There is a long list of things that the Patriots need to do on Sunday to beat a highly talented Chargers team. The most important aspect of their gameplan, however, might come in the trenches. New England's pass protection could be the key to earning another AFC Championship berth.
Los Angeles has talent all across their roster, but their defensive end/linebacker combo of Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa present one of the most fearsome pass rushing duos in the entire National Football League. The two combined for 12.5 sacks this season, and have been a wrecking crew against the Charger's opponents.
Ingram has an elite skillset, with impressive handwork that combines brilliantly with interior line strength and edge quickness. On top of being a naturally talented player, he is versatile and can be moved all along the defensive line and throughout the front seven.
Bosa is a beast in his own right, with solid strength and a great first step. He has developed well since being drafted third overall three seasons ago and is one of the better pass rushers in the league.
This pair of Chargers defenders could cause lots of issues for the Patriots offensive line. This will mean that the unit’s protection of Brady will be critical in the team’s victory.
Luckily for New England, their offensive line has had their healthiest and most successful season in years. Trent Brown has been arguably the Patriots best offseason pick up, and Marcus Cannon has played well thanks to a relatively healthy season.
The Patriots interior offensive line has been phenomenal thanks to the cohesion between Joe Thuney, David Andrews, and Shaq Mason. Heading into the preseason, there was an outside chance that Thuney could lose his job to first-round pick Isaiah Wynn after a disappointing 2017 campaign. Instead, Thuney has been one of the team’s most consistent lineman. Mason has also played well after getting paid this offseason, earning the nod to Pro Football Focus’ All-Pro team.
The Patriots have been fortunate enough to avoid some of the league’s elite pass rushers this season. JJ Watt was still returning from an injury when New England faced Houston. Khalil Mack was dealing with an injury when the Patriots traveled to Chicago. This duo will be the biggest challenge faced by the Patriots offensive line this year.
Communication and toughness will be key to keeping the Chargers’ pass rushers at Bay. Head coach Anthony Lynn will likely try to confuse the Patriots offensive linemen as much as possible, moving Ingram all along the line and having him perform a variety of blitzes. New England’s front five need to be able to make adjustments on the fly and perform one-on-one blocks. The Chargers has the lowest blitz percentage in the NFL this year, so New England isn’t going to have to deal with any crazy stunts or all-out blitzes. However, this means that the Patriots linemen have no excuse not to fend off Los Angeles’ ferocious defenders.
The trenches are the least attractive parts of football. However, in a game that includes Tom Brady, Phillip Rivers, Rob Gronkowski, and Melvin Gordon, the trenches might just be where the game is decided.