Chargers vs. Patriots matchups: Will Chargers fix communication issues?

Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert passes during the first half of an NFL football game.
Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert passes against the Buffalo Bills on Nov. 29.
(Jeffrey T. Barnes / Associated Press)

Breaking down how the Chargers (3-8) and New England Patriots (5-6) match up heading into Sunday’s game at SoFi Stadium at 1:25 p.m. PT.

When Chargers have the ball: The Chargers will attempt to recover from a disastrous finish last weekend in Buffalo, a chaotic and calamitous series of misadventures that coach Anthony Lynn labeled as “embarrassing.” Breakdowns in communication resulted in a pair of nonsensical play calls in the closing seconds. On the last snap, for example, the Chargers’ offensive line appeared to be pass blocking at the same time Justin Herbert was trying to run a quarterback sneak. Working the game for CBS, analyst Rich Gannon uttered, “You wonder why they lose a lot of close games.” Asked later if he had taken steps to avoid such folly in the future, Lynn said: “Absolutely. You make mistakes. You learn from your failures. You try to fix them the next week and keep ’em moving.” Herbert had thrown for at least two touchdowns in seven consecutive games before finishing with one against the Bills. He also had his seventh pass intercepted. Still, Herbert ranks ninth in the league with an interception percentage of 1.7. New England is tied for fourth with 12 pickoffs. The Patriots rank in the middle leaguewide in many defensive measures but have only 15 sacks, which is 28th.

Chargers numbers.
(Los Angeles Times)

When Patriots have the ball: Quarterback Cam Newton has thrown for only four touchdowns with nine interceptions. But Newton also has run for nine scores and is New England’s second-leading rusher. Of Newton, Lynn said: “He is a threat. He is a weapon.” The Patriots don’t have a receiver with more than 36 catches; Keenan Allen leads the Chargers with 85. Only three offenses in the league have been worse through the air than New England, and the Patriots are 27th in points scored. Still, Newton and his teammates remain in a playoff hunt that long ago discarded the Chargers. The Patriots have reached 30 points only once since September but have yielded more than 27 just twice all season. On the brink of becoming also-rans, they’ve won three times in four weeks, including victories over Baltimore and Arizona. They beat the Cardinals despite gaining only 179 yards. The Chargers have topped 400 yards of offense five times this season — and lost four of those games. In other words, one of these teams has been a little more opportunistic than the other.

When they kick: Michael Badgley’s inconsistent fall continued in Buffalo when he missed an extra-point try, his eighth failed kick of the season. The notorious winds in upstate NewYork were swirling a week ago, but Badgley isn’t the sort to make excuses. Given the Chargers’ 3-8 record, he has struggled in relative obscurity. Southern California native Nick Folk is 19 for 21 on field-goal tries and 20 for 22 on extra-point attempts for New England.

Jeff Miller’s prediction: Betting lines sometimes appear to make no sense, which is the only possible explanation for how the Chargers opened as favorites. Their only wins this season have come against the NFL’s three worst teams — teams with a combined record of 3-29-1. These Patriots aren’t on par with past New England Super Bowl champions, but they aren’t the 2020 Chargers, either.