This Sunday, when the Chargers face the New England Patriots, it won't be the same team that haunted them for years. It won't be Tom Brady taking the snaps at quarterback this weekend. It will be Cam Newton in a revamped Patriots offense.
Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels has done a good job this season, changing his offensive scheme from something he knew for years to a style that fit Newton.
"I think that he understands football very well attack systems very well," said defensive coordinator Gus Bradley. "They have their core principles, but then he adjusts off the opponent that they play. So, he's done a really good job of adjusting with the new quarterback that they have in their system, and still keeping some of the principles that you see in a year to year basis in effect."
Now the way McDaniels and head coach Bill Belichick operate is they try to expose your weakness. This weekend their weakness could be against the run. They feature Damien Harris, who has 561 yards this season and two rushing touchdowns. They also have James White, who can get going at any time. Sony Michel should also get some time this Sunday.
"Definitely, strong runners can make you miss in the open field," said Bradley. "So, extremely good running game. I mean, not only the running backs are going to have 100 some yards a game, but also the quarterback added on top of it. So, this is our biggest challenge in the run game that we've faced this year."
The Chargers are going to be without linebacker Denzel Perryman this Sunday, who is dealing with a back injury. He is the defense's run-stopping linebacker and has taken on a bigger role this season. Linebacker Kyzir White is also a question mark. He has been on the Reserve/COVID-19 list for about two weeks now.
New England could try to gash the defense and have the running game beat them. Bradley's defense has allowed 120.5 yards a game (17th) on the ground this season.
"I think it all comes down to doing our jobs," Bosa said. "If we play gap football and we spell when we're supposed to, and the linebackers fit where they're supposed to. We're going to be we're going to be sound in our gaps, and we're going to have those gaps filled."
One of the biggest keys to running the game will be the Patriots offensive line. Their three inside lineman have been together for years, so they are very disciplined. They feature Shaq Mason at right guard, David Andrews at center, and Joe Thuney at left guard, who have been solid this season.
"They've been working together for a while those three inside guys," explained Bosa. "They're savvy vets, and they've been in the league for a long time, and they've been doing a really good job. They work together well with the scheme."
Newton is a big quarterback who can move, which is the complete opposite of Brady. The Patriots play to his strengths, which are moving in the pocket, designed quarterback runs, and using his arm.
The Chargers are coming off facing a similar quarterback in Buffalo Bills Josh Allen. He had some designed runs, which the defense did well against at times, thanks largely to defensive end Joey Bosa. Allen finished the game with nine rushes for 32 yards and one touchdown. He did do some damage. The Bolts know they have to limit that this weekend.
Newton has done some great things on the run, rushing for 387 yards and scored nine touchdowns. He has taken the designed runs and extended plays. The Bolts defense will need to be disciplined with him.
"He's kind of a guy similar to last week that you know is going to try to make plays stay in the pocket hold on the ball, and he's a guy that can do that," explained Bosa. "So, you have to make sure you watch out for that, but it also opens up doors for us to keep rushing in and eventually get him down if he tries to make plays with his feet like that."
If the Chargers want to win their fourth game of the season, they will need to make the Patriots one dimensional, which is passing the ball. It is rare to say the Patriots pass game is a weakness, but it hasn't been very good as of late.
Newton has had a rollercoaster ride of a season when it comes to the passing game. Last week against the Arizona Cardinals, he threw for 84 yards and threw two interceptions. In the game before that, he threw for 365 yards. He has thrown nine interceptions.
The last time the Bolts faced the Patriots was in the divisional playoff game of 2018 when the camera caught Bosa telling Brady, "Stop throwing the ball so fast, Tom!" jokingly, of course. Maybe that's one of the biggest differences he sees between Brady and Newton.
"Cam does do a good job with it," said Bosa. "But not quite like Tom Brady. That's another league. But Cam, like I was saying earlier, he likes to hold on to it. He's a big guy who can make things happen with his feet and can make just because you're onto him doesn't mean he won't shake you off and make a play."