WHAT IS THE HIDDEN KEY TO THE GAME?
The Defensive Tackles versus the run
The Patriots are without starting defensive tackle Malcolm Brown this week due to injury and he has easily been their most consistent defender against the run. Factor in the season-ending injury to linebacker Dont’a Hightower and the Patriots will have their work cut out to stop the run.
The Chargers know that the best chance of stopping Tom Brady each week is to keep him off the field. To do that, a strong running game is needed to eat the clock and win the time of possession. San Diego boasts a potentially strong rushing attack led by running back Melvin Gordon.
Gordon has been up-and-down in 2017 with strong games (20 attempts for 105 yards versus the Giants) and weak games (9 rushes for 13 yards versus the Dolphins). He has gained 394 yards in seven games for 56.3 yards per game average. He is averaging just 3.4 yards per rushing attempt.
The San Diego turnaround this season was keyed by Gordon stepping-up in Week 5 against the Giants. He had a strong game the next week in the win over the Raiders grinding out 83 tough yards. While he struggled against a strong Denver run defense last week, the Chargers stuck with the run in the second half and he helped put them in position to convert third downs and run out the clock with the lead.
The Chargers need their defense to step up and their offense to control the clock and convert in the red zone. With the injuries in New England, leaning on Melvin Gordon may be the key. For the Patriots, they will need to keep quarterback Philip Rivers in second-and-third-and-long situations so the defense can get off the field and give more opportunities to score.