OLB Shawne Merriman (Jack Smith/AP)
Games like this are exactly why the Chargers installed the 3-4 defense. Tom Brady is arguably the best quarterback in the league and has more weapons than the New York Police Department. The Chargers must get to Brady before he carves up their secondary like a holiday bird.
New defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell wasn't shy about blitzing last Sunday in his Chargers debut -- especially rookie safety Eric Weddle in the team's dime package. Look for the Chargers defense to once again test a rival's pass protection. It's imperative the front seven -- and a blitzer or two -- is able to harass Brady to give the back end some help in tracking the Pats' trio of dynamite wideouts.
PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES
--WR Vincent Jackson took some grief for dropping ball in the end zone on Sunday. But replays showed the ball was tipped. Jackson remains the team's No. 1 wideout.
--TE Antonio Gates is being bothered by a sore back and didn't practice on Wednesday. Gates is not only the team's leading receiver, but his presence opens up running room for Tomlinson. Brandon Manumaleuna would replace him if he can't go.
--TE Brandon Manumaleuna is known more for his blocking than his pass receiving. That said, he does have a soft pair of hands and had three touchdown catches last year.
--It looks like Darren Sproles will return as the punt returner. Sproles suffered a concussion in his first kick return last week.
--Rookie WR Craig Davis filled in for Sproles on punts and didn't look that comfortable.
--OLB Shawne Merriman is being cautious with his Achilles' tendon. He won't go full blast until Sunday.
--Starting SS Clinton Hart had a quad strain during the game Sunday but has taken all his reps this week. Hart needs to stay in the lineup with rookie backup Eric Weddle continuing to impress.
--FS Marlon McCree is hoping to continue his solid start. He had five tackles and a team-high two passes defensed, along with an interception, in the season-opening win.
GAME PLAN: Give the rock to Tomlinson! Why wouldn't the Chargers do something that has worked so well in the past. Consider that Tomlinson has three 100-yard rushing games against the Patriots -- in one, he went for 217. The Patriots never seem to have an answer for Tomlinson, which makes the second half of the January playoff game all that much more baffling considering Tomlinson got the ball nine times.
Anyway, if Tomlinson is churning up yards and the clock, it keeps the ball out of Brady's hands as well. Not sure the Chargers secondary wants to get into a shootout with Brady.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Chargers CB Quentin Jammer and the pass defense vs. WR Randy Moss. The Chargers have seen plenty of Moss over the past two years, and quite frankly, haven't been too impressed -- he didn't score a touchdown in the four Chargers-Raiders games. But he does have two 100-yard days on his resume against the Chargers from his Minnesota days. Jammer always seems to give up the big play at a critical time -- see January's playoff game; Reche Caldwell -- and it's obvious Tom Brady thinks he can expose Jammer just when the time is right. Thing is, with Donte Stallworth and Wes Welker, the Chargers can't just concentrate on Moss.
--Chargers running game vs. Patriots run defense. Tomlinson, and Michael Turner, figure to see plenty of carries against a Patriots defense missing Richard Seymour and Rodney Harrison. There is a special look in Tomlinson's eye this week that he is primed for a big game. Especially considering he is coming off a 25-yard affair against the Bears -- the second-lowest total of his illustrious career. Turner is also feeling better after being slowed by a sprained ankle. The key here is how Chargers Pro Bowl C Nick Hardwick holds his own against NT Vince Wilfork. If Hardwick, who had a so-so day last week against Tommie Harris and the Bears, can rebound and be stout at the point of attack, the Chargers running game has a shot of bouncing back in a big way.
--Chargers pass rush vs. Patriots QB Tom Brady. Shawne Merriman, who led the league with 17 sacks last year, had a quiet opening game. That could mean he is in for a big day against the Patriots. But while the focus is on Merriman, keep an eye on the opposite side where Shaun Phillips is blasting off the edge. Also, the majority of time rookie S Eric Weddle entered the game last week, he was sent on a blitz package.
Trouble with Brady is that the ball gets out so quick, it's tough to lay a hand on him. But the thinking is he'll want to expose a Chargers secondary that still has problems with consistency on the deeper routes. If that's so, he has to hold the ball longer. That just might give Merriman and Co. time to reach the pocket. If so, the biggest benefactor will be a secondary trying to keep up with Moss, Stallworth and Welker.
--Eric Parker is out for likely the first month after toe surgery. Rookie Craig Davis replaces him in the starting lineup.
--TE Antonio Gates didn't practice Wednesday with a back injury. He is listed as doubtful; he usually has a pretty high tolerance of pain.
--FB Andrew Pinnock (hamstring) didn't practice and could be down Sunday.
--OLB Shawne Merriman (Achilles) was limited in his work. He's questionable, but he should play Sunday night unless he suffers a big-time setback.
--RB Michael Turner's ankle didn't suffer a setback and he is a full go.
--KR/PR Darren Sproles seems to be OK after suffering a concussion on Sunday. He's getting all his reps, but he will be monitored closely.
--S Clinton Hart (quad) worked the entire practice.