The New England Patriots improved to 3-4 after dismantling the New York Jets 54-13 last Sunday in Foxborough. They not only got their first home win of the season but played their best game of 2021. Rookie quarterback Mac Jones had his best game of the season as well. He was 24 of 36 for 307 yards and two touchdowns. The running game was strong as well. Both Damien Harris and J.J. Taylor ran for two touchdowns each, with Harris also rushing for 106 yards.
Next up for them are the Los Angeles Chargers (4-2) at SoFi Stadium on Sunday. Last season, the Patriots shut out the Chargers 45-0 in Southern California. This year should be different as both teams are improved. The Chargers are looking to keep pace with the division-leading Las Vegas Raiders (5-2) in the AFC West. Meanwhile, the Patriots are looking for a win to get back to .500. That would put them an inch closer to the Buffalo Bills (4-2) in the AFC East. Let’s take a look at what the Patriots need to do for a win.
1. Limit Justin Herbert
The Charger offense is good and is ranked 12th in total offense. They feature running back Austin Ekeler and wide receivers Keenan Allen and Mike Williams. However, quarterback Justin Herbert is the key. He had an excellent rookie season and was named the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year after throwing for 4,336 yards and 31 touchdowns. Mobile, he was also able to rush for 234 yards and five touchdowns. Yet, despite this, he did struggle at times. In the match-up with the Patriots last season, Herbert did like so many rookie quarterbacks before him when they faced Bill Belichick for the first time: he lost and struggled mightily. He was 26 of 53 for 209 yards and 2 interceptions.
This season Herbert is 161 of 246 for 1,771 yards, with 14 touchdowns and four interceptions. Ekeler has rushed for 356 yards and four touchdowns and has 27 receptions for 242 yards and three touchdowns. The duo of Allen (39) and Williams (33) has combined for 72 receptions, 917 yards, and seven touchdowns. For the Patriots to win they will need to limit Herbert and put pressure on him. Moreover, perhaps they will also try to focus on Ekeler since he is so good coming out of the backfield.
2. Let Mac Run The Offense
It is no secret that the Patriots have been conservative on offense this season. There was the decision to go for the field goal on a 4th and 3 in the Tampa Bay game. There was the call in overtime against the Cowboys on another 4th and 3 from their 46-yard line. Jones played well in that game despite the loss and was even better against the Jets last weekend. The Chargers are ranked 19th in total defense and are allowing 162.5 rushing yards per game. So even if the Pats want Mac to throw the ball, they will want to try and get the running game going.
That has been an issue considering the offensive line has not been at full strength due to various injuries. The running game has not been great, but they are averaging 95.4 rushing yards per game. Harris is the leader as he leads the team with 437 yards and 5 touchdowns. No other running back has more than 50 yards rushing.
3. Special Teams
In last season’s game, the Patriots special teams unit was great. Gunner Olszewski returned a punt for a touchdown. Devin McCourty returned a blocked goal for a 44-yard touchdown as well. Everyone knows how much Bill Belichick focuses on special teams and if they can get a big play or two from this unit, that could be the difference between a win or a loss.
Nick Folk has made 16 of 17 field goals this season with a long of 52 and is 15 of 18 on extra points. The Chargers have struggled with their special teams unit especially in the kicking game. They released rookie kicker Tristan Vizcaino this week after he missed five extra points the last four games and signed veteran Dustin Hopkins. If the game comes down to the kickers, the Patriots will have the edge.
This figures to be an interesting game this week. It will be better than last season since it is unlikely to be a shutout. It might even turn into a shootout. The Patriots put up 54 points last week. Meanwhile, the Chargers are coming off a bye week after getting beat pretty handily in Baltimore 34-6 by the Ravens. They promise to put up some points as well. Whoever has the ball last will win. Patriots 35 Chargers 31
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