The New England Patriots make their home debut this week, against the San Diego Chargers, after dismantling the Miami Dolphins on the road last week.
Despite struggling offensively against the Minnesota Vikings, the Chargers should provide a stern test for the Patriots and test their Super Bowl credentials.
Tom Brady had a record setting 517 yards last week in Miami. With arguably the best starting secondary in the league coming to town, don't expect him to put in such a machine-like performance this week.
The Chargers dominated the Minnesota Vikings' offense in their opening game of the season. Vikings' starting quarterback Donovan McNabb finished the game with only 39 passing yards. It's easy to see why when you look at the names lining up across from him.
Antoine Cason and Quintin Jammer are too very talented cornerbacks. The veteran cornerbacks shouldn't suffer from the cramping that Sean Smith and Vontae Davis did last week. They shouldn't have to come off the field and their experience will allow them to deal with the Patriots' no huddle package better than the Dolphins' did.
When you pair those two corners with a healthy Bob Sanders and re-signed Eric Weddle, it's difficult to determine where you want to throw the ball on the Chargers. Sanders looks to be fully healthy for the first time in years while Weddle is probably the most underrated safety in the league.
While neither player is tall enough to match up to either Aaron Hernandez or Rob Gronkowski, their physicality should make both of the Patriots' tight ends' jobs more difficult. Takeo Spikes and Donald Butler will be looking to intimidate the pair also as that should, once again, be a key battle that will decide the outcome of the game.
Tom Brady had plenty of time in the pocket last week. This will be one major area of concern for the Chargers who will be missing Luis Castillo, while Larry English was inactive last week once again. Without those two players, the Chargers will be looking to Shaun Phillips matchup with Sebastien Vollmer—who returned to practice this week—and Corey Liuget to get in Brady's face through the middle.
Devin McCourty's matchup to Vincent Jackson will be a major point of contention for Bill Belichick as he prepares this week. McCourty was thrown at more than any Patriots' player last week, he was targeted 15 times allowing nine receptions for 151 yards.
McCourty struggled with Brandon Marshall's height. Marshall didn't have a great game but still put up big numbers, there were opportunities for Marshall to catch the football against McCourty that he couldn't take because of his strength. Jackson won't have that problem this week.
If fully focused and healthy, Jackson can be a dominant receiver. He has imposing upper body strength to go a long with his speed to get deep. Jackson will cause headaches for the Patriots secondary today. Those headaches will become migraines when they try to shut down the rest of Philip Rivers' weapons.
In Antonio Gates the Chargers have the most difficult player to match up to throughout the whole league. Possessing the speed of Aaron Hernandez and the size of Rob Gronkowski, Gates has been dominating this league for a lot longer than either of the Patriots' studs.
Even if the Patriots find a way to double both Gates and Jackson, Malcom Floyd is too big to be shut down by Leigh Bodden or Kyle Arrington. Ras-I Dowling may be asked to take the assignment, after showing some good physical play last week, but if Philip Rivers looks his way, he will be in trouble also.
Rivers will be determined to have a big day this week after struggling against, what should have been a lesser, Minnesota Vikings' side. The young quarterback was unbelievable last season without his best targets, this year he is looking to prove the few doubters left that he is an elite quarterback.
The passing game will definitely be the biggest worry, but Mike Tolbert had a big game last year. His injury status is a little uncertain, but he is expected to get more carries than Ryan Mathews after his three touchdowns last week.
Mathews must not be overlooked however. While he has struggled as a professional to this point, he has shown flashes of big plays. He was a big play specialist in college who, if given the chance, will put points on the board from anywhere on the field.
In what could be an AFC Championship game preview, the New England Patriots face a tough test today against the San Diego Chargers. Don't be surprised if another shootout is on the cards, however while the Dolphins may have brought a bigger gun than expected last week, the Chargers will be driving a tank.
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