By Greg Doyle, Patriots Daily Staff
In the wake of the Randy Moss trade, Boston Herald football writer Ron Borges reacted to those who held the opinion that in some ways it could make the team better, whether it be in style or toughness, or whatever by loudly screaming “THERE IS NO NUMBER HIGHER THAN ONE!!! THERE IS NO NUMBER HIGHER THAN ONE!!!” Of course, Ron has long since been disgraced as a journalist by getting nabbed for plagiarism some years ago. And he’s generally considered a raving lunatic who has been proven time and time again to have little to no football acumen. But the point he was trying to make, apparently and albeit with dreadful debating skills, was that the Patriots ranked number one in offense at the time of the Moss trade, so how could they possibly be better?
It was a crude point, one which Ron preferred to make by simply screaming the above repeatedly rather than with some kind of thoughtfulness he’s probably incapable of. But nevertheless, its a point worth pondering. The simple answer is things aren’t that black and white. Heck, if the Patriots had been playing Somerville High while another team was playing the Steelers, I’d expect they’d rank number one. If they have one game, like last year, where they score 59 points and others where they score 17 over and over, well the stats might get skewed. There are a variety of reasons why there could be more to the story, and more worth contemplating, than simply screaming over and over “THERE IS NO NUMBER HIGHER THAN ONE!!!”
The San Diego Chargers, who the Patriots will meet this week in Southern California, are the ultimate example of this. Even Ron Borges, as demented as he is, would have a difficult time with his “argument” when looking at the Chargers. Why? Because they are “number one” in both offense and defense the way the NFL ranks these things. Number one in both. In addition to that, They’ve thrown for more yards than any other team and average 4.3 running it. On defense, they’ve given up less passing yards than any other team, only 3.7 per rush and are 2nd in the NFL in sacks with 21. And yet, the San Diego Chargers are 2-4. If presented with these numbers, a simpleton like Ron Borges’ head might explode. But really, it just proves the point. Rankings don’t necessarily equal wins. And there are a lot of numbers higher than 2 wins when you’ve played six games. Yet, those are the facts. Ranked number one in offense and defense, yet 2-4 record.
That’s who the Patriots will be playing this Sunday. So lets take a look at some of the key players for San Diego to this week’s game.
Philip Rivers (#17), Quarterback: As a Patriots fan, I don’t particularly like Rivers. I think he is a whiner, sore loser and sulks too much for a professional athlete. And he’s never led his team to its potential in the post-season. But my respect for him did grow by leaps and bounds when he played in the AFC Championship Game after the 2007 season against the Patriots with a torn ACL. This was on a very cold day. He gutted it up, played decently and even the Patriots took their hat off to him. And believe it or not, his career 96.3 QB rating ranks second all-time to Steve Young. Even higher than Tom Brady’s. For this year, Rivers has a 100.7 rating which if it continues would be the third consecutive season Rivers has a 100+ rating. He’s completed 62.3% of his passes and has a 12-5 TD/INT ratio. He’s not that mobile and has been sacked 18 times, but he is a very good quarterback who’ll be playing at home and the Patriots at times have struggled versus the pass this season. So, he is obviously a key player in the game who if he gets hot, could cause a very long day for New England.
Ryan Mathews (#24), Running Back: Mathews was the second running back taken in last year’s NFL Draft taken at #12 overall. Mathews attended Fresno State (and incidentally shares the same agent as the Patriots Logan Mankins) and had a good, if pedestrian, career there up until his last season. Mathews, who was not considered a top recruit coming out of high school, was born to a single mom who was 16 when she had him and was abandoned by his father before he was born. Mathews has only seen his father a couple times in his life. As a senior, Mathews really progressed and seemed to pick up size and speed that brought him to the next level of player. He tested well at the combine and worked himself from a relatively smaller program to a 1st round pick. He’s off to a solid start to his NFL career, averaging over 5 yards per carry. He did miss two games to an ankle injury that some reports have him still slightly slowed by. One thing to watch, he lost fumbles in both of his first two NFL games, so perhaps that is an area the Patriots can look to exploit. He is merely an average receiver out of the backfield and the Patriots need not pay any particular special attention to him in that area of the game.
Malcolm Floyd (#80), Wide Receiver: With San Diego’s top receiver, Vincent Jackson unsigned, the Chargers have turned to Floyd to become their go-to wide receiver. So far this season, he has responded spectacularly. Two weeks ago, Floyd put up an incredible 213 yard receiving performance. He had only had 2 previous 100 yard days since coming into the league in 2004, so it was a sign that Floyd really has blossomed into a true #1 receiver. But unfortunately for him and the Chargers, Floyd hurt his hamstring this past Sunday and it appears likely he won’t play versus the Patriots. If he can’t go, the Chargers will have to make due with their other receivers such as Patrick Crayton, Buster Davis and Legedu Naanee. Its an area to keep an eye on whether Floyd will be able to get on the field or not and could affect how well the Patriots are able to handle San Diego’s highly ranked passing attack.
Antonio Gates (#85), Tight End: Gates is the best receiving tight end in the NFL and off to a spectacular start this year, perhaps the best start of his career. Using Gates, the Chargers would still have the formidable presence of Gates for Patriots pass defenders to deal with even if Floyd were out. But, like Floyd, Gates was also injured Sunday and it is uncertain whether he will be able to go either. Initial reports on Gates however, appear more favorable than on Floyd and after a MRI yesterday, the Chargers are hopeful he’ll suit up. The injury has been determined to be a sprained toe and if Gates can deal with pain, he should be able to play. On the field, he is as dangerous a seam receiver as the league has ever seen. Good around the endzone, he’ll challenge the Patriots safeties’ coverage abilities and he’ll certainly make his share of plays regardless of how well the Patriots play on defense. He is just that good. If the Patriots can at least limit his damage, that is all you can really ask for as he will get his catches one way or the other.
Antonio Garay (#71) Defensive Tackle: Garay is an interesting story to Bostonians because way back in the day, he was a star defensive lineman for Boston College. Something happened with Garay, though the story has never exactly been clear. A truly dominant college player, he seemed to be drafted lower than he should be in the 6th round when he came to the NFL in the 2003 draft. Garay lasted one season as a rarely-playing rookie with Cleveland in 2003, and then appeared to be out of the league for good. After last playing in a NFL game on December 21, 2003, suddenly Garay reappeared with the Chicago Bears nearly three years later, getting into a game October 8, of 2006. He appeared in ten games over the 2006 and 2007 seasons for the Bears before being let go again. He didn’t play at all in 2008. Midway thru the 2009 season, Garay, who was now almost 30 years old and had played in 14 NFL games since 2003 and hadn’t even been under contract since following the 2007 season, once again suddenly reappeared in a comeback tryout and earned a spot on the New York Jets practice squad in October. In December, the Chargers signed him off the Jets practice squad and he got in a couple games for them towards the end of the year. Now, here in 2010 and with Garay to turn 31 next month, he has finally become a starter for the Chargers and racked up 17 tackles and his first two NFL sacks. That’s a true story of perseverance for him and with a local angle. I will try to make a point to watch this guy, who I remember as dominant in college to see how he is doing.
Kevin Burnett (#99), Linebacker: Burnett is another story of perseverance for a Charger defender. A second round pick for Dallas in 2005 out of Tennessee, his career has largely been considered a disappointment and he’d been considered a bust up until this season. A fast, quick, smaller coverage linebacker, Dallas mostly used him inside as a coverage linebacker in his time there. This year, his second with the Chargers, he’s finally become a full-time starter as the Chargers use him outside and are giving him a chance to be a playmaker as a blitzer. He’s responded with 5 sacks thru 6 games. A fast guy, he could give Matt Light some trouble on the edge. He also does drop into coverage some and has an interception and 4 passes defended. He’s an able tackler. Now 27 years old, it seems Burnett has finally found his niche with the Chargers and giving them the dual outside linebacker threat (along with Shaun Phillips) they had when Shawne Merriman was healthy. He’ll certainly be a guy the Patriots will have to account for as a pass rusher and cover guy on passing downs.