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What to Watch For: Patriots vs. Chargers

New England has been so awful this year, that Amazon Prime doesn't even have a Patriots player they feel comfortable promoting. Patriots travel to Pittsburgh next week to take on the Steelers on Primetime: Thursday Night Football. The graphic used to promote the game featured no Patriots player. Instead, it was head coach, Bill Belichick. In all my years of watching the NFL, I can't recall ever seeing a graphic where a player wasn't on the cover. That includes the 2017 Cleveland Browns, who were 0-16 if you don't recall. Speaking of Bill Belichick, he needs to win games to save his job. The organization is in a tough spot because, at this point, they have to consider "tanking". But Bill has never been in that position before, so I'm not sure he is on board with that route. With that being said, let's look at some players to watch for in New England's matchup with the Chargers.

Bailey Zappe

Just like last week, Bill Belichick refuses to name the starting quarterback for the week. He states "I told everybody ready to go. I'm not going to announce starters at every position". But it appears to most that Zappe will be given the start this week as he has been taking most of the first team reps. Zappe came in during last week's game against the Giants and outplayed Mac. I know that is not hard to do when Mac turns the ball over three times, but any change at the quarterback position is a relief to watch. He led the Patriots down the field on the final possession to tie the game, but Chad Ryland missed the field goal far left, and that was the game.

On the bright side, Zappe is 2-0 as a starter, so he looks to keep that streak alive. According to Statmuse, Bailey Zappe has a passer rating of 112.5 with 497 yards, three touchdowns, and one interception in 2 games as a starter in his career. When he isn't thrown in during the middle of the game, he has done a solid job. All he has to do is manage the game. He doesn't have to do anything crazy. He just can't do what Mac does oh so often- turn the ball over. As long as Zappe makes a pair of good throws, converts 3rd downs, and doesn't turn the ball over, the Patriots have a chance to be in this game. Also, the Chargers rank dead last in passing yards allowed per game with 280. This is the best matchup Zappe could have asked for. Even if Zappe plays badly, I'm not sure we see Jones any time soon. During practice this week Zappe and Cunningham were the only ones taking snaps at one point. Also, Mark Daniels (MassLive Reporter) says, "Players in the locker room are desperate for change, and my understanding is players are fully behind them moving to Bailey Zappe." This could explain the changes in practice.

The Entire Defense

The entire defense has been impressive in the last two games. I could name a bunch of players, but it honestly has been as a collective whole. They have held the Colts, and Giants to both 10 points in their last two games. The sad thing is they lost both of those games. The defense is becoming frustrated, as Jabrill Peppers was just caught on camera talking to Saquon Barkley post-game saying, "You lucky we ass" (His words not mine).

One player has been head-turning as of late though, and that's linebacker Jahlani Tavai. He has the lowest passer rating allowed by linebackers (54.0). Furthermore, he is strong against the run. He has the sixth-highest run defense grade, per PFF (86.5). This is going to give the Patriots a much-needed advantage. This is because the Chargers rely on Austin Ekeler a lot in this offense (17.6 touches per game). Tavai will be covering him mostly during pass plays and will be the first to meet him when he runs the ball. Even though the Patriots are in a spot where they can't make the playoffs anymore, it is exciting to see how good the defense is playing. With the addition of Christian Gonzalez and Matt Judon coming back from injuries next year, this defense could be lethal. Now obviously the offense needs to put at least 10 points on the board, and we'll be set.

The Trends

Since 2008, New England has touted a perfect 7-0 against the Chargers. In addition, Justin Herbert has struggled against the Patriots with a record of 0-2. He has an average passer rating of 52.8, an average completion percentage of 50%, has been sacked 6 times, has thrown 4 interceptions, and has only two touchdowns. In Herbert's first game (2020), the Patriots' defense had an absolute field day against him. The final score was 45-0. They also beat him in 2021, 27-24. With how good the defense is playing, this could be another game where the Pats only give up 10 points for the third week straight. The Chargers only put up 10 points last week in their battle against the Ravens, so it would not surprise me if they did it again. They are a mess right now. If the defense does its job again, the offense must step up. In Zappe's two starts, they won by a score of 29-0 against the Lions, and 38-15 against the Browns. With that said, hopefully, we can expect some points this week from the offense.

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