Having fallen to 9-3 against the Green Bay Packers, 26-21, the New England Patriots continue their road trip to San Diego to face the Chargers, sitting at 8-4 and second in the AFC West. This will be fifth straight game for the Patriots against an 8+ win team (combined opponents’ record: 42-18, .700), and reading the Chargers numbers reveals a dangerous matchup on the road.
A Return to Form?
After their fifth straight win in Week 6, the Chargers held a half-game lead over the Denver Broncos. During the streak, Philip Rivers stood out as one of the league’s top passers averaging 202.6 yards per game (YPG) with a 126.8 rating. He then struggled in three losses to the Chiefs, Broncos, and Dolphins, compiling 198.3 YPG and a 71.2 rating over that span. After two slightly better games, Rivers broke out for 393 yards and a 113.5 rating against the Ravens in Week 13. His performance last Sunday was much closer to his earlier numbers than the more recent stretch:
|Week 1 vs. Ariz.||36||21||58.3||238||1||1||238||6.6||11.3||75.9|
|Week 13 vs. Balt.||45||34||75.6||383||3||1||383||8.5||11.3||113.5|
|Season to Date||408||282||69.1||3218||25||10||268.2||7.9||11.4||102.8|
The Patriots will need to contain Rivers and disrupt his accurate passing attack. His completion percentage ranks second only to Drew Brees this season, and even the 67.1 Cmp% logged by Rivers during his otherwise poor stretch (Weeks 7-12) would rate third in the league. A ball-hawking secondary can thwart Rivers, though – 7 of his 10 interceptions occurred in the Chargers’ four losses.
The Running Game
Although Brandon Oliver has more touches and more yards, Ryan Mathews is the primary ball-carrier for the Chargers. Mathews suffered a grade 2 MCL sprain in Week 2 against the Seahawks and did not play for seven games. Since his return against the Raiders on November 16th, Mathews has run for 215 yards on 40 carries in his last three games, good for 71.7 YPG and 5.4 yards per carry (YPC). He has provided a much-needed spark for the moribund Chargers’ rushing attack that has been averaging 83.3 YPG and 3.3 YPC in the seven games he sat out.
Still, the Chargers rank 28th in YPG (87.3) and 30th in YPC (3.4). Here’s the breakdown:
Note that Rivers is the fourth-leading rusher on the team. Woodhead is on injured reserve, Draughn and Ronnie Brown are no longer with the Chargers, and Royal is a wide receiver.
The Patriots rushing defense ranks 15th in YPG allowed (110) and YPC allowed (4.2).
Win the Overall Yardage Battle
When Miami beat San Diego 37-0 in Week 9, the Dolphins accumulated 441 total yards against the Chargers’ 178 yards for a 263-yard advantage. While this is an outlier, opponents outgained San Diego by over 110 yards in each of their losses. They are 8-0 when they have more yards than their competitors, with an average difference of 97.8 – though that includes their 31-0 drubbing of the New York Jets in which Chargers gained a 288-yard advantage. Without the Jets game, the margin in wins drops to 70.6 yards per game.
The Patriots, on the other hand, are 2-3 when they are outgained by their opponents. The pair of wins includes their 43-21 victory over the Broncos where the defense surrendered 472 total yards while the offense amassed 398 yards. The other came against the Jets who outgained the Patriots 423-323 and lost. Otherwise, they are at -356, an average of -118.7 yards per game. In their other games they are 7-0 with a yardage differential of +794, or +109.1 yards per game.
The Chargers are another tough draw for New England, with a top quarterback in Rivers and a rejuvenated running attack. The Patriots will need to keep their high-octane offense going. With similar passing proficiency between the teams, the Patriots’ edge may lie in their ground game.
All statistics from Pro Football Reference.
Follow Douglas Storms on Twitter @stormsorama.