Patriots

Belichick heaps rare praise upon pair of Chargers pass rushers

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Belichick heaps rare praise upon pair of Chargers pass rushers

FOXBORO -- Bill Belichick saved the best for last during his lengthy opening remarks on Wednesday. As he praised for the Chargers for five minutes without stopping, he hit on their special-teams units, their passing game, their running game . . . and then their defense.

Carried by two of the best 10 pass-rushers in football at the moment, Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram, Belichick knows his team will have its hands full up front this weekend.

"Two great, great pass rushers . . . Those guys do a lot of damage," Belichick said. "[Chris] McCain comes in and he does a lot of damage, too, and that moves Ingram inside. They’re very explosive players. They’re good inside with Corey [Liuget] and [Brandon] Mebane, two very disruptive guys on the inside part of the defense. They create a lot of negative plays there, very good on third down.

"Third-and-long's basically just a sack-and-turnover reel. They create a lot of bad plays in those situations. Obviously, we need to try and stay out of as many of those as possible."

The scheme the Chargers employ will be a familiar one to Belichick and Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels given who they faced last weekend. Bolts defensive coordinator Gus Bradley and Falcons head coach Dan Quinn both have a background coaching defenses under Pete Carroll, and as a result their styles are similar.

Single-high safeties. One-gapping fronts. Aggressive. Fast.

What gives Los Angeles a different wrinkle is its pass rush.

"Bosa and Ingram make this defense, I would say, put that into a special category," he said. "There’s not many teams in the league that have one player like this. They have two."

Ingram has 8.5 sacks this season, placing him fourth in the NFL in that category. Bosa, the No. 3 pick in the draft last season, has 7.5 sacks already after notching 10.5 in 12 games in 2016 to pick up Defensive Rookie of the Year honors.

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"He plays really hard," Belichick said of the second-year standout. "Every play he’s all out. 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 . . .

"They can both throw a number of different pitches. They do one thing and then you go to stop that and then they do the next complementary move that goes with it then you’re thinking about that and then they just run you over. It’s just a continuous [process]. Honestly, as you go through each game it’s just a continuous highlight reel between the two of them. It’s usually one of them, but a lot of times it’s both of them that are just being disruptive."

The Chargers are fifth in the league in pass defense (185.4 yards per game) and eighth in points allowed (18.7) thanks in large part to their front. They haven't allowed an opposing offense to crack the 30-point threshold this year, and after shutting out the Broncos last weekend, they're allowing an average of 12.6 points during their three-game win streak. 

Had it not been for a pair of missed field goals -- a potential game-tying kick in Week 1 and a would-be winner in Week 2 -- the Chargers record could look very different. And their defensive turnaround, after ranking 29th in points allowed in 2016, would be one of the more well-worn storylines of what has been a wild first half of the season in the AFC.

"They could easily be 6-1," Belichick said. "A good football team, playing well right now."

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Speed to burn: Cooks, Brady team up to form most productive deep-ball combo

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Speed to burn: Cooks, Brady team up to form most productive deep-ball combo

The first came in the second quarter, when Brandin Cooks turned on afterburners to beat a Raiders double team and glide underneath a Tom Brady heave for 52 yards. The second came in the third quarter, on the third play from scrimmage of the second half, when Cooks faked an out-route, jetted past rookie corner Obi Melifonwu, and sped into the end zone to make the score 24-0. 

Both deep completions in New England's 33-8 win over Oakland just added to cumulative effect that Cooks has had on the Patriots offense since arriving before the season to become their top deep threat. 

Paired with Brady, Cooks has actually become the most productive deep threat in the NFL. 

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According to Pro Football Focus, Cooks leads all receivers with 431 yards on deep passes (throws that travel 20 yards or more down the field). In second place is Houston's DeAndre Hopkins with 313 yards. 

And Brady, who has long been more effective in the short-to-intermediate range than he has been deep, is now among the league leaders in creating explosive plays from the quarterback position. The Patriots are third in the NFL with 41 pass plays of 20 yards or more, and they are tied for second with nine plays of 40 yards or more. 

"You're always trying to work on that," Brady told WEEI's Kirk and Callahan Show of his team's deep passing game. "It's not one particular year [you work on it]. I think that's been a concerted effort by our entire offense, trying to make more explosive plays in the pass game. 

"Sometimes your offense is built differently. We actually have some guys now that can really get down the field so that becomes more of a point of emphasis. The way Brandin runs, the way that Chris Hogan runs, the way that Phillip Dorsett runs, they're very fast. You need to be able to take advantage of their skill set . . . 

"When we had David Patten we were throwing it deep. I mean, but David Patten didn't run a lot of short routes. I would say Brandin Cooks, in general, he doesn't run a lot of short routes. Everyone has a different role. If we can get by you, I think that's a good place to throw the ball. if we can't, we gotta figure out ways to throw it underneath and different weeks are going to call for different things based on the strengths of the defenses we're playing, too."

A week before beating the Raiders, against the Broncos and their talented corners, the Patriots had less luck pushing the ball down the field -- though they tried to hit Cooks deep multiple times. In Mexico City, Cooks matched up with a weaker secondary, and he wasn't at all slowed by the altitude, catching six passes in all for 149 yards and a score. 

Per PFF, Cooks has seen almost one third of his targets (30 percent) come on deep passes, which is the ninth-highest rate in the league. He's caught all 11 of his catchable deep passes, three of them accounting for scores.

"Obviously when you're throwing the ball 50-60 yards down the field," Brady said, "your chances of completion go down, but if you hit it, it ends up being a very explosive plays and you can change a lot of field position and get a defense really on their heels if they have to defend every blade of grass on the field." 

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Belichick remembers Glenn: 'A good person with good intentions'

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Belichick remembers Glenn: 'A good person with good intentions'

Terry Glenn, the Patriots' top draft pick in 1996, died early Monday morning in a one-car accident in Irving, Texas. He was 43. 

Bill Belichick coached Glenn as an assistant with the Patriots during Glenn's rookie season. He was later Glenn's head coach in 2000 and 2001. Belichick traded Glenn to the Packers before the 2002 season after a tumultuous run in New England that involved legal trouble, injuries and clashes with the coaching staff.

During a conference call with reporters soon after the news of Glenn's death was published, Belichick remembered Glenn for his natural physical ability and "a good heart."

"I was pretty close with Terry," Belichick said, "and his rookie season was my first year here in '96, and so I had a lot of interaction with him and other people that were involved in his life and his upbringing separate from the Patriots. Terry's a very smart individual. Had a lot of, obviously, a lot of physical skill and talent. Could do a lot of things on the football field very naturally. And I think he was deep down inside a good person with good intentions and, you know, a good heart. Obviously it's very unfortunate. Very unfortunate passing. I mean, it's a sad day. Sad news."

According to reports, Glenn was with his fiancee at the time of the accident. She's being treated at a local hospital for unspecified injuries.