BOSTON (CBS) — The Patriots head into their Week 8 game against the Chargers as 5.5-point underdogs. That’s because the Chargers are, quite clearly, a better football team.

Yet there is one one notable area that the Patriots may be suited to capitalize in Sunday’s game, and that’s on the ground.

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The Chargers enter Sunday’s game ranked … 32nd in rushing yards allowed — both per game (162.5) and per attempt (5.45). In a league with 32 teams, that’s not particularly impressive.

Teams have had some absurd rushing days against the Chargers this year. The Browns ran for 230 yards and three touchdowns on 35 carries in Week 5. The Cowboys ran for 198 yards and two touchdowns on 31 carries in Week 2. The Chiefs ran for 186 yards on 30 carries in Week 3. The Ravens had 187 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 38 carries in Week 6.

With the Patriots coming off their most complete rushing game of the season, another positive day on the ground appears to be on the horizon.

Damien Harris rushed for 106 yards and two touchdowns on just 14 carries on Sunday, and J.J. Taylor added 21 yards and two more touchdowns. That work, of course, comes with the caveat of having come against the Jets. Still, the only worse day the Jets had against the run came against Derrick Henry and the Titans, so it wasn’t as if the Jets were getting gashed on the ground all year.

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(Harris had 80 yards on 16 carries vs. the Chargers last year, when the Patriots rolled to a 45-0 win in L.A.)

The Patriots would be best to roll out the same offensive line in L.A. that they used to bulldoze the Jets, with Ted Karras at left guard and Mike Onwenu at right tackle. While the team clearly wanted Onwenu to settle in at guard, the lack of reliability at right tackle during Trent Brown’s injury has been submarining the entire offense for the bulk of the season.

If they can run the ball, control the clock, and finish drives, they’ll have a chance to win. And there’s reason for optimism there, too; the Chargers rank 21st in red zone defense, allowing touchdowns on 68 percent of opponents’ trips inside the 20. The Chargers also have yet to stop any opponent that gets into a goal-to-go situation from reaching the end zone.

That will obviously not guarantee much in the way of the final score. In the four games where the Chargers have allowed more than 180 rushing yards, they’re 2-2. They lost a close one to the Cowboys (20-17) and got blown out by the Ravens (34-6), but they outdueled the Browns 47-42 and beat the Chiefs 30-24. That Chiefs win came thanks in large part to the Chargers winning the turnover battle 4-0, while the win over the Browns came via 398 yards and four passing touchdowns by Justin Herbert, along with 29 rushing yards and another touchdown for the quarterback. Austin Ekeler ran for 66 yards and two touchdowns, even though the final one was unintentional. The Chargers can still win, even when they get run on.

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Yet if the Patriots are going to make this one interesting, it figures to start with running the ball effectively and securing the football.

CBSBoston.com Staff