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New England’s signings of defensive linemen Albert Haynesworth, Shaun Ellis, Andre Carter and Mark Anderson may further influence opposing offenses to test the secondary rather than run the ball.

“These are games where you can kind of make statements for how good you are in the back end as a defense when you play big-time offenses like this,” Ihedigbo said.

Still trying to jell after Sanders and Meriweather were cut in late August, the remaining members of the secondary are leaning on each other for help.

“They ask me questions and I’ll ask them questions,” Chung said. “When we’re in the meetings, when we have our own meetings, when we’re just sitting here in our locker, we just make sure that our communication is solid every time.”

It’s going to have to be loud and clear on Sunday.

San Diego had the NFL’s top-ranked offense last season behind quarterback Philip Rivers and his league-best 4,710 yards, and scored the last 17 points in a 24-17 win over Minnesota last Sunday. With Jackson, Floyd and 260-pound tight end Antonio Gates, Rivers has many appealing targets downfield.

“We’ve got our hands full again,” McCourty said. “But that’s what you kind of expect. In the NFL, we have more receivers that are bigger guys and still can run very well and run good routes.”

Gates, in particular, could pose one of the biggest threats to the Patriots. He scored in each of his last three games against New England.

“It’s a very talented receiving corps, very talented offense,” Ihedigbo said. “You just try to do your best to neutralize them.”