Chargers vs. Patriots: What We Learned About Both Teams in NFL Week 2
It was the usual three-ring circus that is the New England Patriots vs. the San Diego Chargers. The 35-21 end result was further evidence in a long history of San Diego's early-season struggles and overall struggles against the Patriots.
This marks the second consecutive game which the Patriots have won by 14 points, and the 10th consecutive regular season game in which they've scored more than 30 points.
Things look good from the start for the Patriots, while the Chargers are off to another shaky start to the season. Here are just a few things we learned about both teams in this contest.
Tom Brady's Hot Start Continues
In the first two games of the season, Tom Brady has gone a combined 63-for-88 for 940 yards, seven touchdowns and just one interception. His passer rating at this point is a ridiculous 128.0.
He became just the seventh quarterback in NFL history to throw for over 400 yards in back-to-back games—Cam Newton was the sixth, and achieved the feat just hours before Brady.
Let the whispers of 2007 begin. There will surely be some bumps in the road, and believe it or not, Tom Brady will not throw for over 400 yards every week of the 2011 season, but this is a hot start that will surely silence some of his "system quarterback" detractors.
Philip Rivers Is Explosive at Quarterback...
Rivers averaged a gaudy 9.45 yards per attempt against a Patriots secondary that was proven to be nothing short of shaky against the Miami Dolphins last week.
One deep pass after another. In fact, Rivers completed six passes of over 20 yards.
With Rivers chucking it down field time and time again, there's always a chance that the Chargers can come back, even when the odds are clearly stacked against them. Perhaps that's why this game never really felt out of reach.
...but Makes Some Bad Decisions
His 97.7 passer rating in the game was tarnished only by two interceptions, both equally costly, as both came within scoring range for the Chargers. One was on a short pass that was tipped by big Vince Wilfork, and the other was on a pass to Antonio Gates where it looked like Rivers just put too much air on it.
Those bad decisions marked the difference in the game, as if San Diego had scored on either or both of those possessions, it would have swung momentum and the score in their favor.
It all ended on a strip sack by Mark Anderson. Of course, the game was out of hand at that point, but the ending was just an exclamation point on what was an erratic day for the Chargers quarterback.
Patriots Defense Still Springing Leaks, Despite a Lot of Tweaks
I never claimed to be a poet, but maybe I have a second calling writing limericks about football.
Philip Rivers averaged 9.45 yards per attempt. He has consistently had a high average in that statistic, but his numbers today outlined problems that persist in the Patriots secondary.
The Patriots had an incredibly tough time getting any pressure on Rivers, and were abused up front for the most part as they also forfeited 4.1 yards per carry. They also showed problems specifically in coverage on running backs, giving up 135 yards on 15 catches to Ryan Mathews and Mike Tolbert.
These are problems that New England will have to shore up to stay consistent on defense, specifically in beating the New York Jets in Week 5.
Deion Branch's 0-Reception Preseason Firmly in the Rearview Mirror
The whispers of Deion Branch falling off the map or losing a step in training camp and the preseason turned into a dull roar by the time the regular season had rolled around.
If his performance last week wasn't enough to put a muzzle on the noise, his performance against San Diego should definitely silence the critics. He had eight receptions for 129 yards, with two key receptions at the end of the first half that helped set New England up for a field goal.
This marked the 11th time in Branch's career he's gone over 100 yards.
As far as losing a step goes, his 16.1 yards per reception should help answer those questions, too.
San Diego's Running Game Can Complement the Passing Game
One common problem for passers in today's NFL is that they have a hard time finding a running game to complement the passing game. Although the running game in and of itself hasn't been deadly, the running backs have added quite an edge to the offense as pass catchers out of the backfield.
Ryan Mathews and Mike Tolbert contributed 15 receptions for 135 yards through the air. As a team, the Chargers picked up 98 yards on the ground and an average of 4.1 yards per carry. Not deadly, by any stretch, but a solid complement no doubt.
New England Continues to Capitalize on Opponents Mistakes
A 4th-and-goal stop at the one-yard line. A Mike Tolbert fumble in New England's territory. An interception on a short pass with a huge return by...Vince Wilfork?
Sure, New England didn't do anything to lose this game, per se. The Chargers, however, did even more to give it away.
This continues a long-running trend of both teams. The Chargers continue to shoot themselves in the foot, while the Patriots continue to capitalize on their opponent's mistakes. On four turnovers (including turnover on downs), the Patriots were able to score 18 points.
Those mistakes, quite clearly, were the difference in the outcome of the game.
Vincent Jackson Can Carry the Load
Jackson's career-high 10 receptions and 172 yards were coupled with a pair of touchdown receptions to mark by far the most productive game of his career.
Sure, the Patriots secondary is as leaky as a spaghetti strainer, but the Chargers receiver is making his case for a long term extension with San Diego.
And heck, if they don't give it to him, he could still become the highest-paid receiver in NFL history in the 2012 offseason.
Patriots Tight Ends Continue to Dominate
Both Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski remain fantasy studs, and at this stage are far and away the most dominant one-two punch at tight end in the NFL.
Just this week, the two combined for 11 receptions and 148 yards and caught all three of Tom Brady's touchdowns. The two have combined for 24 receptions, 337 yards and five touchdowns.
The two look unstoppable right now and pose mismatches for safeties and linebackers alike on a down-to-down basis.
Patriots Third Down Woes Return
Last week was a rare performance for the Patriots in their endeavor to improve on a league-worst 47.14 third-down conversion rate allowed on defense in 2010. They gave up just two conversions on 14 tries against the Dolphins.
This week, they turned it around pretty quickly. They gave up 10 conversions on 12 tries, for an atrocious 83 percent conversion rate allowed on third down. The defense need to get more consistent on third down if they are to right the ship from 2010.
Devin McCourty Starting Slower Than Expected
After a red hot start to his career with seven interceptions as a rookie, Devin McCourty has taken a noticeable step back in the first two weeks of the young 2011 season. He has given up big games to both Brandon Marshall and Vincent Jackson.
Big games, sure, for big names. That much can't be denied.
The expectation for McCourty was that he would be a shutdown corner for New England coming off of his stellar rookie season. He has also been singled up on those outside receivers a bit more frequently, where he would have had help over the top in the past. That being said, it's up to him to improve in man coverage.
The test doesn't get any easier next week, as McCourty will likely be lined up across from Stevie Johnson, who has 12 receptions for 162 yards and two touchdowns through two games.
Antonio Gates: 0 Receptions
I wrote earlier this week that shutting down Antonio Gates would be key to a Patriots win. Regardless of whether Belichick read my piece (my money's on "no"), the Patriots were able to hold Gates without a reception.
In fact, the very first time Gates was targeted, the pass was intercepted by Sergio Brown.
The Patriots were able to hold Gates catchless mainly by doubling him up with a bump at the line, usually from a linebacker, and then having a safety, usually Patrick Chung, roll into coverage on him. Occasionally, Sergio Brown when Chung went out with an injury.