PFF Preview: Patriots @ Chargers, Week 14
Sunday Night Football has seen high-scoring affairs this year and this week’s matchup doesn’t look to be any different as the San Diego Chargers (8-4) host the New England Patriots (9-3) and both teams are looking to lock down a playoff spot. The Patriots are coming off their first defeat since September while the Chargers are riding a three-game winning streak. Qualcomm Stadium is the battleground for two elite quarterbacks at the top of their game.
Rob Gronkowski is the best tight end in the NFL when healthy. Early in the season, Gronkowski was shaking off the rust from several injuries the past two seasons. Since Week 6, however, he has posted a PFF grade of +21.5, best in the NFL by a wide margin. Not playing as the dominant run blocker he once was (see 2011-2012), Gronkowski still uses his incredible size and athletic ability to dominate anyone in the receiving game. He is able to do this from tight end, slot, and wide receiver. When lining up in the slot, Gronkowski is targeted 28.4% of the time, highest among TEs, and also leads the league in yards (424) and Yards per Route Run (2.74). Gronkowski is also targeted the most when lined up at his traditional position, seeing a pass 29.1% of the time. His overall 2.73 YPPR shows that he is deadly from any position and is an absolute matchup nightmare.
Green Bay tried to limit Gronkowski with multiple defenders and you can expect San Diego to do the same, but the Chargers would be wise to keep safety Eric Weddle glued to his hip. Weddle is consistently one of the top safeties in the game and this year he is currently our No. 1 graded safety at +16.9. While Weddle is best in coverage (+12.7) giving up just 185 yards with no TDs, one INT and four PDs, he is also an excellent tackler. His 18.0 Tackling Efficiency is sixth-best in the NFL, missing just four tackles on the year and his 11 stops in the passing game is third-best. Weddle lines up within 8 yards of the line of scrimmage just 44% of the time but look for that to increase when tasked with facing Gronkowski.
If Weddle can limit Gronkowski’s destruction, it might be a long day for Tom Brady and company.
Three things to watch for:
Sebastian Vollmer – The Patriots’ best offensive lineman has given up just 22 total pressures in 465 passing plays, good for a 96.1 Pass Blocking Efficiency.
Jamie Collins – A slow start to the season, Collins has really come on of late with two monster performances in the last four games. His +13.4 since Week 9 is second-best to Chris Borland in the NFL.
Vince Wilfork – The big veteran is having a solid season (+4.5) with a really strong showing in the run game (+9.1). His 8.7 Run Stop Percentage ranks ninth in the NFL with 20 run stops.
San Diego Chargers
Philip Rivers – Rivers started the season very strong but had a three-game stretch of mediocre play. Last week saw him bounce back with his best game of the season (+5.0) where he had an 85.4 Accuracy Percentage.
Ryan Mathews – Mathews’ return from injury has coincided with the Chargers’ three-game win streak. Over that time, Mathews has a +1.9 run grade and is averaging 2.5 yards after contact per rush.
Dwight Freeney – Still going strong after 13 seasons, Freeney excels at rushing the passer (+11.6) and has a 10.4 Pass Rushing Productivity recording 40 total pressures with 36 coming from the right side.
Recently at PFF