FOXBORO - The Patriots host the Chargers Sunday afternoon at 1pm at Gillette Stadium, with a 5-2 record that has them atop the AFC East entering Week 8.
After Sunday's game, the Patriots will enjoy a bye week before heading out west to play Denver and Oakland.
"That bye week is really a chance to re-evaluate where you're at," said quarterback Tom Brady. "Knowing that this is the last game before that, you want to finish on a high note and you want to go in feeling really good about what you've done."
The Chargers started the season 0-4, but have won three consecutive games, including a 21-0 win over Denver last Sunday.
"They're hot. They've won three straight," said Brady. "They've got a really good defense. There's nothing easy about it. It's a big challenge facing them. To get to 6-2 would be huge for this team and that's what we're going to try and do."
"They've got a great, two really good edge rushers," said center David Andrews. "Inside they've got some really great players, too, so it's definitely going to be a challenge, they're playing some really good football right now."
Earlier Wednesday, Patriots coach Bill Belichick addressed the media about Sunday's game:
BB: Well, this is a real impressive team to watch. I think especially in the last month, the last three or four games, I mean they played well early in the year, too. I'm not saying that; they played a competitive game against Denver in the opener. It really looks like they've hit their stride in a lot of areas. That was a very impressive performance they had Sunday against the Broncos. This is a well-balanced team. They do a lot of things well. They're very good in the kicking game. Obviously, [Nick] Novak has helped them quite a bit. They do a good job in coverage and obviously have a very explosive return game with [Travis] Benjamin. Their vice players, the guys that hold up the gunners on the punt team, are probably as good as we'll face all year so that gives Benjamin a lot of opportunities to get started. He’s very difficult as we remember from Cleveland. A very tough guy to tackle, great vision, speed, good quickness, just the same skills you see on offense when he has the ball there on catch-and-run plays and his vertical speed, so he’s a tough guy to handle. Offensively, this is a very big skill group. [Tyrell] Williams, [Dontrelle] Inman, obviously [Keenan] Allen, [Antonio] Gates, Hunter [Henry] – they're kind of receiving tight ends. They have a lot of size at those positions and then Benjamin gives them kind of the explosive catch-and-run player to go with that group. Big receivers, good players after the catch. Allen’s very, very good with the ball in his hands. Hunter Henry is a tough guy to tackle and they use their backs quite a bit in the passing game, as well; [Melvin] Gordon, [Austin] Ekeler. Their backs are very productive in the passing game, as well. It's a well-balanced attack. Of course, the running game with Coach [Anthony] Lynn is always a challenge. They do a lot of different things. They probably run as many different running plays as any team that we will face or have faced. They do multiple groups, multiple formations, multiple schemes and all of the complementary plays that go with it; the boots, the reverses, the misdirection plays. They really challenge you in the running game and then they have a very explosive passing game down the field. [Philip] Rivers throws a great deep ball and they have a lot of good catch-and-run players with their skill guys, and their skill guys, again, are big so they do a good job of blocking in the run game so a lot of the plays that get to the perimeter with this group, really they have a mismatch with the size and the aggressiveness of their receivers. They’re tough to handle there. Defensively, two great, great pass rushers with [Melvin] Ingram and [Joey] Bosa. Those guys do a lot of damage. [Chris] McCain comes in and he does a lot of damage, too, and that moves Ingram inside. They’re very explosive players. They’re good inside with Corey [Liuget] and [Brandon] Mebane; two very disruptive guys on the inside part of the defense. They create a lot of negative plays there, very good on third down. Third-and-long's basically just a sack and turnover reel. They create a lot of bad plays in those situations. Obviously, we need to try and stay out of as many of those as possible. They’re a very opportunistic defense. They strip the ball well. Their backs, their linemen, their linebackers have been involved in turnover plays, strip plays, batted balls, things like that. Ball security, like it always is with this type of defense with Coach [Gus] Bradley and as aggressively as their players attack the ball like they did in Jacksonville or Seattle. It’s going to be key for us to be able to maintain possession at the end of each play. The team has been in a lot of close games over the last three years. That’s the type of game they seem to love. The Denver game really wasn’t one of those but they’ve been in a lot of them. They’ve played very well in those critical situations. The missed field goals this year cost them a couple wins. Had those kicks been made we'd be looking at their record a little different. They could easily be 6-1. A good football team, playing well right now and a lot of guys we have to get familiar with in all three phases of the game.
Q: What kind of an impact does a player like Joey Bosa make on a defense and what skills does he have that make him such a dominant pass rusher?
BB: He plays really hard. Every play he’s all out. He makes plays from the back side, chase, outstanding pass rusher. He’s got good strength but he’s got good quickness and he knows how to use both of them. If you are over-aggressive on him he’s quick enough to get by you. If you sit back then he is explosive enough to power the blockers into the quarterback or into the backfield. He’s a very disruptive player. He’s got a lot of length so he gets to a lot of plays, tackles, tipped balls, can reach out and get the quarterback. He’s a hard guy to throw around or over. He’s really just good at everything but he’s got a great motor so you’ve got to deal with him every play. You can’t run away from him; that’s not the answer because he'll chase down plays. Running at him is not the answer either because that’s a problem, too, so to say 'Well, let's just run away from him,' well A) – you're running into Ingram and B) – these guys, Ingram and Bosa, will both make plays from the backside. They’re good. They’re really good. Good in the running game, good in the passing game. They create a lot of long-yardage situations and then they just kill you on third-and-long. Offensively, they're one of the best third-and-long teams in the league so to them I think third-and-3, third-and-10, it doesn’t really make any difference. If they complete the pass they’re going to get a first down. If they don’t complete it then they’re not going to get the first down. They’re capable of completing a 10-yard pass or a 3-yard pass. It doesn’t really seem to matter.
Q: Does Dion Lewis' power ever surprise you?
BB: Dion's got good strength. He’s got good balance. He’s got really good balance. He gets hit but a lot of times it’s not necessarily that he runs over a guy, it’s that he’s able to keep his balance and keep moving and then a lot of times regain his balance and continue to pick up positive yards. He’s a hard guy to tackle because he's thick and he’s got good balance. A lot of times he absorbs the contact and is able to regain his balance and the defender is not able to finish the tackle.
Q: It seemed like last week the running backs were able to pick up a couple of extra yards here or there by really running through the tackles. How valuable can those extra yards be?
BB: Yeah, they’re really kind of hidden yards. It doesn’t look like much but when you look at second-and-5 compared to second-and-8 it really changes your play calling. It changes the whole series in a lot of cases. Not only what you call on second down but what you call on third down. I thought our offensive line and our backs did a much better job of finishing our runs, finishing our blocks, pushing the pile if you will in the last two weeks from where it was early in the year. Those guys have done a really good job of that, putting that extra effort into it. It’s shown up in some hidden yards. It’s not 80-yard runs, but like I said, those two, three, four yards can make a big difference between, again, calling a second-and-8 run and it being third-and-2 or it being third-and-7. Those are big yards for us.
Q: How important is it for a guy like David Harris to buy in and take the right approach even when he is not receiving a ton of playing time?
BB: Yeah, it's in a way not the easiest thing to do. Again, that’s the role. That’s what it is and when it changes it changes. What a player can do to change it is to work hard and improve and do things better than what he’s doing them to get more of an opportunity. We stress that with all of our players and the guys that are playing more, if they don’t continue to perform at a high level then if the player behind them outperforms them then there is going to be somewhat of a shift in playing time. Look, everybody understands that. It’s not for or against anybody. It’s just based on competition and performance. We're all judged on our performance and if it’s good you get to keep doing it and if it’s not good then there’s probably somebody else that’s going to be doing it instead of you. We all know that. That’s professional football.
Q: Dan Feeney is a guy who is going to be starting on the interior of their offensive line and it was reported that you had interest in him prior to the draft. What are some of the things that stood out to you about him?
BB: Yeah, he was a good player at Indiana, had started at guard and then moved to tackle I'd say probably more due to some need that they had there. He played well at both spots. He’s been rotating through with [Kenny] Wiggins a little bit so it isn’t like he hasn’t been playing. I think he’s in there in every game. I’m pretty sure he’s been in there in every game. It seems like it anyway. He’s gotten playing time in there so he’s been in a little bit of a rotation so it looks like they were kind of three-for-two but he does a good job for them. He’s an athletic guy. He’s strong. He’s done a good job for them in the kicking game in the wedge on kickoff return. You can see him move in space and hit people out in the open field there. He’s a good prospect. I think he’s played well in the opportunities he’s had. They're fortunate that they have depth at that position. When you’re able to play three guys at two spots like that, I mean, that shows that you have pretty good depth there with Wiggins, [Matt] Slauson and Feeney. Well, now without Slauson but up until last week.
Q: Are there any similarities schematically between this team and the Falcons given the connections among the coaching staffs?
BB: Yeah, a lot of similarities. Yeah, a lot of similarities.
Q: Are the defensive schemes pretty similar?
BB: Yeah, single-high safety most of the time. Rarely do you see these guys in two-high safeties; less than 10-percent of the time. It’s the same thing with Atlanta. It’s a single-high team, so last week it was [Ricardo] Allen or [Damontae] Kazee at free safety. This week it’s [Tre] Boston. That’s who is going to be back there 90-percent of the time, just like in the Seattle defense it’s Earl Thomas back there 90-percent of the time. Yeah, it’s the Seattle to Jacksonville to San Diego [scheme]. All of that schematically is pretty similar. Atlanta, obviously, thrown in there. Bosa and Ingram make this defense, I would say, put that into a special category. There’s not many teams in the league that have one player like this; they have two. They have Corey and Mebane inside which are two of the better inside players in the league. You look across the board; they bring McCain in on third down at times. They’ve got a lot of depth, a lot of play makers, a lot of disruptive players in that front that are hard to block, run, pass, inside, outside. Whatever you want; they’re hard to block.
Q: A lot of times we see pass rushers advance too far up the field and the quarterback avoids the pressure by sliding up in the pocket. Do Bosa and Ingram do a good job of continuing to push and move the pocket even if they do run past the quarterback initially?
BB: Yeah, Bob [Socci], but I'd say they don’t go past the quarterback a lot. Usually when they go past the tackle they hit the quarterback instead of going past the tackle and running by the quarterback. So, if they can’t get the quarterback they do a pretty good job of powering the tackles or countering and coming back underneath the tackles as the quarterback moves up in the pocket. They do a very good job of maintaining their relationship with the quarterback and ending up on his level. Again, if they can get the edge, which they get it plenty, and just beat the tackle off the spot and turn the corner sometimes they just turn the corner and make the play but when the tackle is able to ride him by then rarely do they get just pushed back out of the play. They either counter back or turn into power and a lot of time they collapse the width of the pocket so the tackles get compressed back into each other or back towards the center. Really it’s hard for the quarterback to step up because the pocket is so narrow. There’s no width to it. They do a real good job of all that. You just can’t say it's all speed or it’s all power or it’s all counter. They have them all. They can both throw a number of different pitches. They do one thing and then you go to stop that and then they do the next complementary move that goes with it then you’re thinking about that and then they just run you over. It’s just a continuous [process]. Honestly, as you go through each game it’s just a continuous highlight reel between the two of them. It’s usually one of them but a lot of times it’s both of them that are just being disruptive.
Q: How much respect do you have for a player like Philip Rivers to be able to do what he has done in this league for such a long period of time?
BB: Tremendous. Yeah, Phil is a tremendous player, a great competitor, a really smart player. I had him at the Pro Bowl and got to know him a little bit out there. He’s got a real thirst for knowledge. Not that there’s a lot of scheme at the Pro Bowl. I mean, I’m not saying that. It’s one coverage, but the conversations lead beyond that and how to attack different schemes and so forth. He’s a real football guy like Tom [Brady], like Peyton Manning, guys like that. They're just deep into it. He has a ton of experience. He does a great job of making adjustments on the line of scrimmage whether it’s changing protections or if he sees a certain coverage he can get into a play that will attack that coverage. He’s had a number of checks like that. Again, I don’t know what the original play was that was called but I see the play that they get into and how it’s designed to attack the defensive coverage that he’s identified and he’s identified it correctly and then it ends up being a big play. Being able to disguise our coverages and not just tell him what we're in, I mean that’s really suicide because he'll just chew that up. We're going to have to do a good job of not declaring exactly what we're in so that he doesn’t get to the perfect play every time. I have a lot of respect for him, too. He’s a big, strong guy, too. A lot of people can be hanging on him or draped all over him and he’s still strong enough to stand in there and throw the ball and throw it accurately. He’s very good with the deep ball. He kind of drives the deep ball but he drives it very accurately so he gets it into some tight spots. Again, he has some big receivers so those guys in a way are always open because of their size. Even if there’s a guy near them they are usually bigger than the guy who’s covering them. He can put it into a spot where they can go up and get it. He does a great job.
Q: How has Cassius Marsh performed on defense this season outside of his special teams contributions?
BB: I mean, you know, he plays on a spot that has a lot of – there are a lot of variables at that spot. It’s similar to what Rob [Ninkovich] did for us. He has some coverage responsibilities, different responsibilities in the running game, multiple responsibilities in the passing game, pass rush, man coverage, zone coverage. It’s part linebacker, part defensive end. There’s quite a bit to that position, but he’s done a good job of getting better at it every week, being a little more comfortable. A lot of that involves other players, too; safeties, inside linebackers, the guys that are adjacent to him, how he fits with them, what those responsibilities are. He’s done a good job of picking that up. He works hard. He’s a smart kid. He plays hard. He’s got a good motor. There’s still a lot of things for him to learn and process. There’s new situations that come up every week. Certainly a team like the Chargers will present those with their multiple formations and multiple blocking schemes, things like that. I don’t care if you’ve played 10 years; they still have a lot. If you’ve only been in this system for half a season there are going to be some things that are going to be challenging for the entire defense but especially for guys that are a little bit newer to the system. He’s done a good job. Each week it gets better and he works really hard at it. He’s not there yet but we're definitely making progress.
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