Kyle Dugger has interceptions in the last two games, the first of his career, as the second-year safety continues to blossom in New England. Dugger has emerged as an every-down defender for the Pats in 2021, playing 84 percent of the snaps through the first seven games of the season after playing 58 percent in 2020.
"It was great to finally get my hands on the ball," said Dugger prior to the team's departure to California. "Super exciting."
Dugger will be a key part of New England's defensive approach as they take on the explosive Chargers offense, with Justin Herbert at the controls.
"[Herbert] throws a good ball, has a tight spiral and strong arm and can put the ball in a lot of tight spaces and makes good decisions," said Dugger. "We just got to make sure we have tight coverage."
With some question surrounding running back Austin Ekeler's availability, it's unclear exactly how Dugger will be used, as he's likely to share some coverage responsibilities on the running backs, as well as on veteran tight end Jared Cook or Donald Parham. They're just a portion of the Chargers' weaponry that is headlined by receivers Mike Williams and Keenan Allen.
Dugger thought the Patriots had had a good week of preparation.
"I think we were locked in," said Dugger. "We really understood the scheme that we're coming with and the assignments that we're trying to take in the game plan. I think it was a good week."
5 Points of Emphasis vs. Chargers
- Run for it: You don't have to be an NFL scout to look at how the Chargers stack up and assume a good place to attack will be their 32nd-ranked run defense. Whether the Patriots can reproduce the success of some of the best rushing attacks in the league will remain to be seen, but on paper this looks like a favorable matchup for Damien Harris, who is coming off his first back-to-back 100-yard games. Could Rhamondre Stevenson join in? He has the kind of hard-charging style that has been effective against LA this year. If the Patriots are to limit Brandon Staley's bag of defensive tricks, they must move the ball on the ground.
- Big Mike. vs Joey B.: It appears that Michael Onwenu is going to remain at right tackle for the immediate future, a spot he held down for nearly all of his rookie year at a high level. This week, Onwenu can expect to see a healthy dose of Joey Bosa, LA's best pass rusher and a handful for any blocker he faces. If the Patriots are to get cooking with their passing offense, they can't let Bosa blow things up. Onwenu will likely have some help, but that can only go so far.
- Mac on Point: Brandon Staley's defense deservedly got plenty of love this week. His match coverage and ability to disguise can put even the most experienced quarterbacks in a post-snap bind. Mac Jones and Josh McDaniels are well aware of everything that their defense can do, but Staley should have some new twists for the rookie quarterback to decipher.
- Clutch Moments: The Chargers have gone for the fifth-most fourth downs in the league and are converting a whopping two-thirds of them. There's really no limit to their aggressiveness and it's likely that third and fourth down are where this game will be won or lost. Having to defend multiple fourth downs is a mentality heading into the game, and for a defense that has been good recently on fourth down but have struggled in some of the key make-or-break moments, this game should reveal a lot about the state of the defense.
- Win: As always, it doesn't have to be pretty, especially when getting back to .500 is on the table. This is one of the better teams the Patriots have played, an up-and-coming bunch that has all the weapons on offense to break 30 points. Last week was a near-flawless victory for the Pats over the Jets, but this is a much different challenge, and one that would easily be their most notable win of the season thus far, providing another significant confidence boost.
The Patriots held their final practice of the week on the upper fields and once again welcomed all of their 53-man roster as well as 16-player practice squad. Despite the positive outlook as far as attendance, there's still some question as to availability because the Patriots' injury report is 15 players long, including many key starters. Inactives will be something to monitor as any unexpected absences could quickly shift the gameplan.
Quotes of Note
Nelson Agholor on having fun in the receiver room:
"You know we're practicing really hard and we're having fun. I'm excited to just go out there and compete this weekend and it's been a good time preparing too this week. The way we prepare and the energy in the wide receiver room, it's contagious and it's been a good time."
Calvin Munson on what sticks out since returning to New England:
"Definitely the weather. Definitely cold and snowy weather. Just being with the team that has a great culture, works hard and does things the right way, so I'm just excited to be back."