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What To Watch For when Patriots host Chargers with Bailey Zappe (likely) at quarterback

Patriots 1st Down: It looks like it's Bailey Zappe's time at quarterback
Patriots 1st Down: It looks like it's Bailey Zappe's time at quarterback 02:09

BOSTON -- It looks like it will be Bailey Zappe at quarterback for the Patriots on Sunday. Will that be enough to make anything else look different?

That's the question that the 68,000-plus in attendance and millions more watching at home will find out Sunday afternoon, when the Patriots try to snap a four-game losing streak. The Los Angeles Chargers, losers of three straight themselves, are desperate for a win, too.

It's a bit of an ugly matchup -- at least in terms of football. In terms of uniforms, it's a beauty.

At least it will look nice.

Here's what to keep an eye out for when the game kicks off.

Targeting J.C. Jackson

J.C. Jackson signed a five-year, $82.5 million deal with the Chargers, with $40 million guaranteed, just last year. Yet his Chargers tenure lasted a grand total of seven games, before the team unceremoniously dumped him to the Patriots for a pick swap. Jackson reportedly didn't practice hard and "didn't respond well to coaching" during his time with the Chargers, and when he refused to enter a game by not tying his shoes on the sideline, the team finally reached a breaking point and traded him back to New England.

Since returning to the Patriots, he hasn't played particularly well, and he also got himself sent home by the team. Jackson missed practices and didn't even make the trip to Germany with the Patriots to play the Colts as a disciplinary measure for being late to the team hotel before a game against the Commanders.

The Chargers are familiar with Jackson's weaknesses, so it'll be worth monitoring if Justin Herbert routinely looks to throw in the direction of No. 29 in red. It could prove to be an effective strategy.

Zappe Vs. A Horrible Pass Defense

Things are a bit tense out in Los Angeles, with Brandon Staley defiantly dismissing questions about his defensive play-calling ability.

The questions, though, are valid. The Chargers give up 280 passing yards per game, most in the NFL, and opposing QBs have a 98.7 passer rating this year, which is the third-highest mark in the league. They have just six interceptions on the season.

It's all setting up for a welcoming environment for Bailey Zappe to make his first start in more than 13 months.

Zappe's been downright horrible this year in his four appearances coming off the bench, completing just 48.7 percent of his passes with a dreary 4.1-yard average per attempt. He's yet to throw a touchdown, but has thrown two interceptions, giving him a 38.2 passer rating. One knock on those numbers has been the adverse situations into which Zappe has been thrown.

This week, though, is no such situation. And if Zappe can't move the ball against that defense, then the Patriots' quarterback problems may be even deeper than initially believed.

Khalil Mack

With Joey Bosa on IR and Keenan Allen potentially out with a quad injury, Khalil Mack instantly becomes the biggest problem the Patriots will have to deal with on Sunday.

The 32-year-old pass rusher has turned back the clock this season, racking up 13 sacks in 11 games thus far. He's just two sacks shy of his single-season career high of 15, set back in his second season in 2015. It's a number heavily boosted by his six-sack game against the Raiders, though, but he enters Sunday having recorded a pair of sacks in three of his last four games.

The Patriots have, to an extent, settled down some of the offensive line issues that plagued the early part of the season. With Trent Brown, Cole Strange, David Andrews, Sidy Sow and Mike Onwenu, they at least have a set starting five. They've still had their share of breakdowns, leading to collapsed pockets and rushed passes, and they'll have their hands full with Mack.

Perhaps Bill O'Brien will call as many quick passes as possible to ease the workload for Zappe, but eventually, we know he'll have to drop back and deliver a real NFL pass. 

Mack has just one sack in his three career games against the Patriots, but those were way back between 2014-18. For as bad as the Charger's pass defense may be, Mack alone could be enough to neutralize any team weaknesses.

Kicker Issues

Nothing is a certainty in sports, but we can all feel pretty comfortable in saying the Patriots won't be scoring many points. They're averaging just 13.5 points per game, and they've scored 20 points just twice all year. Points will, as always, be at a premium.

So it matters quite a bit who will be kicking footballs for the Patriots.

Rookie Chad Ryland has missed 35-yard field goals in back-to-back games, with last week's preventing the Patriots from forcing overtime in New Jersey. As a result, the team signed kicker Matthew Wright to the practice squad this week after holding tryouts. Don't be surprised if Bill Belichick elevates Wright if he thinks he's a surer thing than Ryland.

And with rain in the forecast, conditions could be tougher than usual. Whether it's Ryland or Wright for New England, the kicking game could end up being a huge part of Sunday's game.

Tune in to Patriots-Chargers on WBZ-TV -- the television home of the New England Patriots. Get ready with Patriots All Access airing on WBZ-TV Friday night at 7pm. WBZ is the place to be on Sunday, with Patriots GameDay kicking off coverage at 11:30am, the Pats and the Chargers set to kick off at 1pm, and Patriots 5th Quarter following the game!

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