By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
The Patriots signed Adrian Phillips for this moment.
Formerly a standout box safety with the Chargers, Phillips has played a similar yet slightly different role as part of the Patriots defense. He’s had to play a hybrid linebacker type of role out of necessity, as injuries and a lack of depth at the position have forced Bill Belichick’s hand.
But against Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens, Phillips may be best suited as a roving type of safety who constantly homes in on the quarterback. Because he’s already proven adept at slowing down the 2019 NFL MVP.
Phillips showed up big-time in two games against the Ravens in 2018 during Jackson’s rookie year. The two games came in a span of three weeks and the Chargers won the bigger contest in the Wild Card round, building an early lead then wreaking havoc on the Ravens offense on the strength of their pass rush and safety play.
In Week 16, a game the Ravens ultimately won 22-10, Phillips tackled Jackson twice, once behind the line. Jackson totaled 2 yards on those two rush attempts. In the wild card game, Phillips intercepted Jackson and defended two passes intended for tight ends. He also made three tackles and a fumble recovery in the run game.
Phillips has already proven to be a versatile, savvy addition to the Patriots defense. But his biggest challenge yet, and most important week of his season, comes Sunday night against Jackson and a Ravens offense that popped the Patriots’ bubble last season.
“They’re an offense with a whole lot of moving parts,” Phillips said, when asked what he remembers from facing Jackson. “Going back to two years ago, basically our whole ordeal was just to go out there and make sure everybody had a gap. Make sure everybody had a gap, play vertical, put a lot of speed on the field. Because you know they, with Lamar – I mean, he’s able to take that thing however far he wants to take it. Ninety yards, 100 – if the field was longer, he could take it there, too. So it was basically making sure everybody had their gaps, be more physical than them and speed to the ball. And no big plays.
“When we played them the first time – because we played them twice that year – when we played them the first time, we did an OK job handling the big plays at a time, but they had a few on us, and that was the first time we really saw that style of offense. But the second time, we were able to watch film, get a better understanding of what they were doing and play fast. You’ve got to play fast and play physical, especially with a team like that, and that’s what we did.”
The Patriots will have to make sure they have everything down the first time on Sunday against the Ravens. But most of their defense also has something to prove after getting slapped around last season. Phillips would be an important piece to their redemption.
This is what you play the game for,” Phillips said. “You’re going against Lamar Jackson and that crazy offense. They do a lot of stuff, and when he gets out in the open field, it’s a whole other game. So of course we’re looking forward to the challenge, because you want to be the defense that stops him. You want to be the guys that shut him down. He’s going to go out there he’s going to make some plays, but if we do what we’re supposed to, then we’ll come out with the win.”
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? Yell at him on Twitter @mattdolloff or send him a nasty email at email@example.com.