Yesturday, the New England Patriots blew out the Los Angeles Chargers by a final score of 41-28. Despite the Chargers scoring 28 total points, much of that scoring came later in the game when the contest was effectively over. With the divisional round victory, New England will advance to their eighth straight AFC Championship game and will travel to face the Kansas City Chiefs this upcoming Sunday. There are several thoughts and observations I took away from the win over the Chargers and while some are encouraging, others worry me.
My first observation is this: the Patriots’ offense looked absolutely surgical throughout the game. To start, New England won the coin toss and elected to receive the opening kickoff, a move that has almost never been used in the Belichick coaching era. In New England, three things are certain, death, taxes and Belichick deferring on a won coin flip. However, this game was different. The Patriots wanted to come out aggressive and blow the Chargers’ doors off. This they did–New England’s opening drive took almost half of the first quarter and featured 14 plays that went for 83 yards which eventually lead to a one yard Sony Michel rushing touchdown. This trend continued as the Patriots’ scored on their first four possessions and by the time the first half was over, New England had opened up a 35-7 lead over Los Angeles. The Patriots’ offense looked nothing like anything we had seen all season. They looked young, fast and tuned up against a very good Chargers’ defense. Tom Brady looked healthy, sharp and confident as he finished the day 34/44 throwing for 343 yards and one touchdown. In addition to stats, Brady was confident and stepped into every one of his throws. He did not look nearly as timid as he has at some points this season. Julian Edelman was vintage and looked to have finally gotten past his knee/ foot injuries that have been plaguing him all season. Edelman finished with nine receptions for 151 yards and moved into second all time in postseason receptions behind only Jerry Rice. Perhaps the biggest factor in yesterday’s game was that New England’s offensive line absolutely dominated the line of scrimmage in both the running game and the passing game. The Patriots’ tackles neutralized the talented Chargers’ pass rush of Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram as well as blowing the Chargers’ defensive line off the ball to open up huge holes for Patriots’ running backs. As a team, New England ran the football 34 times for a total of 155 yards and four touchdowns. Rookie first round running back, Sony Michel, accounted for 24 of those attempts, 129 of those yards and three of those touchdowns. While the Patriots’ offensive line has been elite all season, they deserve the most credit for yesterday’s offensive performance.
My second observation was how New England needed heavy blitzing to put pressure on the Chargers’ offense. The Patriots have only one game wrecker on their defensive line, defensive end/ defensive tackle Trey Flowers. The Patriots’ have shown time after time that they are unable to put effective pressure on an opposing quarterback with just a four man rush. Yesterday, New England took out all the stops. From the start of the game, the Patriots sent heavy blitzes at the Chargers and forced quarterback Philip Rivers to make quick decisions that often led to poor passes or a throw away. As the game continued, the Chargers failed to make the proper adjustments to New England’s blitzes and Patriots’ head coach Bill Belichick did not let up.
My third and final observation from yesterday’s 41-28 win was the attitude of New England. Throughout the regular season, the Patriots did not seem quite right. From rare mental mistakes, to losing to teams that are not even in the postseason now, it is certain that the Patriots had a subpar regular season compared to their standard. However, in yesterday’s game, New England demonstrated none of the qualities they showed in the regular season. Instead, they looked like a Super Bowl contender with an aggressive mindset that was determined to prove everyone wrong. That attitude and mindset had been lacking all regular season and it was the biggest reason why I had written them off. However, if the Patriots are able to capture that same mindset for the next three weeks and play at the level they played at yesterday, this Patriots team will contend for a Super Bowl this season.
Despite the hope I have for this team, a few things still very much worry me as they go into Arrowhead Stadium this weekend. The number one factor I am concerned about is the history of their play while away from Gillette this season. The Patriots were 3-5 this season on the road and looked like a complete shell of themselves whenever they were away from home. I am interested to see whether or not they can break that trend this weekend, but history is not on their side. In addition to their road struggles, I am still very concerned about Rob Gronkowski’s level of play. Without a doubt Gronk had a huge impact yesterday in the blocking game but he only had one reception. In order for the Patriots to knock off the high powered Chiefs, they will need to be perfect on both sides of the ball. They will need Gronk to be a weapon in the passing game like he has been the majority of his NFL career. My final concern about New England’s chances in Arrowhead is how their defense will be schemed. While the Patriots were able to dial up blitzes against Los Angeles, many of those blitzes came with cover zero–a coverage where there is no safety in the middle of the field and leaves defensive backs matched up one on one across the field. While this look worked yesterday, the Patriots do not have the personnel to run those same blitzes consistently against the Chiefs. Aside from Stephon Gilmore, New England has no corner or safety that I trust in a one on one man coverage situation against any of the Chiefs’ offensive weapons. The Patriots’ second corner on their depth chart, Jason McCourty, can not be trusted in man coverage. McCourty proved yesterday that he will give up completions but will be in position to make the tackle after the catch. Usually, this style of coverage is good for a number two depth level corner. However, given the fact that New England needs to blitz in order to get pressure on the quarterback, this often put McCourty on an island. Mahomes will pick on McCourty all afternoon if McCourty is left on an island this weekend. Despite my early week concerns, it is still very early and there are still many factors to consider as we get closer to Sunday. At first glance, I believe the Chiefs have the edge in this game but New England showcased what they were capable of yesterday and I have no doubt that this will be a one score game.