The Patriots and Chargers are still five days away from Sunday's divisional round playoff game but Bill Belichick had plenty to say about Los Angeles during his Wednesday morning press conference at Gillette Stadium.
Not surprisingly, most of it was overwhelmingly positive.
"Obviously the Chargers are a really impressive football team," he began. "Spent a lot of time watching them the last three or four days here and really pretty good at everything. That's the reason they won 13 games. So, well-coached, very disciplined.
"They make big plays, play good defense, got an explosive group, strong in the kicking game. They just challenge you on every play. So, we're going to have to do a good job all the way around."
As is Belichick's typical refrain each week – especially at this time of year – the coach expressed the need for everyone to be at their best in order to come out on top.
"We're going to need a good team effort from all the units, all the players, coaching staff, everybody, and go out there and be ready to compete on Sunday afternoon," Belichick added. "It's a good football team and a lot of respect for their coaching staff, their players, the team, the way they play and what they've accomplished this year. So, it will be a big challenge for us."
Belichick discussed some of the specifics challenges the players and coaches will face, and those were among the highlights of the Wednesday press conference.
Rivers runs through it – Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers has been around the block. At 37, he's not quite as old as Tom Brady but he brings plenty of experience to Foxborough for Sunday's showdown.
Belichick was asked about the veteran's play thus far this season.
"He's played great. He plays great," Belichick said. "Very accurate, obviously a smart guy, offense runs through him, handles things at the line of scrimmage, makes good decisions with the ball, uses everybody, all of the receivers, all the tight ends, all the backs. He's very, very efficient, makes big plays, good in situations – third down, red area. He's really good, outstanding. Hard guy to tackle, big, strong guy, has a good feel for the pocket, knows how to use his blockers, kind of like [Ben] Roethlisberger – same type of thing. He's good."
Nickel and dime approach – The Chargers defense has created plenty of talk lately based on their looks featuring multiple defensive backs. Los Angeles used nickel and dime looks almost exclusively against Baltimore last week despite the fact that big, physical Ravens figured to attack it with the running game.
Belichick talked about how the Chargers use their defensive backs as linebackers at times and how they've had success doing it. He was particularly impressed with rookie Derwin James.
"This guy's a tremendous football player," he said. "He's good at everything. He usually plays around the line of scrimmage. I think he leads their team in everything – tackles, assists, pass break-ups, interceptions, big hits. He does play away from their line of scrimmage at times. He's good back there, too. He's got good range, good speed, he's long, he's hard to block, very instinctive, good tackler, good blitzer. He's good at everything. He's a good player."
Have the Patriots had much experience going against defenses with seven defensive backs, as the Chargers used at times in Baltimore?
"Well, again, it's within kind of the same system," Belichick explained. "They played mostly six DBs against us last year, so they've been doing a lot of it this year. They went with the seventh guy against the Ravens, but it's been a lot of six defensive backs the last, I don't know, month or so.
"Jatavis Brown played a lot in their six D-back system, so they just kind of replaced him with [Jahleel] Addae or with actually the safety, [Rayshawn] Jenkins. Jenkins didn't play down – Jenkins played back, Addae played down, but it was essentially the same defense with Addae taking Brown's spot."
Flash Gordon – Chargers running back Melvin Gordon enjoyed a solid season before injuries have limited him in recent weeks. Despite missing time with a knee sprain, Gordon rushed for 885 yards on just 175 carries (5.1-yard average) and 10 touchdowns. He also had 50 receptions for another 490 yards and four scores, so Gordon is a big part of the Chargers attack.
The knee issues have lingered, however, and Gordon is not dealing with a sprain suffered to his left knee during last week's win over Baltimore. Belichick talked about some of the traits a healthy Gordon brings to the table.
"He's big, strong, fast, got good vision, he's hard to tackle, he's got good patience, uses his blockers well," Belichick said. "He's got good speed so he can attack from sideline to sideline, but he gets downhill, he's tough in line, he's a tough guy to tackle.
"He's got breakaway speed, he's got home run ability, so he's had a bunch of big plays – some in the running game, some in the passing game, screen passes, check-down routes, end routes. So, whenever he gets the ball, it doesn't really matter how he gets it once he gets it.
"All their backs are a problem. They have good backs – good depth at that position. Sometimes they play two of them in the game. Usually it's just one, but sometimes they have them both in there, or have two of the three in there – their halfbacks. Just another way to attack the defense, put more good players on the field."