By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
The Los Angeles Chargers have one of the most dangerous pass-rushing tandems in the NFL. The Patriots have surprised people by winning similar matchups in the past. Can they do it again on Sunday?
Edge rushers Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram didn't have their best regular seasons in 2018, but they are not a pair to be taken lightly. They wreaked havoc up front against the Baltimore Ravens in last Sunday's Wild Card game, combining for three sacks, four quarterback hits, and a fumble recovery.
Bill Belichick knows he can't let that duo wreck the Patriots' day as much as they did against Lamar Jackson and the Ravens.
"Both guys are very disruptive, not only in pressuring or sacking the quarterback but also strip-sacking and knocking the ball off the quarterback," said Belichick of Bosa and Ingram on Monday. "It’s not blocking those guys – it’s finding them and trying to get things set as much as you can to deal with those two players. But they have a lot of other good pass-rushers too. They have strong, physical players and they have other edge players."
As the coach described, it's not as simple as lining up and blocking these guys. They each play either side of the line at times, sometimes stack next to each other, and do some pre-snap shifts that can keep you guessing. It'll be key for the entire Patriots offensive line to be ready for all of them at all times.
"They do some things, especially on third down, moving them certain places, moving off the ball," said center David Andrews on Wednesday. "It's going to be a challenge. Always got to have great communication. They've got a lot of good pass rushers."
If last season's game between the Patriots and Chargers is any indication, right tackle Marcus Cannon will see a lot of Bosa in Sunday's AFC Divisional Playoff. Cannon lined up against Bosa for 17 snaps in that game before injuring his ankle in the second quarter. Cannon allowed a sack and two pressures, but otherwise took care of Bosa in that matchup. Combined, Bosa and Ingram finished with the one sack and two QB hits.
Also key to that game, however, was Brady's quick decision-making. He often got rid of the football in under two seconds, which gave Bosa and Ingram little chance to even get to him. But Cannon and then-left tackle Nate Solder mostly kept him clean. Brady will likely need to be similarly decisive on Sunday.
This makes Trent Brown a bit of a wild card in this game, having never faced the Chargers in his career. But he's certainly capable of wiping out a top pass rusher, as he proved against the Bears' Khalil Mack in Week 7.
It's always important for the Patriots to protect Brady against pressure, but in this game it's more important than usual. Brady went 32-for-47 (68.0 percent) for 333 yards and a touchdown against Gus Bradley's Cover-3 defense in last season's 21-13 win, consistently executing well when given enough time to throw. If the Patriots can neutralize the Chargers' front the way they've controlled the trenches against, say, J.J. Watt and the Texans in the past, it'll take away one of the Chargers' best weapons on either side of the ball.
Even Rob Gronkowski is going to have to chip in, as he did last season.
"If you just let them free into the quarterback, it's going to be a long day, no doubt about that," said Gronkowski. "They can just ruin a drive just that. They can make a move, get to the quarterback, lose 10 yards, and boom, there goes the drive. You've got to be aware of them, big-time."
Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at [email protected].