There are 3 components of the Patriots Offense that have been very difficult for defenses to handle over the last half decade or so:
First, the Patriots like to utilize unconventional alignments. They often put running backs and tight ends on the perimeter and wide receivers inside. This helps define the coverage for Tom Brady pre-snap and enables him to identify the mismatch he wants to target.
Second, they can catch teams off-guard with their no-huddle offense. They combine this with the unconventional alignments mentioned above, and this makes it difficult for defenses to be able to match up the way they want to before the snap. Often, this leads to blown assignments or it gets the defense into a simple safe zone coverage. Brady then goes to work picking this apart.
Third, they utilize play-action. This sucks the defense up to the line of scrimmage and creates voids at the intermediate levels. Brady doesn’t get enough credit for the effectiveness of his play-fakes.
Gus Bradley’s defensive coverages and personnel choices might be the perfect match for these three components, though. Bradley’s defense lives in Dime personnel (6 DBs). Last week, we saw them utilize 7 DBs on almost every snap against the Ravens. They also play predominant single-high-based coverages (cover 3 variations, and man free variations).
Having so many defensive backs on the field means Brady won’t be able to find quite as many mismatches when his tight ends and running backs align on the perimeter. This should be true whether the Chargers match up in zone or man.
Similarly, the Chargers should be able to handle any no-huddle the Patriots throw their way because they predominantly play the same coverage. They can sit in cover-3 zones, and then read and react quickly to route concepts as they have all season. They won’t need to worry quite as much about having certain DBs follow certain pass-catchers all over the field. This will eliminate much of the confusion that comes with defending New England’s no-huddle.
Additionally, against the Ravens, we saw Chargers defenders not bite at all on play-action, preventing the creation of any voids for easy throws at the intermediate level. This will come in handy against New-England’s play-action passing game.
Finally, the Chargers did a tremendous job a week ago, and quite frankly all season, of getting inside pressure on the quarterback. If the Patriots get in too many 3rd-and-long situations, they will have to face Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa aligned inside over the guards, creating mismatches that will lead to pressure in Brady’s face.
We wouldn’t be surprised to see Bill Belichick decide to attack L.A.’s personnel and coverage choices with his running game, which ranks among the best in the league. If they think they can exploit the Chargers’ smaller personnel with their rushing attack, they’ll be more relentless about sticking with it than Baltimore was a week ago.
We think the Chargers Defense can match up well to what the Patriots like to do as an offense. But they can’t have any situational lapses like we saw in the Wild Card round during Baltimore’s 4th-quarter comeback.
Below, this 4th-and-11 play, with the score 23-3, almost started what would have been a historic collapse. You can see that the two circled underneath defenders jumped two routes well short of the first-down marker, leaving a huge void behind them for an easy conversion.
This is all too similar to the same mistake the Jaguars made on 3rd-and-18 against the Patriots in last year’s AFC Championship Game.
Bad situational football gets you beat every time against the Patriots. The Chargers have to avoid it to have a chance in this one.
Check out how these teams match up below: