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Patriots vs. Chargers: The Unfiltered Roundtable Preview

The writers of Patriots Unfiltered preview this weekend’s matchup between the New England Patriots and the Los Angeles Chargers.


The 2-9 Patriots return to Foxborough this weekend to take on the 4-7 Los Angeles Chargers and based on limited glimpses at practice and various reports over the week New England could have a new starting quarterback under center. Last week, a missed field goal cost the Patriots a shot at overtime and sealed a fourth-straight loss and a second time in a row scoring under 10 points. That's bad news when facing talented young quarterback Justin Herbert and a Chargers offense that has the eighth-most points in the NFL. Could Bailey Zappe provide the spark that the offense needs to keep up with Herbert? And how will some key injuries play out for both teams?

Here's how the PU crew sees it all going down!

Early indications are Bailey Zappe will get the start this weekend. What's a formula for success with him at quarterback?

Help him as much as possible with a consistent run game. Keep third down manageable. Get the ball out of his hand quickly. NO TURNOVERS. Easy, right? -Fred Kirsch

The same as the formula was supposed to be with Mac Jones … run the ball, stay out of long yardage situations and protect the football. -Paul Perillo

Keep things simple and lean on Rhamondre Stevenson and Ezekiel Elliot. Use the tight ends as your safety blankets to get comfortable throwing, and see if you can get into a good grove against a bad defense. -Alexandra Francisco

With Bailey Zappe at quarterback, I could see them putting together a similar formula to what they drafted up for him last season when Mac Jones was battling an ankle injury. I think the Patriots can find a good balance of leaning on the rushing attack and scheming up some play-action passes. -Tamara Brown

I'm getting crazy here, let's just let Zappe cook! What do they have to lose? Managing him with a heavy dose of the run and a bunch of screen passes is going to lead to the same results… not a lot of points. Go out there throwing the ball down the field and be aggressive and we'll see what happens. -Mike Dussault

Run game and play action. In his two starts last season, Zappe put up a perfect 158.3 passer rating while averaging over 17 yards per attempt off play-action passes. Now, that hasn't translated to his relief appearances this season. But against a Chargers defense that will allow you to run the ball and has struggled against the pass, I'd ride Rhamondre and Zeke while sequencing in similar play-action concepts that Zappe thrived with as a rookie. -Evan Lazar

What should the Patriots defense be most concerned about with Justin Herbert?

Like all the best QBs, he will throw receivers open and can fit passes into tight windows. That means good coverage won't be enough. It has to be paired with pressure. Allowing Herbert time is the biggest concern. -FK

His ability to extend plays and make throws at all levels of the field. -PP

Limiting big plays, especially if his favorite receiver remains limited in practice. I think Herbert gets a lot of shade he doesn't completely deserve and after only putting 10 points up against Baltimore, with all the negativity around their team as well, I am sure he comes out firing with something to prove. ­-AF

I'm going to keep it simple and just say his ability to throw strikes downfield. Recent games have been cause for concern with the Patriots pass defense and now they're facing the best quarterback that they've seen in weeks. Herbert won't miss the throws that Gardner Minshew, Tommy DeVito or even Sam Howell missed. The Pats can't give up big scoring plays or else it's going to be over quickly. ­-MD

Big plays. The Patriots have given up 16 passes of 20-plus yards since Week 8, the ninth-most in the NFL. They've struggled in the backend with coverage busts and J.C. Jackson has been very iffy in man coverage. They'll now face a Chargers offense that has put up 40 passes over 20 yards. Tommy DeVito and Gardner Minshew couldn't really make the Patriots defense pay for coverage breakdowns, which is why I haven't been as high on the defensive performance over the last two games. We'll see if the Pats defense can limit the eighth-ranked scoring offense in the NFL this week. -EL

Biggest Chargers X factor: Austin Ekeler, Keenan Allen (who missed practice on Wednesday, so his absence might be the factor), or Khalil Mack?

Khalil Mack. If Zappy is getting chased and knocked around it's going to be a long day. -FK

I think it's Ekeler. He is involved with so much that the Chargers do on offense, and I'm concerned about his ability to impact the passing game as well. -PP

We already know the Chargers are going to score points. Their issue has been losing the close ones with one of the worst defenses in the NFL. That's why for me, if Khalil Mack & Co. can step up against the down-bad Patriots offense, our defense can only do so much on the other side of the ball to overcome a lack of scoring. -AF

With Keenan Allen missing both Wednesday and Thursday practices for the Chargers, I believe that Khalil Mack is going to be the biggest X-factor for Los Angeles. Even with Joey Bosa on IR, due to New England's offense line struggles whoever starts at quarterback for the Patriots needs to be aware of where Mack is on the field at all times. -TB

I'm going with Ekeler, he's such a versatile threat that I think he's going to be a problem for the Patriots defense in the passing game. Figuring out how to cover him will be a major chore and the defense can't lose him late in the down where he can turn checkdowns into big gains. ­-MD

Assuming he plays, I'm going with Allen here. Without Mike Williams, Allen is by far the Chargers best weapon and really Herbert's only go-to option. Their playmakers around Hebert if you take Allen out aren't all that impressive. The tough part is that Kellen Moore does a great job of using Allen in motion and getting him favorable matchups working out of the slot. Moore doesn't make it easy for defenses to double Allen, so Belichick and company will need to get creative to limit him. -EL

If Demario Douglas remains in concussion protocol, how do you see the Patriots adjusting their receiver group?

There simply must be more production from the tight ends. We're at Week 13 of the season so I'm not sure what can change at this point but somehow, some way, it has to happen. -FK

If Douglas is out then Bill O'Brien should try to make Tyquan Thornton a bigger part of the passing game. Give him more opportunities and see if he can make some plays. -PP

Tough, but next man up. At this point, you roll out Parker and JuJu and give the kids like Tyquan and Boutte the opportunity to compete. I'd imagine the tight ends are heavily leaned on, especially if Zappe starts. -AF

If DeMario Douglas is unable to play on Sunday, I could see the Patriots offense becoming a run first offense that puts the load primarily on Ezekiel Elliott and Rhamondre Stevenson. The lack of consistency and accountability of the wide receiver rooms doesn't give me much believe that they will want to put the game in their hands. -TB

Boutte missing practice as well this week is a bit of a hit in this regard, I would've liked to see him get some significant reps in the slot. Assuming we can't really count on Boutte I'd say it's going to be whole lot of Juju, who I actually thought showed some improved burst last week. Maybe he's finally getting fully healthy and can finish the season strong. -MD

It'll be the same group they rolled with last week after Douglas's injury: DeVante Parker, JuJu Smith-Schuster, and Tyquan Thornton/Kayshon Boutte. I'm hoping for a breakout game of sorts for JuJu. I thought he ran some decent routes and made a tough catch on fourth down from Zappe in the second half last week. He was open more in that game than the box score suggests. Maybe he's starting to find his way in this offense. -EL

Some of the best photos of past matchups between the Los Angeles/San Diego Chargers and the New England Patriots, who get set to face off on Sunday at 1:00 PM at Gillette Stadium.

Would Patriots in red and Chargers in baby blue be the best NFL throwback matchup? What's your favorite non-Pats throwback? A throwback you never want to see again?

I never understood the fawning by grown men over baby blue uniforms. Whatever. I'm not that into uniforms as some. To me, the best looking football uniform is one covered in grass and mud. I used to love the old tear-away jerseys they wore in college way back when. By the end of the game the running backs would be down to their shoulder pads. I'll play along anyway. Give me the old Broncos unis but minus the weird striped socks they pulled out a few times. -FK

I like virtually any of the Chargers throwback uniforms, especially the 1970s version with the navy blue shirts and yellow pants. In terms of throwbacks I could do without, the 1980s Giants are awful. -PP

Easy. Yes, it would be. However, Throwback Pats vs. Eagles in the Kelly Green would be an unreal Christmas matchup – that is probably my favorite non-Patriots throwback. I'd say the Dolphin's throwback is overrated and not different enough than what they're currently working with. -AF

The Los Angeles Chargers wearing baby blue uniforms alongside the Patriots in red would be chef's kiss. -TB

Of course I love the Patriots throwbacks even if they're a reminder of a team I grew up watching that wasn't so good. Otherwise, I've got to go with the Seahawks throwbacks that they've been wearing this year. I wish they'd go back to those full time. For some reason they were a team I liked when I was a kid, especially Steve Largent. I'm not sure why, but the day I got his football card in a random pack was pretty exciting for me. The novelty of Chargers baby blues has worn off for me. Love them, but we see them all the time. That said, I love how the Chargers have so many combinations that they rotate through. -MD

Pat Patriot is the best throwback uniform in sports. Although it's wrong for the Titans to wear them, the Houston Oilers uniforms are right up there, as are the Seattle 90s era throwbacks, and the Eagles Kelly green's. The Patriots need to bring back their own 90s throwbacks to the original Kraft era jerseys. I need that like I need air. -EL

For the eighth straight year, New England Patriots players, coaches and staff are participating in the NFL's 'My Cause My Cleats' campaign. The annual initiative gives teams the opportunity to wear unique, customized football cleats that are specifically designed to help promote and provide awareness to causes that are important to them. The Patriots will wear their custom cleats during their game against the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday, Dec. 3, 2023. Learn more about the charities that players, coaches and staff chose here.

Bonus question: This week My Cause My Cleats starts, what cause would you put on your cleats?

Aside from a lunch fund for Paul during Patriots Unfiltered, either Stand Up To Cancer or anything fighting hate in this world. -FK

My cause would be related to the police -- The National Police Foundation and the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund. -PP

Love this question. I one day hope to start a non-profit dedicated to teaching underprivileged kids in schools how to cook and about the power of whole foods as medicine. I strongly believe that the standard American diet is a travesty, as is the quality of education about nutrition in this country, and that's why 60-70% of the average American's diet is processed foods, leading to skyrocketing rates of obesity and disease. Giving kids these skills and knowledge is a way to help them lead more successful healthy lives while sparing them of costly medical bills in the future. -AF

My cause would be to support the familiar in Maui after the devastating fires there this summer. It's a very special place to my family and we were right there in Lahaina a month before the fires happened. It's a wonderful place with wonderful people who still need a lot of help recovering from the devastation. -MD

As someone who has lost multiple family members to cancer, my cause would be associated with cancer research and treatment facilities. Maybe the Jimmy Fund to keep it local. -EL

DISCLAIMER: The views and thoughts expressed in this article are those of the writer and don't necessarily reflect those of the organization. Read Full Disclaimer

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