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Patriots Keys to Victory: Week 7 vs. Chargers

The Patriots must put the heat on NFL-leading passer Philip Rivers. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

Fresh off an overtime victory over one of the league’s best last weekend, the Patriots are carrying a lot of momentum into their showdown with the San Diego Chargers this Sunday.

Winners of their last three games, the Pats are hotter than any team in the NFL right now. The Chargers, on the other hand, have struggled early on, losing three of their last four games, including two in a row to the Oakland Raiders and St. Louis Rams.

Do you think Philip Rivers misses Vincent Jackson?

But even with all arrows pointing to a fourth-consecutive win, the Patriots can’t take the Chargers lightly.

San Diego is 2-0 at Qualcomm Stadium this season, where they’ve outscored opponents 79-23. Quarterback Philip Rivers leads the league in passing yardage, and is third in the league in passer rating – couple this with the fact that Sunday’s game is an absolute must-win for the reeling Chargers, and suddenly things don’t look so easy for the Patriots.

Pressuring Philip Rivers

Philip Rivers has been sacked 18 times, meaning the Chargers’ offensive line has allowed an average of 3.0 sacks per game. Only Bears’ quarterback Jay Cutler has been sacked more than Rivers this season.

With just 10.0 sacks as a team this year, the Patriots are averaging a modest 2.0 sacks per game. Defensive end Mike Wright and defensive tackle Gerrard Warren are tied for the team lead with 2.0 sacks a piece.

Thus, Sunday’s contest will feature a below average Chargers offensive line trying to protect Rivers from a below average Patriots pass rush.

Something has to give.

Rookie running back Ryan Mathews missed practice on Wednesday with a nagging ankle injury, so the Chargers will probably look to win the game through the air. The Chargers offense may choose to abandon the run before the Patriots force them to.

If the Patriots front seven can manufacture pressure on Rivers, it could be a long day for a San Diego offense that may be without injured Antonio Gates, Malcolm Floyd and Legedu Naanee.

Pounding the Rock

Despite their 2-4 record, the Chargers have been playing some pretty good defense this season. They currently rank 1st against the pass and 6th against the run. In their last two games however, they surrendered 109 yards to Rams’ running back Stephen Jackson, and 104 yards to the Raiders’ Michael Bush.

The Patriots managed to rush for 127 total yards against the Baltimore Ravens, who boast perhaps the most physical front seven in the league.

They will need to continue to pound the ball with BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead in order to open up things for Tom Brady downfield. Balance will be the key for the Pats, but look for them to open the game using a lot of two-tight end sets, and run the ball between the tackles at the Chargers’ undersized linebackers.

Prediction: Patriots 31-17

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