Here are my final thoughts on the New England Patriots’ game tonight in San Diego:
1.What To Do With Gates?
Usually, as Patriots fans, we don’t have to worry about a Rob Gronkowski-like mismatch on defense, but tonight Antonio Gates presents a very similar challenge. Gates is big, has decent speed, has a great pair of hands, and most importantly, he is one of the smartest dudes in the NFL. His ability to beat whoever is defending him with his brain is what sets him apart at this age, and the Pats will need to come up with a way to limit him, especially on third downs.
2. Don’t Get Greedy On Offense
The Chargers have the seventh ranked pass defense, but they are 29th in sacks, which should allow Tom Brady to carve this unit up. However the Chargers do like to blitz often, which of course Brady will eat alive. But they need to fight the urge to get greedy, as that could let the aggressive San Diego defense to get to Brady, and make a few game-changing plays. Just sit back, survey the defense, and take advantage of the numerous mismatches you should have the secondary. New England should have a fairly easy day on offense.
3. Linebacker Depth
Dont’a Hightower is listed as questionable, so even if he does play, it may be in a limited role. Hightower has been terrific this year, outplaying just about every other inside linebacker in the league in my eyes. So if he isn’t 100%, this will hurt the Patriots. Expect Jonathan Casillas to step into Hightower’s spot if needed, which would undoubtedly be something Phillip Rivers tries to attack. However by bringing Sealver Siliga up from the short-term IR, the Pats should be okay in the running game. Where they would really miss Hightower would be the passing game, and his excellent leadership skills. Hopefully he is okay, and is close to 100% tonight.
4. Attack Rivers
Unlike last week where the Pats played a conservative defense against the mobile Aaron Rodgers, I expect New England to go after Phillip Rivers tonight. Whether it is Jamie Collins and Dont’a Hightower up the middle, or some kind of games and stunts on the outside, they need to get to Rivers early and often. The Pats should have no trouble guarding San Diego’s weapons, but if they give Rivers the kind of time they gave Rodgers, he will carve them up as well. Chandler Jones will help in this department if he is active.
5. AFC Implications
By losing last week to the Packers, the Patriots have left themselves in a position where they will likely have to win out to retain the number one seed throughout the postseason. There is a chance Denver could lose one of their final games, but I wouldn’t count on it. I think Tom Brady and company will come out fired up in this one, and prove once again they are the dominant team in this conference.