The red-hot Los Angeles Chargers come to town on Sunday to take on the suddenly rejuvenated Patriots and their defense, which turned in its best performance of the season against the Falcons last week. Bill Belichick is less concerned with his team as he is with the Chargers, who were forced to overcome an 0-4 start and now sit just a game below .500 at 3-4.
Wednesday is "opponent day" in Foxborough and as such there were plenty of accolades headed the Chargers way during the coach's press conference.
"This is a real impressive team to watch," Belichick said. "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."
Belichick went on to touch on a number of those things including L.A.'s special teams, running game and most notably, the Chargers dangerous pass rush.
Those were some of the highlights from Belichick's Wednesday press conference.
In a rush –It's no secret that pass protection has been a major area of concern this season for the Patriots. Tom Brady has been sacked 18 times already and many of those have come on big hits that have knocked the ball loose. Conversely, the Chargers are extremely adept at getting to the quarterback, and they have multiple players to do it including former first-round picks Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram.
Belichick was asked about the impact a player like Bosa can make for a defense.
"He plays really hard. Every play he's all out," Belichick said. "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."
Schematically speaking –Defensive coordinator Gus Bradley has spent time in Seattle as the head coach in Jacksonville, and his schemes have been consistently in each stop. Typically Bradley chooses to employ a single-high safety, and Belichick explained how that system has manifested itself in Los Angeles.
"Rarely do you see these guys in two-high safeties; less than 10 percent of the time," the coach said. "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.
"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 [Liuget] and [Brandon] Mebane inside which are two of the better inside players in the league. You look across the board; they bring [Chris] 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."
Old man Rivers –There are few tougher and more determined competitors at the quarterback position than Philip Rivers, and Belichick certainly expressed plenty of respect for the Chargers leader. Rivers' toughness went to legendary status way back in 2007 when he starting and played the entire AFC Championship Game in Foxborough against the Patriots after suffering a torn ACL in the prior week.
"Phil is a tremendous player, a great competitor, a really smart player," the coach began. "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. 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.
"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. 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. He can put it into a spot where they can go up and get it. He does a great job."