Taking a look at the television copy of Sunday's game against the Chargers and offering some first quarter observations:
1) As was the case in their matchup last season, the Chargers employed a variety of offensive formations, with frequent motioning against the Patriots, who countered with some different defensive looks of their own. To start the game, the Patriots used their "big nickel" package, which included three linebackers and three safeties. This allowed safety Patrick Chung to be on the line of scrimmage, in coverage on TE Antonio Gates off the snap. The Patriots also frequently used another defender, usually LB Rob Ninkovich, to jam Gates at the line. Further, safety Sergio Brown was used to jam Gates five yards deep, while LB Dane Fletcher was sometimes stationed in Gates' 'hook' zone.
2) With Chung on the line of scrimmage, the back end of the defense was patrolled by safeties Brown and Josh Barrett. On the second play of the game, with DTs Vince Wilfork and Shaun Ellis drawing double-teams, Brown came down into the box, beat a backside block by TE Randy McMichael, and made a solid stop of RB Ryan Mathews, preventing what would have been a much longer run.
3) The pass rush for the Patriots failed to draw any pressure against Chargers and QB Philip Rivers on the first drive of the game. The main focus of the Chargers' pass protection was on the interior, especially Wilfork. This left DE Andre Carter, and Ellis at times, in one-on-one situations, and the veterans weren't able to capitalize.
4) On the Patriots' end, the pass protection was less than stellar for their first offensive drive. Other than the sack by OLB Shaun Phillips allowed by TE Rob Gronkowski, the Patriots had trouble containing a double inside blitz, although QB Tom Brady showed superior pocket presence by stepping up and firing a bullet to WR Wes Welker on the play. Later in the drive, LT Matt Light had trouble containing Phillips on the edge, although Brady again was able to avoid the pressure and hit TE Aaron Hernandez for a first down. Finally, OLB Travis LaBoy was able to elude RB Danny Woodhead on a blitz, making a dive at Brady's leg on an incompletion to Welker.
5) Mathews' 10-yard touchdown run came out of the shotgun, with the Patriots in their 'big nickel' package. This included Sergio Brown shaded to the strong side, where Gates was lined up. With the ball on the right hash mark, Barrett essentially had to cover two-thirds of the field on the play. Meanwhile, LB Jerod Mayo and DT Albert Haynesworth both read inside run and were caught inside, leaving only Barrett (on the outside weak side) between Mathews and the end zone. Even with CBs Devin McCourty and Ras-I Dowling drawn away from the play on outside routes, Barrett also took an inside angle at Mathews, ceding the outside part of the field, allowing the touchdown.