New England Patriots: Secondary will be key to beating the Chargers

Devin McCourty #32 of the New England Patriots (Photo by Maddie Malhotra/Getty Images)
Devin McCourty #32 of the New England Patriots (Photo by Maddie Malhotra/Getty Images) /

The New England Patriots are set for a potentially season-altering Week 8 contest against the Los Angeles Chargers. With a win, their record would move to 4-4, giving them a legitimate shot of being part of the AFC Wild Card race. Lose, and that task becomes all the more difficult.

It’s not going to be easy against a tough Chargers team. Led by second year quarterback Justin Herbert, the Chargers have been one of the many surprises in the AFC West this season, and are currently battling with the Las Vegas Raiders for control of the division. They will be coming off a Week 7 bye, and will be looking to get back in the win column after getting destroyed by the Baltimore Ravens in Week 6.

This isn’t the first time the Patriots have appeared to be massive underdogs this season. They were expected to be blown out of the water by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Dallas Cowboys, but very nearly ended up pulling off a pair of improbable victories. The Chargers may look like runaway favorites here, but the Pats have shown us this season that they cannot be counted out.

After all, the Patriots managed to demoralize the Chargers with a 45-0 victory last season. But the circumstances have changed quite drastically for both teams since their last meeting, as the Chargers have finally put all the pieces together to form one of the most dangerous offenses in the league. As a result, this game is most likely going to come down to the performance of one unit for New England; the secondary.

The New England Patriots secondary will be the key to victory in Week 8

The New England Patriots secondary has been the subject of much attention this season, especially after the front office admitted defeat in the Stephon Gilmore saga and dumped him off to the Carolina Panthers for virtually nothing. They have been inconsistent for most of the season, but it’s clear they will need to be on their A game if they want any shot of beating the Chargers this weekend.

Right off the bat, the cornerback matchups could prove to be an issue. J.C. Jackson has been solid for most of the season, and will most likely draw a matchup against Keenan Allen in this one.

Mike Williams is the real problem however, as he has been a breakout star for the Chargers this season, and at 6’4, he offers a real matchup issue for New England. Maybe Joejuan Williams can finally step up and slow down Williams. Otherwise he could be set for a big day.

Regardless of who ends up on who, the safeties are going to have their hands full in this one. The X factor of this game is probably Devin McCourty, but Kyle Dugger and Adrian Phillips are going to have to step up too if the defense is going to be successful.

McCourty hasn’t been his usual self as of late, and struggled through some subpar outings against the Cowboys and Houston Texans. He got knocked out of last week’s contest against the New York Jets with an injury, but he’s already been taken off the injury report, meaning he’s got the green light to be on the field Sunday.

McCourty will need to play like his old self on Sunday, because this Chargers offense is lethal. Both Allen and Williams can take the top off the defense on any given play, and it will be up to McCourty to limit the damage in his free safety role deep down the field. Williams is the big play threat, while Allen is old-reliable. If McCourty can help limit Williams impact on this game, the New England Patriots will at least have a fighting shot of winning this game.

The other problem the safeties have this game is Austin Ekeler out of the backfield. Ekeler is one of the best dual-threat running backs in the game, and he’s too dangerous to be left in the hands of a linebacker, especially in coverage. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Dugger shadow Ekeler for most of the game due to his tackling prowess, but if he struggles in coverage, Phillips may be called upon.

If Dugger holds up, Phillips becomes the ace in the hole. He could be left to cover tight end Jared Cook, but Cook could probably be handled by one of the linebackers for the most part. The ideal scenario would be the rest of the coverage holds up, allowing New England to deploy McCourty and Phillips in two deep safety sets, effectively limiting the Chargers big-play ability.

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The problem there is the middle of the field gets left open, which would allow Allen to feast for most of the day. Jackson has been solid in coverage all season long, but it would be a big risk leaving him alone in the middle of the field against one of the best route runners in the league. But Jackson has locked up top tier targets all season long, so it may not be out of the question here.

The fact of the matter is that the New England Patriots are not going to win a shootout against the Chargers. Their offense is simply too dangerous, and New England’s is too inconsistent. If they want any shot of winning this game, the secondary is going to have to turn in a performance similar to the one they put on against the Buccaneers. Otherwise, the Patriots are going to be toast, and their fleeting wild card hopes will be all but gone.