There will be countless hours spent analyzing the Patriots and Chargers over the next week ahead of Sunday's divisional round matchup at Gillette Stadium and Bill Belichick got things going in that direction with his conference call Monday afternoon.
The coach pointed out a lot of the Los Angeles' strengths during his briefing, but one thing that stuck out was the respect he has for the overall toughness of the Chargers entire roster. From Philip Rivers to the backs and receivers to the defense, Belichick cited the toughness and disciplined nature of Los Angeles on numerous occasions.
When asked about any similarities between defensive coordinator Gus Bradley's personnel in Los Angeles as compared to his units in Seattle and Jacksonville, Belichick was effusive in his praise.
"Coach Bradley's defense is very disciplined," Belichick began. "They do a great job of creating negative plays in the running game. They usually overload the box so they have one more guy in there than you can block. They're fast and aggressive. The big thing is they're very disciplined. They play hard and they play fast with a lot of physical toughness."
"Coach Bradley runs the Seattle system and that's a very sound and proven system of defense. They're game-to-game adjustments. I'm sure they'll play Tom Brady differently than they played Lamar Jackson, like anybody would. But their scheme is still pretty fundamentally their scheme and they've had so much success with it. They've been one of the top defensive teams for the last couple years. I can't imagine them straying too far from the principles of what's made them so successful. Whatever we get, we get and it'll come down to good execution."
Those weren't the only positive words Belichick had for the Chargers. Here are some highlights from Monday's conference call.
King James – Derwin James has had an impressive rookie season in the Chargers secondary, filling a variety of roles. Belichick was asked about his versatility and said James has played at a high level all year.
"He's as good as anybody we've seen all year. Big, fast, athletic, very instinctive," Belichick said. "He primarily plays around the line of scrimmage. Usually in a safety position but they play a lot of six and seven defensive backs, so sometimes he's in a linebacker-type position down near the line of scrimmage. He's a very good tackler. He's a very good blitzer when they blitz him. He can play very strong against the running game and when they put him in the deep part of the field he plays effectively from back there too.
"He gets a good break on the ball. He reads the quarterback well and he's had some big plays in the deep part of the field knocking the ball off of receivers and getting a good break on the ball and getting to the reception area. His length, his strength, his speed and his instinctiveness – he has a good nose for the ball. He's around the ball a lot and physically he's really hard to deal with. He's fast and with great size and explosive power. The guy's a really good football player."
Twin terrors – Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa represent a potent set of edge pass rushers for the Chargers. Ingram led the team with 7 sacks while Bosa added 5.5 despite missing nine games with a foot injury. Belichick explained how the two can affect games in a number of ways.
"Both guys are very disruptive, not only in pressuring or sacking the quarterback but also strip-sacking and knocking the ball off the quarterback," he said. "They have great awareness to get the ball off. Ingram lines up inside on passing situations a pretty decent amount of the time so he's not always on the edge, so really anybody could get him. Bosa's in there some too, but Bosa's more outside than inside.
"In third-down situations, Ingram shows up inside quite a bit. He's had very good production in there against a number of teams. It's not blocking those guys – it's finding them and trying to get things set as much as you can to deal with those two players. But they have a lot of other good pass rushers too. They have strong, physical players and they have other edge players. They have good fundamentals, good techniques, they're explosive and it's a very talented defensive front."
Running receivers – Like the Patriots, the Chargers running backs don't just simply carry the ball. Melvin Gordon (50 catches, 490 yards, 4 TDs) and Austin Ekeler (39 catches, 404 yards, 3 TDs) have both been effective receivers this season. Belichick was particularly interested in the big plays the pair has turned in, citing touchdowns of 66 and 44 yards for Gordon and Ekeler, respectively.
"Both guys have been very productive and they've been targeted a decent amount of time," Belichick began. Rivers is very good at utilizing all of his receivers. They usually get everybody out so if you take away the deeper guys he uses his outlet receivers very well.
"Both have had several long runs when they've caught the ball at or behind the line of scrimmage so those plays can't be taken lightly. All of his weapons are a problem – tight ends, backs. We'll have to handle everybody and whatever the matchup is we'll have to hold up on that end of the package. Those guys are very different but they're very productive."