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Patriots Playbook Thu Dec 03 | 02:00 PM - 04:00 PM

Game Matchups: Will the Patriots make a concerted effort to establish the run?

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WHEN THE PATRIOTS RUN


With LeGarrette Blount in the fold and the threat of Jonas Gray powering his way through the defensive line, the Patriots have suddenly become a legitimate threat to run the football and, more importantly, run it effectively depending on the matchup. The Chargers are a middle-of-the-pack run defense, ranked 15th through 12 weeks, but the presence of free safety Eric Weddle changes the dynamic. Weddle has been solid this year, rarely missing tackles in the secondary and running from sideline to sideline to make stops against the run. Whether or not the Patriots make a concerted effort to establish the run is a game-time decision these days and this might be yet another week where they let Tom Brady control the pace of the offense. ADVANTAGE: CHARGERS

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WHEN THE CHARGERS RUN


The Chargers ability to pick up yards on the ground and make life easier for quarterback Philip Rivers depends on the health of oft-injured running back Ryan Mathews. The fifth-year vet returned from a seven-game absence in Week 11, but really broke through in Week 12 against St. Louis, rushing for 105 yards and a touchdown. The potential is there, but Mathews can't seem to stay healthy, which is why undrafted rookie Branden Oliver has received the lion's share of the carries. Oliver is decent, but by no means spectacular, averaging 3.4 yards per carry through 11 games. If Mathews can get going, the Chargers will be able to move the ball against a banged-up New England front seven, but even a healthy Mathews is no sure thing. ADVANTAGE: PATRIOTS

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WHEN THE PATRIOTS PASS


Even against a defense ranked sixth against the pass, it's hard to imagine any secondary slowing down Tom Brady. Even on an off day, like the one against Detroit, the Patriots still emptied the backfield and threw early and often against a defense ranked among the best in the league, while Brandon LaFell continued his breakthrough season with two touchdowns in Green Bay. The addition of veteran defensive back Brandon Flowers has made a difference, allowing Eric Weddle to take chances in coverage, but losing standout rookie Jason Verrett to injury hurts the Chargers pass defense. If the Patriots stay away from Flowers, they will succeed. It's almost impossible for any team to account for Julian Edelman, Rob Gronkowski and LaFell and that's without mentioning the possibility of Shane Vereen contributing in the passing game. ADVANTAGE: PATRIOTS

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WHEN THE CHARGERS PASS


Rivers is as up and down its gets among NFL quarterbacks. He can look great one week and awful the next, but when he's on, he's tough to contain. Likewise, when he's at his best, he's targeting his prolific veteran tight end Antonio Gates, who entered Week 13 with nine touchdowns catches, more than anyone else on the team. The Chargers have always been somewhat thin at receiver, but second-year pro Keenan Allen is enjoying a breakthrough season while Malcom Floyd remains the home-run hitter, averaging more than 16 yards per catch through 11 games. The problem is having to execute against a deep secondary featuring the tandem of Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner, a scary proposition for any team, especially one that struggled through the early parts of November. ADVANTAGE: PATRIOTS

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SPECIAL TEAMS


As if worrying about Edelman, the most prolific punt returner in franchise history, wasn't enough, now teams have to be wary of Danny Amendola following his game-breaking kick return in the win over Detroit. The Patriots have come through with some big special teams plays in recent weeks to help win field position battles and swing the momentum in their direction and the Chargers give up a lot of punt return yards, so it's a matchup worth watching. The productivity of punter Ryan Allen and the play of the coverage units have been solid as well. The warm weather in San Diego should help Stephen Gostkowski, who suffered a rare miss last week when he pushed a 47-yarder in the fourth quarter of the loss to Green Bay. ADVANTAGE: PATRIOTS

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OTHER FACTORS


The Chargers lost three in a row at one point, but began turning things around once they allowed Weddle to begin communicating plays from the sideline to the rest of the defense. The improved communication led to stronger play on defense. The Chargers are now coming off a last-second win at Baltimore, while the Patriots lost for the first time in more than two months in a disappointing finish at Green Bay. New England is now 3-3 on the road and will continue its mini two-game road trip in San Diego, where the Chargers are 5-1 at home. That might be enough to negate the fact that Rivers is 1-3 lifetime against the Patriots. ADVANTAGE: CHARGERS

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