Chargers vs. New England Patriots matchups: Justin Herbert, offense try to rebound

Quarterback Justin Herbert looks to pass Oct. 17, 2021, against the Baltimore Ravens.
Quarterback Justin Herbert and the Chargers struggled in a 34-6 loss at Baltimore on Oct. 17 and, after a bye week, will try to bounce back Sunday against New England.
(Larry French / Associated Press)

Breaking down how the Chargers (4-2) and the New England Patriots (3-4) match up heading into their game at 1:05 p.m. Pacific time Sunday at SoFi Stadium. The game will be carried on CBS (Channel 2).

When Chargers have the ball: After opening with four victories in five games, the Chargers took a punch to the chin in a 34-6 loss at Baltimore. Justin Herbert and the offense struggled throughout, converting only three times on 16 third and fourth downs. The Chargers were able to ponder their misfortune even longer than normal since they were off during Week 7. “It’s my job as a play caller to find those calls that get us in rhythm,” offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi said. “There were some things we could have done to help get that engine started a little earlier.” While Herbert passed for only 195 yards — the second-lowest total of his career — the Chargers’ running game was barely detectable. Austin Ekeler (who missed practices on Thursday and Friday because of a hip issue) and Joshua Kelley rushed a combined 10 times for 14 yards. The Chargers don’t need a big ground game, not with Herbert, but they do need to run the ball enough for it to be a legitimate threat. Mike Williams leads the Chargers in yards receiving (498) and touchdowns (six) but was limited by a knee injury against the Ravens. He pronounced himself healthy again last week. New England ranks in the upper half in the NFL in nearly every significant defensive category. But the Patriots’ three victories have come against the New York Jets (twice) and Houston Texans, a pair of one-win teams.

Tevaughn Campbell never considered he might be able to play in the NFL. Now the cornerback is a big-time contributor for the Chargers defense.

Oct. 30, 2021


When Patriots have the ball: Damien Harris to trying to become the first New England running back since Corey Dillon in 2004 to have three 100-yard rushing games in a row. You have to like his odds in this matchup. The Chargers have been the NFL’s worst defense in stopping the run, giving up 162.5 yards per game. Quarterback Mac Jones has impressed during his rookie season, even if the Patriots’ attack has featured mostly short passes and check downs. Jones is coming off his first 300-yard game and four times has finished with a quarterback rating of 100 or higher. “I see a guy that’s an outstanding decision-maker,” Chargers coach Brandon Staley said. “I think his processor is at a premium for a young quarterback.” Still, Staley has to like the prospect of facing a quarterback with only seven NFL starts. As the Rams’ defensive coordinator a year ago, Staley limited New England to three points, 10 first downs and 220 total yards. The Patriots did roll up a ton of offense last weekend in a 54-13 win over the Jets. But New York has a rookie quarterback of its own and a variety of other issues that make it impossible to draw any sweeping conclusions.

When they kick: The Chargers signed veteran Dustin Hopkins on Tuesday to replace rookie Tristan Vizcaino, who is now on the team’s practice squad after missing five extra points. Hopkins will be the Chargers’ 11th kicker since the team relocated from San Diego in 2017. Nick Folk has made 16 of 17 field-goal tries for New England.

Jeff Miller’s prediction: The Patriots haven’t beaten a team with a winning record since a 20-17 victory over Arizona on Nov. 29, 2020. Three of their last five wins have come against the Jets.