The Los Angeles Chargers will welcome a familiar foe to SoFi Stadium this weekend. The New England Patriots will make the trip west this upcoming Sunday and play in Los Angeles for the first time since 1992. The two teams have had quite the history together, particularly in the playoffs. But it’s obviously been a rather one-sided history in favor of the Patriots.
The last time the Chargers beat the Patriots was in 2008, when their current quarterback, Justin Herbert, was just 10 years old. The two teams couldn’t be more different than the last time they met. When they met two years ago, they were each led by future Hall of Fame quarterbacks and were both playing at a Super Bowl contending level.
Fast forward to 2020 and both teams are clearly in their own transitional phases. A status solidified by the Chargers selection of Herbert last April, and the departure of Tom Brady from New England. The Patriots signed Cam Newton over the summer to provide some veteran stability to their quarterback room but he is clearly not the same player he once was.
Although neither team is not technically out of the playoff picture just yet, it would be a long shot for either team to make the big dance at this point. The Chargers are on a crash course towards a top-five pick and it seems unlikely that they improve upon the five-win mark set in 2019. On the other hand, the Patriots are on pace for their worst season since 2000 (Bill Belichick’s first season as the Patriots head coach).
The Chargers have their work cut out for them (again) this weekend, especially since they’ll be without Melvin Ingram – whose season is officially over, Uchenna Nwosu, Casey Hayward, Denzel Perryman, and possibly Kyzir White – who is still on the Covid list. That being said, let’s get to this week’s key matchups.
The Chargers Run Defense vs Patriots Offensive Line
The Chargers defensive front has struggled with injuries all season long. With Ingram and Nwosu out this past Sunday in Buffalo, they elected to start Jerry Tillery at defensive end alongside Joey Bosa. It’s something they also did against the Raiders a few weeks ago when Bosa was out with a concussion. Tillery has flashed this season as a pass rusher but his performance against the run has been abysmal. He is still developing his play strength and gets overmatched at the point of attack and on the edges. He was very obviously frustrated last week, which led to two stupid penalties that each extended Bills’ drives. He simply has to be better this week if the Chargers are going to win.
In the middle, the Chargers need more production out of Justin Jones and Linval Joseph. The Patriots interior offensive line is one of the best groups in the league. David Andrews and Joe Thuney are two of the best players at their position and have been stellar all season long, particularly in the run game. The duo is the key part of a rushing attack that is top five in the league. The Chargers are in the middle of the pack in rushing defense per game, but they have bled yards in key moments. This matchup stands out because the set up of the Patriots is very similar to that of the Raiders, and the Chargers front line got obliterated in that matchup.
The Patriots average 188 yards rushing per game in their five wins. In their six losses, that number drops to 122. Stopping the run is the #1 key to victory for the Chargers this week.
The Chargers Pass Rush vs Cam Newton
The aforementioned Newton is in a very tough place in his career. He did not have any suitors outside of New England this summer and they signed him for dirt cheap. He started out the season very hot, but then he got put on the Covid list and that really messed with his rhythm. The Patriots also don’t have a ton of talent on the offensive side of the ball, especially since Julian Edelman is no longer playing. The combination of that talent void and Newton’s declining abilities is a very poor mix.
You could argue that Newton has always been more of a runner than a passer, but he still managed to produce at a high level as a passer in Carolina. He’s only thrown four touchdowns this year and has a career-low 1.4 touchdown percentage. He has also thrown nine interceptions, which equates to a career-high interception percentage of 3.4. His advanced metrics like yards per attempt and average air yards are still about the same as they always have been, but his accuracy has fallen off a cliff.
The Chargers defense has a good opportunity to get some turnover momentum going this week. They had their best game in months thanks to Bosa’s heroics and Chris Harris’ return. Josh Allen and Newton are similar quarterbacks in terms of physical profile and philosophy as passers. Both have been widely criticized for holding onto the ball too long. The Chargers made Allen pay and need to do the same with Newton
When opposing pass rushes have been able to get home, Newton has crumbled. He’s thrown five interceptions, tied for second-most in the league, when under pressure. He’s currently sitting at 27th in the league in passer rating when facing pressure.
It’s unlikely that Bosa has a repeat of that herculean effort from last week in Buffalo, but he should still make a big impact. He still needs help though. The Chargers have to play complementary football on defense this week. They have to stop the run in order to force Newton and company into third and long situations. They should be ok if they can do that, and get into obvious passing situations. Then, they have to get home and capitalize.
The Chargers Offensive Line vs The Patriots Pass Rush
The Chargers offensive line has been a mess this season. Unfortunately, that’s been the norm for the team really ever since Nick Hardwick retired.
Pass Blocking Efficiency – Chargers
Don't know why I felt compelled to look this up but…
— Tyler Schoon (@tylerjschoon) December 4, 2020
That’s the biggest criticism of Chargers General Manager Tom Telesco. He has not built a high-quality offensive line. He’s swung and on missed on draft picks and has opted to target older, and injury-prone, offensive linemen via free agency. Bryan Bulaga has been great when he’s been on the field this season, but he’s only started and finished three games this year. It’s the same story it was for Mike Pouncey and Russell Okung. The problem in signing players of that caliber and background is that he has combined that strategy by drafting developmental projects to be their backups. Go get Okung and Bulaga, that’s great, but you have to ensure you have quality players behind them. Not the former undrafted free agent Trent Scott, former Division-II standout Trey Pipkins or former XFL-er Storm Norton.
The Chargers currently have four players (Pipkins, Sam Tevi, Forrest Lamp, and Dan Feeney) up front who have given up more than twenty pressures this season. Herbert joined Patrick Mahomes last week as the only quarterbacks in NFL history to throw for more than 3,000 yards in their first 10 career starts. This is absolutely insane considering Herbert has been under pressure more than any other quarterback in the league.
Over the last three weeks, Herbert has been pressured 63 times and has been hit 20 times. That is simply unacceptable, and not going to cut it against the Patriots defense this week. We all know Belichick is going to have something special planned for Herbert, he always does when he faces rookie quarterbacks. The offensive line has to hold their own this week and keep their young star clean. Getting Bulaga back from his “illness” would sure help.
I will never, ever pick against Belichick and the Patriots. Even now when they’re headed to their worst season in two decades. It’s also impossible to have any kind of confidence that Anthony Lynn can hold his own this week in the coaching department. The Chargers absolutely have the talent to win this game. They have the talent to win every remaining game on their schedule, that’s not really the problem. Give me the Patriots over the Chargers, 20-17.
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