What to Watch For: Chargers vs Patriots - AFC Divisional Round
Sunday, January 13, 2019
Joe Calabro, GoLocalWorcester Sports Team
|Tom Brady leads the Patriots on another playoff run|
A win would put the Patriots in their eighth straight AFC Championship game.
“This is the time of year we’ve got to go out and be at our best. It all comes down to this. It’s a production-based league and regardless of what’s happened to this point, it’s about winning this game. If you don’t play great, really in all three phases – any time you play good teams, you can’t expect one phase of your team to carry you. It’s got to be a great complementary game,” said Patriots quarterback Tom Brady during his press conference on Friday.
See What to Watch for in the Slideshow Below
Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski added, "The playoffs are always a different feeling no matter what, every single time we make it. Just the excitement level definitely turns up another notch, but you’ve got to stay in control. It’s definitely another football game. You’ve got to go out there, you’ve got to play."
Game time is set for 1 p.m.
Patriots vs Chargers
The Patriots and Chargers have met a total of 41 times in history with New England leading the all-time series 24-15-2, including 3-0 in the playoffs.
The last time the two teams met was in October of 2017 when the Patriots beat the Chargers 21-12 at Gillette Stadium.
However, this will be the first playoff meeting between the two franchises since January of 2008 when New England beat the Chargers 21-12 in the AFC Championship game to stay undefeated.
Chargers quarterback Phillip Rivers has never beaten the Patriots with Tom Brady under center.
"He’s a great player and they’ve had a lot of great teams in San Diego over the years led by him. He’s just a great passer, tough, very accurate. He’s a great leader so when I think about that team, it’s just – he’s an emotional leader and he always gets those guys going," said Brady.
Rivers added, "Now I’m not playing Tom by any means, but is it special to go to New England to go against a Hall of Fame coach and arguably the best quarterback ever to play? (Am I excited to) get another shot at them? Heck yeah. Heck yeah it is special."
Overall, the Patriots have won the last four games over the Chargers, their last loss coming in October of 2008 when Cassel was under center.
See What to Watch for in the Slideshow Below
Could this be Rob Gronkowski’s last game with the Patriots?
According to ProFootballTalk’s Mike Floria, if and when the Patriots playoff run ends, Gronkowski could retire.
“I think he would walk away and retire. One of the things last year I was hearing is that there were people in the family that were trying to get him,” said Florio in an interview with WEEI.
Gronkowski contemplated retirement after the Patriots lost the Super Bowl last season.
Florio added, “I was convinced based on things I was hearing in Minnesota last year, the week before the Super Bowl, that if the Patriots had won that game against the Eagles, Gronk would have walked off into the sunset.”
This season, Gronkowski is having one of the worst years statistically of his career and failed to reach any of his contract incentives.
In 13 games, he has caught just 47 passes for 682 yards and only three touchdowns.
Next season, his cap hit goes to $12 million.
“My mindset is just all focused on the Chargers. It’s the biggest game of the year, Sunday at 1 o’clock. Just the last few days putting the preparation in, all focus on the Chargers, all focus on whatever I can do to help out the team. Whatever the coaches ask me to do, I’m trying to do it to the best of my ability during practice and then bringing it out to the game on Sunday,” said Gronkowski during his press conference on Thursday.
In Sunday’s game, Gronkowski is expected to see a lot of Chargers’ defensive back Derwin James.
James played all 57 defensive snaps for the Chargers last week and finished with five tackles, and one QB hit.
“He usually plays around the line of scrimmage. I think he leads their team in everything – tackles, assists, pass break-ups, interceptions, big hits. He does play away from their line of scrimmage at times. He’s good back there, too. He’s got good range, good speed, he’s long, he’s hard to block, very instinctive, good tackler, good blitzer. He’s good at everything. He’s a good player,” said Patriots head coach Bill Belichick during his Wednesday press conference.
Sunday’s game will be a fascinating one on many occasions for Gronkowski and the Patriots.
James White has been a key to the Patriots offense for the entire season, and he will be once again.
Overall, the Chargers are ranked as one of the best pass defenses in the NFL, giving up just 26.8 points per game in the regular season, 8th best in the league.
However, when it comes to defending backs catching passes out of the backfield, they are near the worst.
LA ranks 29th for pass yards, giving up 841, 25th in the league for yards per attempt with 6.8, 30th in the league for yards after catch (YAC) with 906 and give up a completion percentage of 78.9.
"They decide to play seven DBs or whatever it is or they switch up the looks every other play, you just got to communicate what defensive personnel is in the game," said White during his press conference earlier this week.
This season, White has been targeted 123 times and caught 87 passes for 751 yards.
For what it is worth, in last season’s game against the Chargers, James White, Rex Burkhead and Dion Lewis caught 14 passes for 163 yards on 15 targets.
The Chargers come into the game with some of the best outside talent that the Patriots secondary has seen this season.
LA is led by Keenan Allen, who has hauled in 97 passes for 1,196 yards and six touchdowns.
“He’s a great receiver. He’s very crafty, he’s quick in his routes, he makes big catches and he’s got a good quarterback, so that helps,” said Stephon Gilmore earlier in the week.
Allen is helped out by Mike Williams, who caught 43 passes for 664 yards and ten touchdowns on the season.
Chargers quarterback Phillip Rivers will also give it to running back Melvin Gordon and tight end Antonio Gates.
However, Rivers has also thrown six interceptions in LA’s final three regular season games, and he will give the Patriots secondary some opportunities to make plays.
“Rivers is one of those guys. Fiery guy, he's out there competing his butt off. I remember a few years ago, I think he had a torn ACL or something and he was still out there dragging his leg, competing for his guys. He's just that type of guy and that type of quarterback. He's one of the great ones so you relish the opportunity to play against him,” said Jason McCourty earlier this week.
Pats O Line
The Patriots offensive line, Trent Brown and Marcus Cannon in particular, have a tough challenge this week when they go up against LA edge rushers Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa.
This season, Ingram racked up seven sacks to lead LA, while Bosa had 5.5 sacks in only seven games played.
Last week against the Ravens, LA racked up seven sacks.
“They’re great players and any time you’ve got two pass-rushers, it makes it tough to stop for an offense because you give attention to one guy, the other guy’s got kind of a free pass. So it’s tough and I think that’s why they’re one of the best defenses in the league because they’ve got guys that rush and any time you can play that style, the ball comes out faster than an offense would like it to,” said Brady during his press conference.
Both Ingram and Bosa move around a lot along the front line, sometimes lining up on the same side to overload one of the tackles or over the middle.
“Obviously, they’ve got two really good edge guys in Bosa and Ingram and they do a lot with them. They don’t just play one position. So, it’s going to be a big challenge. We can’t play the game from third-and-long, can’t play the game from behind the sticks. We did that a lot last year, and it’s not a very favorable way to play these guys,” said center David Andrews.
During the season, LA was ranked just 22nd best in sacks per pass play, but with Bosa and Ingram at full speed, they are playing much better than that heading into the divisional round.
Home vs Road Warriors
Something has to give on Sunday between the best road team in the NFL and the best home team in the NFL.
New England went 8-0 inside the friendly confines of Gillette Stadium, while going 3-5 on the road.
On the other side, the Chargers went 8-1 on the road, but their only loss was to the LA Rams.
If you count their trip to London this season, they actually went 9-0 away from LA.
“I don’t think it’s any advantage. Last week three of the four road teams won. The advantage is the team that plays well. That’s what we’re going to try and do – play and coach our best game Sunday afternoon. That’s our goal,” said Belichick.
Temperatures are expected to be in the high 20s for the game.
The Patriots are 13-0 at home in games in which temps were 32 degrees or colder.
“They’re a good football team. We’re playing the Chargers. We’re not playing the weather. Whatever it is, it is,” added Belichick.