BOSTON (CBS) — After winning their first home game of the season last weekend with a blowout victory over the New York Jets, the Patriots now have a much more difficult task at hand in Week 8. They have to head out west and play one of the most promising teams in the AFC.
That team is the Los Angeles Chargers. The Bolts sit at 4-2 on the season, and just had two weeks to think about a 34-6 drubbing by the Baltimore Ravens. They’ll be pretty amped to take the field on Halloween.READ MORE: Brad Marchand Reveals What He Said To Artemi Panarin, Shares Disappointment With Suspension Decision
The Chargers have a promising young coach in Brandon Staley and a promising young quarterback in Justin Herbert. Herbert has a great arsenal of wide receivers at his disposal, giving L.A. a terrifying offensive attack, and the defense touts a solid secondary and frightening pass rush. The L.A. defense has a son of a former Patriot who is making a name for himself in his rookie season, and pass-rush extraordinaire Joey Bosa will be haunting Mac Jones all afternoon on Sunday. It could lead to a pretty scary Halloween for New England’s rookie quarterback.
New England traveled to SoFi Stadium last season and handed the Chargers a 45-0 beatdown. But Los Angeles is a much better and much more confident team since last December. Here’s what we’ll be watching for as the Patriots go for their second straight victory.
Patriots Need To Hit The Ground Running
The Chargers are a good team, but they have been horrifying at stopping the run. They now welcome in a Patriots team that is coming off its most successful weekend on the ground. Damien Harris ran wild for 106 yards and two touchdowns on just 14 carries against the Jets, while J.J. Taylor had two additional rushing touchdowns.
The Jets are the Jets, and that needs no explanation. But the Chargers are the worst run defense in the NFL this season. It’s as disappointing as that one house that gives away toothbrushes on Halloween. L.A. has allowed 162.5 yards per game and 5.45 yards per carry through their first six games, both of which rank 32nd in the league.
While youngsters in New England will be racing around their neighborhoods on Sunday, Patriots running backs will have a chance to rack up their best rushing game of the season. The Browns ran all over the Chargers in Week 5, amassing 230 yards on the ground. The Cowboys (198 yards in Week 2) and the Ravens (187 yards and three touchdowns two weeks ago) both flirted with 200-yard games against the Chargers.
Running all over the Chargers, and controlling the clock in the process, could be New England’s best route to an upset on Sunday.
A Terrifying Chargers Pass Attack
New England’s cornerback depth is downright spooky at the moment. Jonathan Jones has been lost for the year, which means Myles Bryant and Joejuan Williams will have to fill the void going forward. They’ll be seeing a lot of Keenan Allen over the middle on Sunday, which is a terrifying prospect for New England.READ MORE: On Tuukka Rask, Bruins GM Don Sweeney Gives Most Definitive Statement Yet
Herbert continues to develop into one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks in his second NFL season, with the Chargers averaging 282 yards through the air — eighth-best in the league. Allen is his favorite candy at wide receiver, leading the team with 39 receptions, but Mike Williams isn’t far behind and leads the team with six touchdown grabs. Running back Austin Ekeler is a legit target out of the backfield with 27 receptions and three touchdowns, while tight end Jared Allen has 21 receptions and a pair of touchdowns.
All of that will make for a rather challenging day for the Patriots secondary. They can’t afford the trick-or-treat results that we’ve seen over the first seven weeks of the season. J.C. Jackson and Jalen Mills (who has been ghastly at times) need to turn the lights out on Allen and Williams as best they can, and force Herbert to get his Halloween goodies elsewhere.
Watch Out For Asante Jr.
The Chargers have an extremely talented secondary, which currently ranks fourth in the NFL in allowing just 202 passing yards per game. So it will be frighteningly difficult for Jones to follow up his first 300-yard game with another one this weekend.
Los Angles has several ghouls in the secondary that can haunt a quarterback, led by corners Chris Harris, Michael Davis and rookie Asante Samuel Jr., who leads the group with a pair of interceptions and five passes defended. The son of former Patriot Asante Samuel (who will likely lob a few rolls of toilet paper at Bill Belichick’s reputation before and after the game) has had no trouble adapting to the NFL after a successful college career at Florida State. Safeties Derwin James (an interception, two passes defended and two forced fumbles) and Nasir Adderly (two passes defended) round out L.A.’s talented secondary.
With those guys locking down receivers, it gives the Chargers pass rush ample opportunity to steal candy from opposing quarterbacks. Los Angeles has 13 sacks over six games this season, with the aforementioned Joey Bosa leading the charge with 3.5 sacks.
Battle Of Special Teams
New England’s special teams play was a major part of last year’s shellacking of the Chargers. Los Angles was haunted all day by miscues in that phase of the game, as the Patriots got a punt return TD out of Gunner Olszewski and Devin McCourty returned a blocked field goal attempt for a score. It led to the Chargers firing their special teams coach later that week.
Special teams play has gotten slightly better under Staley, but their issues have yet to be completely exorcised. Baltimore got a 47-yard kick return from Devin Duvernay to start the second half in Week 5, leading to a 12-play, 52-yard touchdown drive for the Ravens. The Chargers consistently allow 30-yard returns every weekend.
Their kicker situation is still spine-chilling too, with Tristan Vizcaino missing five PATs over the last four games. He’s 6-for-7 on field goal attempts, but given Staley’s penchant for going for it on fourth down, Vizcaino has only attempted one field goal since September.MORE NEWS: Let's Look At The Buffalo Bills, Who Will Host Patriots In Their Biggest Game Of The Season
The Patriots will have to do a lot of things right to compete with the Chargers on Sunday, and they’ve had their own share of issues on special teams this season. A strong game out of that unit could go a long way in New England pulling off a Halloween upset.