Patriots

Will Chargers continue to rely on defensive backs vs. Patriots?

Will Chargers continue to rely on defensive backs vs. Patriots?

Basing too much on a team’s most talented players or reading too much into what it just did is an outstanding way to give a horrible game forecast.

How many times since 2012 have we flapped our arms for six days about what J.J. Watt, Jadeveon Clowney and the rest of the Texans are capable of, only to see them play like JAGs on Sundays? Several.

So there’s your grain of salt as we loosen up our jaws for a week of telling you how difficult the Chargers defense will be to deal with.

And they will be difficult to deal with.

Jenny Vrentas of Sports Illustrated was at the Chargers-Ravens game Sunday and did an excellent job highlighting the wrinkle L.A. threw at Baltimore’s land-locked offense under Lamar Jackson – using seven defensive backs.

Usually, when a team goes DB heavy, it’s to neutralize a passing game. But the Chargers believed they had to match the speed of Jackson and felt they could do so because they have a very athletic and sure-tackling secondary.

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“Our defensive coaches felt like against this quarterback, it would be good to go small, because [the DBs] can help in coverage and they can help track Lamar,” Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn told Vrentas. “And it worked. Now, we were prepared to go a different direction if it didn’t work. But for the most part, it worked today.”

The Chargers stuck safety Rayshawn Jenkins deep, put corner Casey Hayward on Michael Crabtree and then dropped safeties Adrian Phillips and Jahleel Addae at the linebacker level, writes Vrentas.

“The DBs were better suited to match Jackson’s speed, which offset the gamble of using a smaller lineup to stop an offense that had been averaging more than 200 rushing yards per game in Jackson's seven starts since he took over for Flacco. The Ravens finished with just 90 rushing yards on Sunday.”

“Lamar Jackson ran a 4.3,” Jenkins said. “We needed some fast guys, right? We needed guys who could run sideline to sideline and still help in the passing game if they got fooled. Not saying our linebackers couldn’t do it, but let’s be honest, DBs are faster than linebackers.”

Here’s where the chess match featuring Lynn and L.A. defensive coordinator Gus Bradley against Bill Belichick and Patriots OC Josh McDaniels begins.

Because while the Patriots offense is the polar opposite of Baltimore’s, the heavy-DB scheme might still make sense.

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When the Rex Ryan-coached Jets began having success against the Patriots, it’s because they’d flood the short middle with defensive backs and force Tom Brady to throw outside where he often didn’t have big-time talent at wide receiver. Lynn was on Ryan’s staff in New York and in Buffalo as well.

The Patriots' eventual answer became better personnel and the development of tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez.

But the 2018 Patriots are back to being under-equipped in the passing game. Julian Edelman is the focal point and their best (only) wideout capable of winning consistently in 1-on-1 situations. Gronk looked better in Week 17 but he’s been so inconsistent it’s hard to bet on his production.

Besides, L.A. has two All-Pros – Desmond King and Derwin James – who will check Edelman and Gronk frequently. Forcing Brady off of his preferred options and onto Phillip Dorsett and Chris Hogan seems a winning defensive strategy.

But the Patriots’ counter is the diversity in their running game. They can use power with Sony Michel and fullback James Develin. Or they can use that rocket/jet/biplane/zeppelin (whatever air vehicle we’re using to describe it this week) motion and get action going side-to-side.

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Speed on the field is great when you’re hauling down a willowy quarterback. How about when you’re getting a fullback and running back shoved down your throat? If the Chargers go more conventional to address the Patriots running game, then they may get a steady dose of play-action.

The bottom line to this is there is going to be a big feeling-out process at the start of this game where the Patriots try to divine the Chargers' defensive game plan.

Vrentas asked Lynn about the old Jets and Bills game plans against Brady where multiple DBs were used.

“That was for completely different reasons,” Lynn said.

I wrote after the game about the success the Patriots have had against the Cover-3 defense that Bradley is a disciple of.

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The predictability of that scheme, even when there’s great talent carrying it out, has been an Achilles heel that Brady and McDaniels attack.

How do the Chargers try to cover up that heel? And does that open up a new spot for New England to exploit?

What the Chargers did to the Ravens Sunday – what they’ve done all year in going 8-1 on the road and winning in difficult venues – is impressive. And their roster is loaded with the kind of young talent that promises a nice run of success.

But the Patriots' backyard is lousy with the shallow graves of “young and impressive” teams that got big-brained right into the offseason.  

The Chargers will have to buck a trend.

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Does Caserio's contract clause with Patriots violate NFL rules?

Does Caserio's contract clause with Patriots violate NFL rules?

The tampering dispute between the Patriots and Houston Texans over Pats director of player personnel Nick Caserio appears to be settled - for now - after an exchange of statements Friday between Robert Kraft and Texans CEO Cal McNair.

Still, Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk points out that the clause in Caserio's contract that keeps him from leaving for other teams being questioned. "Some in league circles are now asking whether the Caserio clause complies with league rules," as Florio puts it.

Other teams thinking the Patriots are violating league rules? When has that ever happened?

This is the part of the NFL's anti-tampering rule that's the focus of the issue:

"..the inquiring club is prepared to offer a position as a high-level employee . . . the employer club may not deny the employee the opportunity to discuss and accept such employment.”

Seeking a Patriots employee to become your team's general manager would certainly qualify as "high-level." Florio reports that one source says at least one other team's non-"high-level" employee had a similar clause and when it was challenged, the NFL ultimately invalidated it.

The NFL Network's Tom Pelissero reports that the Texans asked what they would have to give up in a trade to get Caserio, whose Patriots contract is up after the 2020 draft.

The Texans will reportedly go without a GM this season. Sounds as if this is far from over.

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Chandler Jones motivated by trade from Patriots: 'I never want to be traded again'

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Chandler Jones motivated by trade from Patriots: 'I never want to be traded again'

Chandler Jones has settled in as a member of the Cardinals, but he isn't getting too comfortable.

The former Patriot knows the nature of the business in the NFL and that he can be traded any given moment. Jones found that out the hard way when he was traded from New England to Arizona back in 2016, and he still uses that trade as motivation three years later.

“I feel like at any time I can be traded,” Jones said, via Kyle Odegard of azcardinals.com. “It might sound bizarre to say, but I’m someone who has been in that situation. I’ve been traded before and that little sense of rejection is a crappy feeling, honestly. That’s what drives me. That’s what motivates me. I never want to get traded again.”

Jones shifted from defensive end to linebacker after joining the Cardinals, and he continues to produce at a high level. The 29-year-old has racked up double-digit sacks in each of his three seasons with Arizona (11 in 2016, 17 in 2017, 13 in 2018).

But it appears Jones may have learned a valuable lesson from his time under Pats head coach Bill Belichick: it isn't all about stats.

“It’s not about getting double-digit sacks,” Jones told Odegard. “The big thing is just being consistent. Speaking from a coach’s perspective, you want a player that’s consistent. You want a player that you know what you’re going to get day in and day out, on and off the field. A lot of that gives credit to some of my numbers, and hopefully I can stay consistent.”

Jones signed a five-year, $82.5 million extension in 2017, so using his trade from the Patriots as fuel certainly seems to have paid off.

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