The Patriots’ real strength on defense is their secondary – so make Rivers and the Chargers’ offense play into it.
Pseudo-defensive coordinator Brian Flores should carefully study the image above. It may sound crazy, but this is exactly what the Patriots want to see Philip Rivers doing all day Sunday. If he leans back and hurls the football down the field 50-60 times, Flores and his side have done their job, and the Patriots will have won.
Make no mistake – Rivers is an elite player belonging in the upper echelon of NFL quarterbacks. Even at 37, the Chargers QB can still air it out with the best of them. His velocity is as good as its ever been, his accuracy is still top-notch, and he’s strung together a season worthy of league MVP status.
But similar to the Patriots, the 2018 Chargers are at their best when they can run the football effectively.
Melvin Gordon is the centerpiece of their offense now and the future of the franchise; his injury status alone could be the difference-maker in this game, as he’s currently dealing with a knee sprain suffered in the Wild Card win over Baltimore. While he sat out practice on Wednesday, he did get in a limited session on Thursday, which should be plenty encouraging for Gordon, his teammates, and for Chargers fans.
Assuming No. 28 is out there for the Chargers, the Patriots will need to know his whereabouts on every play. Everyone knows how suspect the New England rush defense has been this season, so it’s a good bet L.A. head coach Anthony Lynn will test that weakness right from the start of the game.
Just how resilient and unyielding the Pats’ defensive front is against the run will determine what the Chargers can do offensively. If Flores and the defense manage to bottle up Gordon and his backup Austin Ekeler – and McDaniels and the offense can give the good guys a touchdown or two worth of a lead – then the Bolts will need to scrap their run game and turn to Rivers to play catch-up on the scoreboard.
This, of course, would play right into New England’s hands. The strength of the Patriots defense is its secondary, led by All-Pro cornerback Stephon Gilmore and the now fully-healthy Devin McCourty. Los Angeles has a terrific young receiving corps, but New England matches up well with it.
Should Rivers be forced into heaving deep balls into tight coverage – particularly in the cold and possibly against strong wind – that’s a recipe for disaster for the visiting team.