Patriots vs Chargers: The Key Matchups to Watch

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Each week the game comes down to the match-ups. This is the top match-ups that will determine which team emerges victorious.

The New England Patriots had their strongest all-around performance last week when they defeated the Atlanta Falcons 23-7 in their long-anticipated Super Bowl 51 rematch. Of course, the victory came with a high price as defensive captain linebacker Dont’a Hightower tore his pectoral muscle in the victory and will be lost for the season.

They stay at home again this week and welcome the Los Angeles Chargers to Gillette Stadium on Sunday afternoon in their first of three consecutive games against the AFC West. After the home game they have their bye week, then play on Sunday night in Denver. The next week they are in Mexico City to face the Oakland Raiders (no word on whether Mexican media member and Tom Brady Super Bowl jersey pilferer will be on hand).

After opening the season 0-4 the Chargers have won three straight and had a decisive 21-0 shutout of their AFC West rivals the Denver Broncos. Winners of three straight games, they will present a tough match-up for the Patriots.

This week’s match-up will be broadcast by CBS and can be seen on WBZ-TV Channel 4. While Ian Eagle will ably handle play-by-play duties, it is his color analyst who will again draw the ire of Patriots fans. Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Fouts as the color analyst. Fouts delivered arguably a brutal broadcast a few weeks back against the Jets. Evan Washburn will work from the sidelines. This appears to be a game many fans will want to listen to the radio broadcast instead of Fouts.

On the radio, this week’s game will be broadcast to a national audience on ESPN Radio. Adam Amin and former Indianapolis Colts general manager and card-carrying member of the “I hate the Patriots club” Bill Polian will call the game (not much better than Fouts!). Locally, the Patriots’ flagship station 98.5 FM the Sports Hub will carry the game on the Patriots Radio Network as always. The Patriots are on the radio on 40 stations throughout the nation and will feature broadcasters Bob Socci doing play-by-play and local media member and former Patriots backup quarterback Scott Zolak adding color.

Now that you know how to watch and listen to the game, here is the key match-up to watch that will determine if the Patriots continue their winning ways against the Los Angeles Chargers or if Philip Rivers will pull off the upset.
NE CB Malcolm Butler and CB Stephon Gilmore vs LAC WR Keenan Allen and WR Tyrell Williams

The Los Angeles Chargers spent the seventh overall pick in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft pick on speedy wide receiver Mike Williams. Unfortunately, due to injuries Williams has not been able to get on the field for the first quarter of the season and is playing limited snaps only. Fortunately for the Chargers, while they waited for their first-round draft pick to get on the field they already had a suitable replacement in third year undrafted free agent Tyrell Williams.

Last season Williams was thrust into a key role with starter Keenan Allen injured in the first game of the 2016 season and on injured reserve for the rest of the season. Williams finished 2016 with 69 catches for 1,059 yards and seven touchdowns (all stats from Pro-Football-Reference.com unless otherwise noted). So far in 2017, he has 21 receptions for 298 yards.

Opposite Williams is veteran Keenan Allen. Allen is on pace to play a full season for the first time since 2014 and has fought through a shoulder injury in recent weeks despite not missing any games. Allen leads the Chargers with 36 receptions for 487 yards through seven games. The cagey veteran lacks high-end speed, but even before injuries, it was the reason he dropped to the third round of the 2013 NFL Draft.

Allen is a master route-runner and is a large target at six-foot-two and 2016 pounds. Quarterback Philip Rivers has a strong bond with Allen and is usually looking his way on third down. Allen had a tough week last week, but so did every receiver for the Chargers as they faced the stingy Broncos secondary.

Allen should see a lot of cornerback Malcolm Butler in coverage. Butler struggled early in the season like the rest of the New England secondary. His improved play the past three weeks has coincided with the defense playing some of its best football of the season.

Butler had a strong game in coverage against the Falcons. Unlike the Super Bowl where he primarily covered slot receiver Doug Gabriel, Butler was on either Julio Jones or Mohamed Sanu for much of the game and competed hard in coverage while limiting yards after the catch and not allowing any big, game-changing receptions. Per Doug Kyed at NESN.com he allowed just five receptions for 44 yards and was credited with a pass breakup.

On the other side, it was surprising starter Johnson Bademosi for the second week in coverage of Sanu and Jones. Bademosi allowed just three receptions for 31 yards per Kyed. While Stephon Gilmore is expected to retake his starting role now that he has been removed from the concussion protocols, Bademosi may have proven he is much more than just a special teams player.

Gilmore had improved his play before the concussion after a dreadful start to his career in New England. Blown assignments were his forte with a wide open wide receiver scoring easily each week. Gilmore is an important asset this week as he has the size and wingspan to cover the six-foot-four and 205 pounds Tyrell Williams.

Whatever the combination of cornerbacks (and do not discount slot cornerback Jonathan Jones who shut down Tyler Gabriel), the Patriots need to step-up in this match-up to hold down the potent passing attack of the Chargers.

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