Sunday, December 7, 2014

Collins, Patriots' defense dominate Chargers

Rob Ninkovich (50) and the New England defense treated Phillip Rivers very badly on Sunday night in San Diego

For the second straight week, the New England Patriots' offense seemed to be stuck between second and third gears.  Lucky for them that their defense showed up.

Big time.

Linebacker Jamie Collins, wearing the green dot and calling the plays for the Patriots' defense in the stead of the injured Dont'a Hightower, played like a man possessed in recording nine total tackles, eight of them solo efforts and picked up two key sacks in leading New England to a physical 23-14 victory over the San Diego Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium on Sunday night.

But Collins was just the most visible member of a defense that allowed the high powered Chargers' offense just seven points on the night - their other points coming via a fumble return for touchdown - and thoroughly dominated an offense in just about every way that they can be.

Considering that quarterback Phillip Rivers, he of the strong arm and the dazzling long ball, didn't get the chance to go downfield very often as either the Chargers' coaching staff or Rivers himself avoided throwing anywhere near invisible cornerback Darrelle Revis, which meant that his top weapon, wide receiver Kennan Allen, was lost to the San Diego offense...
Collins chases down Rivers in the second half.

...and second and third options Malcolm Floyd and tight end Antonio Gates couldn't work free fast enough against the rest of the New England secondary - the result being a 20 for 33 night for Rivers for a pedestrian 189 yards.

San Diego's running game didn't fare any better, the stout Patriots' front seven holding them to 53 hard-fought yards and a 3.1 yards per carry average, so it comes as no surprise that the Chargers earned a total of ten first downs in the game, going an abysmal 4 of 13 on third down conversions.

How dominating was the Patriots' defense? The Chargers had 11 total possessions in the game and was forced to punt to end eight of them, the other three resulting in their only touchdown, a blocked punt in which they lost their punter to what looked like a separated shoulder, and an Akeem Ayers interception.

In pitching a shutout in the second half, the Patriots defense continued an incredible run in which they have given up only 30 second half points in their past five games - but the really sick part is that they have allowed just three field goals - nine points - to those same opponents in the fourth quarter.

None of them pushovers, with contests against Denver and Peyton Manning, Indianapolis and Andrew Luck, Detroit and Matthew Stafford, Green Bay and Aaron Rodgers and Sunday night against the Chargers, the Patriots went 4-1 against them and have now won eight of their last nine and hold the tie breaker over the Broncos for the best record and top seed in the American Football Conference.

The Patriots can clinch their sixth straight AFC East division title at home next Sunday when they host the Miami Dolphins at Gillette Stadium.

But all is not rainbows and unicorns in Foxborough, as the Patriots' offense has sputtered badly in the past two games.  Against the Chargers, quarterback Tom Brady and his offensive line struggled against the relentless San Diego pass rush, as after initial success running the ball, New England went pass heavy and all but gave up on the running game when they fell behind early...

...which has a tendency to invite the opposing defense to send their pass rush in waves - and while the Chargers sacked Brady just once, he was constantly menaced - hit on eight other drop backs, had two passes deflected and threw a bad red zone interception that halted a sure scoring drive to end the first half.

For certain, his back shoulder throws - his bread and butter - were off as he seemed to have trouble finding touch on his offerings, firing bullets at times and floaters at others (such as his interception) and never really found his range, but timely grabs by Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski bailed out the offense, which took it's first lead of the game at the 10 minute mark of the final quarter.

Obviously, the offense is going to have to find it's rhythm again as the season heads into it's final three weeks and January brings the playoffs - and particularly when New England plays all three of their division rivals to close things out, teams that would love nothing more than ruining the Patriots' designs on grasping the top seed in the conference.

But with a beastly defense that has yet to be fully healthy stonewalling the opposition in dominating fashion, New England is always going to be in any game they play - and once the offense finds it's legs again, ie, their running game, the Patriots just may be unstoppable.

Hell, that defense is so good, they might even be unstoppable anyway.

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