Aside from liberal application of the mute button to Dan Fouts, my keys for Sunday are:
Shuffle along, or:Β Last week’s return of Rex Burkhead to the field gave us a fuller idea of what the Patriots’ four-headed rushing attack will be used for. However, as was pointed out on PatsPulpit (I can’t find the exact article), Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels committed to a rotation regardless of how well the previous back was playing – Dion Lewis was elusive for a drive, then Burkhead ran powerfully for a drive, then Mike Gillislee… you get the pattern. With many arguing a major key to a successful offensive performance against not-San-Diego will be a strong running game to prevent Chargers pass rushers Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram from going after Tom Brady at will, there are two theories as to how to approach the running back rotation. First, the Patriots could rely on the hot hand at the position. But the team may also stick with the pure rotation, reasoning that the defense would have prepared for the back from the previous drive. Regardless of how the team does it, it will be interesting to see who carries the ball most for New England.
Will it blend?: The Chargers have a talented mix of height and speed at wide receiver. Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, and Tyrell Williams are all 6’3″ or taller, while Travis Benjamin can fly. (Fifth receiver Geremy Davis is 6’2″.) Patriots cornerbacks Johnson Bademosi and Jonathan Jones have filled in surprisingly well after injuries to Stephon Gilmore and Eric Rowe; while Rowe does not appear ready to return, Gilmore should be back on the field in his #1 role Sunday, leaving the Patriots with several options (no, I didn’t forget about Malcolm Butler) to cover not-San-Diego’s wideouts. In particular, Bademosi’s recent surge leaves the Patriots a little more comfortable in the secondary, but the unit – particularly Gilmore – still has the reputation of their early poor play. A strong game Sunday would help significantly.
A little rest and recreation: Next week is the Patriots’ bye. Surprise! And with a coming bye, the Patriots should be more motivated to get a win this week so as not to taste a loss in their mouths for two weeks. The team has already had a long week for one loss (sorry for the opening night reminder) to settle in, and no one wants that again. Despite the loss of Dont’a Hightower, New England is going to have to do all the things that have become Belichick clichΓ©s – “do your job,” “next man up,” “coach gets first dibs at the guacamole” – in order to enter their bye with the satisfaction of a victory well-won.