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By Curtis Egan
<em>BoltTalk Staff Writer</em>
It was just over nine months ago. The San Diego Charger fans were excited after finishing the regular season with the best record in football. The Chargers enjoyed a week of rest as the first round by went by slowly. January 14th finally came and the Patriots took the field underdogs in San Diego, ready to challenge the Chargers for the right to move on to the AFC Championship game.
Early in the game the Chargers enjoyed good field position. The Chargers moved the ball on the first drive into Patriots territory before being forced to punt the ball away. New England's first drive also resulted in a punt after only three plays. They started the drive on their own 10-yard line. That is the way the first half went, punch and counter punch, attack, feint and counter attack. Back and forth, neither team taking a true advantage.
The Chargers Defense was able to keep the Patriots from finding success via the run for most of the second half of the game. It fell on Patriots Quarterback, Tom Brady and the passing game to win the game for the Patriots. His numbers weren't eye-popping due to the constant pressure the Chargers kept on him. The pressure forced three interceptions; But Brady was able to find his composure when needed, completing passes for 280 yards and 2 touchdowns. That proved enough to end the playoff run for the Chargers.
That day the Patriots won, and bad blood was set to boil with the post game antics of Ellis Hobbs, who Philip Rivers names "The sorriest Corner in the League". That bad blood should carry over to the upcoming game. Both teams have a dislike for one another, both teams feel they have something to prove, respect to be gained from their opposition.
Now on September 16th another invasion of the colonies takes place. It will not be red coat soldiers marching through the streets seeking to subjugate the Patriot upstarts, instead it will be the White, Gold and Blue clad San Diego Chargers who will attack by air, and ground. They will bring with them the reigning league MVP in Running Back, LaDanian Tomlinson to lead the ground attack and Quarterback, Philip Rivers who will lead the air attack. The Chargers will seek to advance to 2-0 on the season, getting past the toughest two consecutive games they will play this season.
What does this mean? That means this is going to be a smash mouth game that will be played as if it is the Superbowl. This will be a slugfest between two very good teams, two teams that believe they have the right to represent the AFC this year. This could be the shot heard around the world as the upstarts try to knock off the established three time Superbowl champions.
<strong><em>Chargers on Offense:</em></strong>
Chargers Quarterback Philip Rivers and Head Coach Norv Turner are going to have to get the wide outs involved in this game. If the Chargers continue to rely solely on Running Back LaDanian Tomlinson and Tight End Antonio Gates, then the offense will be predictable. The Chargers had a very tough time establishing the run against the Chicago Bears. The Patriots will be reviewing the tapes of the game and will try and do what the Bears did. Shut down Tomlinson and make the Chargers passing game beat them. Of course that mentality did not keep the Chargers from beating the Bears, but there is no way to make a comparison between the Patriots and Bears Offensive units.
Without getting the wide outs involved, the Chargers limit themselves and allow the Patriots Defensive unit to key on Tomlinson and Gates. Charger Wide Receivers Vincent Jackson, Craig Davis, and Malcom Floyd will have to be a bigger part of the offensive scheme to allow the running lanes to open up and the Chargers to control the clock. This task is made a little easier as Patriots Safety Rodney Harrison will be serving the second game of his four game suspension for violating the leagues substance abuse policy.
The Chargers will have to get the running game going. They will need to control the clock and keep the defense off of the field and fresh.
<strong><em>Chargers on Defense: </em></strong>
This is simple; the Chargers defense has one task. Pressure Tom Brady. Hit him, bump him, and make him hear footsteps, make him look over his shoulder. Against the Jets Brady had several plays where he could sit back and let the play progress for more than six seconds without any pressure. The result was three passing touchdowns and no interceptions. But Brady did not face the Chargers defensive front seven which can not only stop the run but get after a quarterback.
The Chargers will have to make Brady throw off balance and not give his receivers time to complete their routes. With Moss still slowed with a sore leg, and Welker not being the fastest receiver, if the Chargers can ensure they have the pressure on Brady, the patriots will have to settle for short passes which allow the Chargers speedy defense to close on them rapidly.
The Chargers will also have to play tough against the run. While Running back Lawrence Maroney is not Corey Dillon, he is a good back who can pound out the yards. Make them work for every yard and get them into third and long situations.
<strong><em>Patriots on Offense: </em></strong>
The Patriots opened their 2007 season with a victory over the New York Jets 38-14. The Patriots Offensive line pass protected extremely well giving Tom Brady had time all day to stand in the pocket and wait for plays to develop. Brady enjoyed the time and connected on 22 of 28 passes, for 297 yards and one touchdown. The Chargers will have to create pressure upfront and rattle Brady to keep him from making such an assault on the secondary of the Chargers.
The Patriots Offensive Line did well in pass protection; however, they struggled to open running lanes for the Patriot runners who had to struggle all day long to get the dirty yards. The Patriots leading rusher on the day was Laurence Maroney, who ran for 72 yards on 20 carries. He didn't find the end zone, and will not have an easier time of it against the Chargers ferocious run stopping defense.
The Patriots have shown that they can score, hitting long bombs to Randy Moss. If Moss is doubles up on they have shown that they will get Wide Receiver Wes Welker and Tight End Benjamin Watson into the passing game. They will seek to allow the Chargers front seven to over commit to the pass rush then hit the void behind the middle line backers between the hash marks.
<strong><em>Patriots on Defense: </em></strong>
They will seek first to stop the run. They will focus on Tomlinson and seek to prevent him from getting one track. The Patriots also employee the 3-4 defensive scheme the Chargers do as well. They will move their Inside Line Backers Adalius Thomas, and Teddy Bruschi up to stuff the running lanes.
The Patriots will use the cover two defense to allow their front seven to be able to stay up towards the line of scrimmage. The will count on Strong Safety, James Sanders, and Safety, Eugene Wilson to protect the soft middle behind the line backers. Eugene Wilson is a good tackler and led the patriots in tackles against the Jets with 7 solo tackles.
Patriots Head Coach, Bill Belichick will continue to focus on match-ups which means that thought Sanders is starting this season doesn't indicate that Corner Back/Safety Brandon Meriweather won't get into the games to fill in for Harrison during his suspension.
Meriweather excited his coaches with 19 preseason tackles, including 14 solo, against the Giants he played the game at safety.
"We were able to give him an opportunity to play, really, all three positions: corner, nickel back and safety," <a href="http://www.southcoasttoday.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070907/SPORTS/709070374" target="_blank">Belichick said</a>. "I do feel like he gives us some depth at all of those spots. We'll just have to prioritize how it's going to go, and it may change from game to game, too."
<strong><em>The monkey and the wrench:</em></strong>
There is bad blood between these two teams. There is absolutely no love lost between the two. This will be a knock down, drag out slugfest. Anyone who thinks otherwise is in for a rude awakening. This game could come down to who can deliver the last knock out punch.
<strong><em>Concudan's Prognostication: </em></strong>
In a tough game the Chargers go on the road. The bolts are a much better team than the New York Jets. The Patriots will be ready for them, however the Chargers will win a tough fought battle.
Chargers 24, Patriots 17.
As of 09/06/07 The Patriots are favored by 4 points. The Jets are not the Chargers however. It is not a gimme game for either side. But I see the Chargers defense being better and proving to be the deciding factor.
<strong>Key Match Ups:</strong>
<strong><em>QB Tom Brady vs. LBs Shawne Merriman & Shaun Phillips:</em></strong>
Brady is a good Quarterback, but he is facing a deadly pass rushing combination in Charger Line Backers Merriman and Philips. They know how to fly to the quarterback from the outside. Brady will have to keep his head on a swivel because much of the Chargers pass rush will come from the outside as the Corners and Safety will most likely be used to keep Patriot Wide Outs Randy Moss and Wes Welker in check.
The Chargers will have to rattle Brady, hitting him or getting him to move in order to keep him from getting comfortable and picking the Chargers secondary apart.
<strong><em>NT Jamal Williams vs. C Dan Koppen:</em></strong>
Williams will have to control the interior of the defensive line plugging up the running routes inside. That will allow the remaining members of the Chargers front seven to contain the outside ground game so the Chargers can unleash their fierce pass rush on long passing downs.
How ever Koppen is no push over as he has helped the Patriots to record 1,969 rushing yards, the team's second highest total in the last 18 years. Last January Koppen was part of an offensive line that allowed only two sacks of Tom Brady in 51 pass attempts.
Williams will have to move Koppen out of position to allow the pass rush the get to Brady, simply stacking up the line of scrimmage while effective against the run will give Brady more time than the Chargers want him to have to pick the his spot to attack the Chargers secondary at.
<strong><em>WR Randy Moss vs. CB Quentin Jammer:</em></strong>
WR Randy Moss had a big day against the Jets gaining 183 yards on nine receptions including three touchdowns. The Chargers however are familiar with Moss who has spent the last few seasons as a Raider. Jammer will be assigned the primary coverage of Moss, who will command double coverage. This however will leave the Patriots Wide Out Wes Welker, who caught 6 passes for 61 yards and a touchdown singled up. The Chargers will want to keep the Patriots from getting rolling.
<strong><em>RB LaDanian Tomlinson vs. LB Teddy Bruschi:</em></strong>
In the game last January Chargers Running Backs were able to get 148 yards rushing with LaDanian Tomlinson accounting for 123. The Chargers can get the running game going, but they will have to work the tight end and wide outs in crossing patterns to pull the speedy line backers of the Patriots out of the running lanes. If the Chargers can't move the line backers out of the lanes the running game will be limited to short gains.
However, it was Tomlinson who was one of the angriest Chargers after the Patriots celebrated by dancing on the Charger's logo at center field after the game. I am not saying that Tomlinson has carried a grudge this long, but I am sure that he wants to show the Patriots the error of their ways.
Tomlinson will also want to get his running game going after playing against one of the best unit in the Chicago Bears. The Bears held him to 25 yards rushing and Tomlinson will be eager to show that this was a one time occurrence.
<strong><em>LT Marcus McNeill vs. DE Jarvis Green:</em></strong>
McNeil anchored 148-yard effort in AFC Playoffs vs. New England, and played well against the veteran lineman. McNeil will be called on to protect Philip Rivers' blindside as the Patriots bring Line Backers such as Teddy Bruschi, and Mike Vrable in to overload the line and put pressure on Philip Rivers.
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