FOXBORO - The Los Angeles Chargers have been thin at linebacker all season. The Chargers defensive coordinator Gus Bradley had a wise idea. Instead of putting sub-par linebackers on the field, the Chargers have commonly played nickel (five defensive backs), dime (six defensive backs) and quarters defense (seven defensive backs).
Last week, the Chargers played almost seven defensive backs on every play when they defeated the Baltimore Ravens. The idea is to get faster players on the field to take away most of the passing lanes over the middle. The weakness is that a defense has smaller players on the field and is more susceptible to the run. The Chargers, however, can still be tough to run against because defensive linemen Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa are tough to block. Ingram and Bosa get up the field quickly.
"They’ve been doing that here for multiple weeks. It was seven against the Ravens but that was because [Jatavis] Brown got hurt. But it’s been six. It was six against us last year. I mean, there’s plenty of film of them using six defensive backs. Now they used five when they had all of their linebackers healthy at the beginning of the year but that hasn’t been – [Kyzir] White got hurt, [Denzel] Perryman got hurt and then Brown got hurt at the end of the season. Obviously, Coach [Gus] Bradley has done a great job of utilizing his personnel and getting people, his best players, in position to play. They’ve been doing it," Belichick said.
Bradley, who was the Seahawks defensive coordinator when the Pats beat the Seahawks in the Super Bowl, plays a lot of cover three defense. That means three safeties are each responsible for one-third of the field. The defense takes away the deep routes and leaves the middle of the field susceptible to inside routes. The challenge that the Pats will face is the Chargers are fast on defense so even if the receivers catch the ball they should have trouble gaining yards after the catch.
The Pats could use fullback James Develin to run against the Chargers lighter front. This game will likely involve a lot of Sony Michel carries and the Pats use of James White in the screen game.The Chargers have struggled this year covering running backs out of the backfield because in the cover three scheme the weak side linebacker has to cover the running back out of the backfield. Former Pats running back Shane Vereen had 11 catches for 64 yards in the Super Bowl against Seattle. White has taken Vereen's place in the Pats offense.
Tom Brady loves the chess game.
"Yeah, they’re good pass-players and I think that any time you get a lot of DBs out there on the field, you’ve got to be cognizant because they cover more ground than some bigger linebackers. They’ve had some injuries at linebacker this year and I think they like playing with those guys anyway. They’re good players. They’re very instinctive. They obviously know what they’re doing. I think any time you go into the game they had last week, you don’t know if that’s going be your last game of the year, you put your best out there and they obviously went with what they thought was best, putting a lot of DBs on the field,” Brady said.
“We’ve talked about a lot of different scenarios and we’re prepared. It’s a big challenge either way. I think they’re a very good defense, very good scheme, very good players, very well-coached. They don’t give you anything easy so we’re going to have to go out and earn it.”