles in 5 days. First up, a battle with rookie QB Justin Herbert and his LA Chargers (3-8). Head coach Bill Belichick brings an impressive 19-5 career record against rookie QBs into this matchup and his reputation as defensive genius speaks for itself. Don’t let the Chargers’ record fool you, they have a ton of talent on this team but just haven’t found a way to put it together and that’s a bad combination when facing any Bill Belichick team.
Speaking of the defense, New England’s front seven had it’s most inspiring performance of the season last week in their upset over the now 6-5 Arizona Cardinals. Holding Kyler Murray to 170 yards, a 67.0 passer rating and forcing an interception of a deflected pass was impressive considering how much they struggled against mobile QBs this season. Having Adam Butler and Lawrence Guy, brought some much needed experience and reliability to a front seven that has struggled to apply pressure in the backfield. Need evidence of Guy’s impact on last week’s contest, look no further than the goal line stand at the end of the first half below. Not only did it keep Arizona off the board, but it was the game’s turning point.
Besides getting pressure on Justin Herbert to force turnovers, they need to have sound coverage in the back end. Job #1 for this defense is lock down WR Keenan Allen, who leads his team with 85 receptions for 875 yards and 7 TD’s. The next closest receiver is TE Hunter Henry with 48 catches. The job of blanketing Allen will fall to CB Stephon Gilmore to absolutely nobody’s surprise. As the reigning defensive player of the year, he loves the challenge of going against the league’s best receiver and I see him having no problem covering Allen. Need to be convinced more? Well for one thing he held Deandre Hopkins to just 5 catches for 55 yards last week. Oh and he held Allen to just 2 receptions for 75 yards and 1 touchdown in their last meeting during the 2018 Divisional Round playoffs. As for Henry, I’m sure Bill Belichick will have a combination of different coverages thrown his way. The Patriots have always been known to take away an opposing team’s best options and that won’t bode well for Herbert.
One other player this defense needs to keep in check is RB Austin Ekeler. His 521 yards from scrimmage this season make him a dangerous dual threat out of the backfield. He was Herbert’s favorite target last week in their loss against Buffalo, with 11 catches on 16 targets and 85 yards. Tackling him right as he catches the ball and not letting him get in open space is a must. Buffalo made him throw the ball 52 times and limited Ekeler to just 44 yards rushing. Don’t give Herbert a safe place to throw the ball and make him beat you with his arm down the field. Forcing him to hold the ball a few extra seconds, will allow the pass rush to get home.
New England’s key to success on offense using their running game, the strongest and most reliable part of their offense. Their rushing attack has gained 4.6 yards per carry (8th) and 149.6 yards per game (5th) and a lot of that can be attributed to the emergence of 2nd year back Damien Harris. He leads the team in rushing yards and is second among active players in touchdowns on the ground. His breakout performance this season becomes of even more importance now that Rex Burkhead, who led all Patriots receivers in touchdowns with three, is gone for the year with a knee injury.
Of course if you’re talking about who’s leading the team in touchdowns overall, you can look no further than QB Cam Newton. His 387 yards rushing and 9 touchdowns adds another headache for defensive coordinators to worry about when preparing for this team. Expect New England to hit this defense with a ton of run plays, as the Bills rushed 30 times for 172 yards and a touchdown last week. A combination of Newton, Harris and potentially Sony Michel (returning from injury) should see a lot of openings to exploit.
I hope that their ability to run the ball effectively and with great success opens up lanes for a struggling passing game, which has been hot and cold this season. Cam Newton has thrown one touchdown this season to a wide receiver and unfortunately will not have the services of slot receiver Julian Edelman, who was placed on the COVID-19/reserve list. Jakobi Meyers and Damiere Byrd have had a few breakout performances recently but this passing game took a huge step back last week, as Newton threw for just 84 yards and two interceptions. The Patriots got lucky that Zane Gonzales missed a go ahead field goal in the final minutes or Newton’s second interception could have cost them dearly. Turnovers must be limited/eliminated or this team doesn’t stand a chance against anyone.
Patriots Final Thoughts
Which receiver will step up and get open for Cam Newton this week? Can the offensive line protect Cam long enough to get the ball to his receivers? Will this team not have a let down against a team with a losing record? I believe the Patriots will figure out a way to confuse Herbert and force turnovers. This team is playing like they have a chip on their shoulder and are fighting for their playoff lives. The Chargers meanwhile always seem to find new ways to break their fans hearts and lose in embarrassing fashion despite all the talent they have. Final score: Patriots win 23-20. Tune in Sunday at 4:25 pm on CBS to find out if I’m correct.
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By: Whitney Dowds CruelFan.com