Wednesday, January 16, 2008

AFC Championship Game Preview - San Diego at New England

San Diego Do's & Don't’sArmin Mohajeri

Do go with what's been working and Don't make it complicated. The team is on an 8 game winning streak, and they're coming off a win against arguably the second best team in the league. The formula: Let the defense own the game giving the offense enough opportunities to make the big plays that devastate the opposing defense. As much talent as the team has on offense, the defense is what has kept this team on track to make it to the AFC Championship.

Do send the linebackers after Brady. The Bolts already faced one of the best offensive lines in football. The scheme the Colts run is designed to keep Peyton off his back. The fact that the Bolts front seven was able to break that line down, especially at crucial moments, gives them some hope. The Pats deploy a similar line scheme (I call it Quality over Quantity of Time and Space) built for a QB that can make quick reads. For Merriman, Philips and Co. to get to Brady, they will have to rely on their amazing athletic ability to get that first step that will force Brady out of his game.

Do drop to the ground after making a game clinching interception. No repeats of the Marlon McCree interception, then fumble that put the Patriots back in the game in last year's match up. All humor aside, the Chargers defense is a young athletic defense, and if they can translate their athletic ability into a couple of turnovers, the Bolts could be sitting pretty at the end of this contest.

Don't let the injuries get you down. Rivers and Tomlinson could be out (or playing a limited amount). The Bolts should remain confident in Billy Volek and Michael Turner. Volek proved when he was with Tennessee, that he can throw the rock effectively if it comes to a passing game. The question is moreso in regards to his timing with the first team receivers. Michael Turner is one of the top 2 or 3 backup RBs in the league. He's capable of carrying the load for the Bolts.

Don't hold back on offense. Attack the Patriots defense. Facing an offense like New England's, where they practically score at will, you must look to hit the Pats at their weakest spot. Though it is strange to use the term "weak" when referring to the Pats defense, it is the weakest point on a dominant team. Regardless of if Rivers is back at the helm, or if Volek is running the show, the Bolts need to get the ball in the air. The team must go in for the kill.

Don't beat yourselves. It's no secret that the 2007 Patriots are one of the all time great teams. It's going to take a stroke of luck and magic to pull off the victory here. The mistakes must be limited, or else we're going to get another LT tirade about how the Patriots are cheaters.

New England Do’s and Don’t’s – Sum Mehrnama

Do trust every single player you have on offense. From Randy Moss to Kevin Faulk to Heath Evans and even to that Brady-guy who slings the football, this is a line-up that has gelled like no other. The play-action pass against Jacksonville, when Brady had his back to the defense for a good second, says it all. Every offensive player knows where each of his teammates are at all times.

Do dig up L.T.’s whining from last year’s playoffs for the bulletin board. No team rises to the defense of its coach like the Patriots do, and I don’t mean via the airwaves. The Pats defend Belichick’s honor on the field of play. If it wasn’t for “spygate” then this team would’ve had a loss or two on its record. So dig up L.T. calling your coach “classless.” Or just wait for Philip Rivers to open his big mouth.

Do play physical on both sides of the ball. The Chargers got the snot knocked out of them all game last week (granted, they did some snot-knocking of their own too). While they are a solid physical team, there’s only so much punishment a body can take. Hard tackles when you’re on defense will tire them out that much quicker than normal.

Don’t expect their defense to under perform, like the Jags did. Shawne Merriman and Shaun Philips will come after Brady with an intense passion, and should get a solid number of knockdowns and sacks. In the secondary, Antonio Cromartie has proven his studliness twice against the Colts and it’s no fluke, the boy can play, play fast, and play hard. Bring your A+ game on offense, or go home.

Don’t rely on your defense. At times, the unit looked pathetic against the Jags offensive unit, particularly when David Garrard threw the ball. If the good Philip Rivers shows up, this will be a problem again. Your linebackers are old, Rodney Harrison will get at least one or two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties called against him, and your cornerbacks leave much to be desired. Bottom line: score at least 30 points.

Don’t believe your own hype. For 17 games, you’ve held the proper cliché mantras of “one game at a time” and “we win as a team.” This is not the time to lose that focus and attitude, but I fear it may have started happening. Tom Brady, ever the politician in post-game interviews, might have slipped when he jokingly requested an Academy Award for his brilliant acting job on the aforementioned play-action TD pass to Wes Welker. Sure, it was a tiny comment, and sure it was in jest … but he’s rarely, if ever, publicly praised himself for anything this season. Why start now?

Key Matchups – Chris Clement

When San Diego has the Ball

TE Antonio Gates vs. SS Rodney Harrison

Hobbled with a bum ankle, Gates still amassed over 75 receptions, nearly 1,000 yards, and 9 TDs during another Pro Bowl season. Despite being whisper quiet in Indy, Gates will be relied upon as heavily as his fractured toe will allow. Enter ball-hawking and cheap-shoting safety Rodney Harrison. Self-proclaimed “victim” while on the field to countless penalties, Harrison is as dirty – and effective – a safety in the NFL. When it counts, it’s likely he’ll have his hands on or around the football. Catching a TD late in the blowout back in Week 2, Antonio will need a Winslow Sr.-esque performance if the Bolts wish to keep this game close. Word to the wise, Antonio: don’t get caught in the bottom of the pile with your ankle exposed around good ol’ Rodney.

When New England has the Ball

RB Kevin Faulk vs. Chargers LBs

Often forgotten by the media, teams don’t game-plan to avoid Kevin Faulk. Instead, the reality is that Faulk is as slippery and sneaky a back in the NFL. Never one to pound it 20-plus times, Faulk has excelled as a do-everything back in the Patriot system. Whether catching screens, slants/hitches past a blitz, or taking handoffs around the corner…Faulk is lethal on any down, whether second and short or third and long. While many people believe Shawn Merriman, Stephen Cooper, and Shaun Phillips must establish constant and consistent pressure on Tom Brady (good luck) or watch for Ben Watson (a time-slot hit at TE), it may be more important to monitor what Faulk does, even if he sees less than 50% of the snaps. As solid as second-year back Laurence Maroney has been as of late, Faulk is the Patriot runner the Bolts should fear the most.

Intangibles – Chris Clement


By now we all know that the Pats have won 17 out of 17 games this season (take THAT Mercury Morris!). What we may not know is that the Chargers are winners of 8 in a row and 12 out of their last 16. Mighty impressive, but it pales in comparison to perfection. In fact, due in large part to a down year in the AFC West, many people (including myself) questioned exactly who San Diego had beaten. However, a pair of victories over the Titans and a road win in Indy (which San Diego has an affinity towards doing) changed any previous perceptions. Meanwhile, we can venture back to Week 2 (Pats dominated following SpyGate 38-14) as perhaps the week that the road to unbridled dominance began. It seems light years ago, back during the days of Marty-Ball, when the Bolts decimated the Pats in Foxboro. A sort of informal coming out party took place that day. That also may have been the last time Tom Brady didn't have a completion percentage in the high 80s. One way or another, Sunday afternoon will witness the death and the birth of a new set of streaks. Highlighted by either the Pats being the first to see 18-0…or the Chargers, behind Norv Turner of all coaches (3-1 in the playoffs, mind you), allowing the Dolphins to sip their bitter champagne as they remain the sole undefeated Super Bowl champions.


What goes up must eventually come down. Thanks Isaac Newton, but we've all heard it before when it comes to sports. Even the Bulls lost two games in the NBA Finals during their 72-win season. Yet, New England has been impervious to any scientific theories or rational laws this season. In fact, even when the score is tied or the Pats face a 12-point deficit late in the 3rd quarter, all appears fine and dandy on the sideline. It's not important the Chargers start well (ala Baltimore, New York, and Jacksonville), it's imperative they start and finish well. Going up 7-0 doesn't faze New England. Especially when they tie it up 7-7 on their next drive. You want to scare the Pats? Stop them on their first drive and then YOU score. Then stop them again. Good luck on that accord. The same mistakes made by Peyton last weekend, at home no less, cannot be expected from Brady. Interestingly enough, has Chargers kicker Nate Kaeding ever made a kick with anything or value on the line? Methinks not. While what goes up must eventually come down, it doesn't appear likely that will happen this season to the all-mighty Patriots.

Final Predictions

Armin: New England wins, 31 – 20

Clement: New England wins, 42 – 23

Summy: New England wins, 38 – 24


Anonymous said...

No love for the Bolts? NONE????

San Diego........, superchargers.........
San Diego......., chargers!, CHARGE!

We're coming your way,
We're gonna dazzle you with our super play.
The time has come,
You know we're shooting for number one.
With thunderbolts and lightning
We'll light up the sky,
We'll give it all we've got, and more
With the Super Charger try!

That is all that needs to be said!

Anonymous said...

I feel stupider for having read the above comment. Seriously ... that just dropped my IQ by about 12 points.

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