(CBS LA/CBS Local) The Los Angeles Chargers held off a late comeback attempt by the Baltimore Ravens to advance to the divisional round and set up a meeting with the New England Patriots. That Patriots have been a huge obstacle for L.A. during quarterback Philip Rivers’ tenure, as the quarterback is just 1-7 against the Pats in his career. This Sunday, the Chargers hope to change that when they visit Foxborough with a berth in the AFC Championship game on the line.
To get some insight into the matchup, we checked in with The NFL Today studio analyst Nate Burleson. Nate, along with Phil Simms, Boomer Esiason, Bill Cowher and host James Brown will kick off CBS’ coverage of the game on Sunday afternoon at 12 p.m. Eastern Time. After the pre-game show, Jim Nantz and Tony Romo along with Tracy Wolfson reporting will be on the call at Gillette Stadium when the game kicks off at 1:05 p.m. on CBS.
CBS Local Sports: Philip Rivers doesn’t have the best history against Brady and the Patriots, going 1-7 in his career and 0-2 in the postseason. What is different this time around that makes you think they can get over the hump on Sunday?
Nate Burleson: There is something different about both teams. There was a certain sense of invincibility that we attached to the Patriots in years past. This year, they have seemed more flawed than ever. That is the glaring difference. Gronk looks as if his body is banged up. There are times where Brady looks his age. There hasn’t been a true standout pass catcher that, usually around this time, defines their season. Defensively they have been pretty good on the back end but there has been some inconsistency.
On the flip side, for the Chargers, it seems like all of the differences have been positive. They are not collapsing in late-game situations. They don’t have the same kicking woes like they had over the last few years. The same goes for injuries. They have been banged up like every team, but they are healthy now at the right time. It seems like everything is different, even Philip Rivers who has been in the league forever, seems like a completely different player.
That is why this game is so interesting. That is why there is a strong possibility that the Chargers can shock the football world. I bought in to what they believe. Melvin Ingram said after the game last week, “ASAP. Any squad, any place.” It’s a clever play on words. But, it is a powerful statement given what they have been through as far as the teams that they have played on the road with the time zone changes and everything.
Usually, there was an energy that Foxborough had when you played there. You had to play the greatest quarterback ever, with top skill players that surrounded him, the coaching staff on the sidelines and just the general vibe of being in Foxborough. All of that doesn’t apply to this Chargers team. They walk in with a confidence looking the Patriots in the eye saying, ‘Any squad, any place’. I’m a believer.
CBS Local Sports: The Chargers coaching staff came up with an impressive game plan to stop the Ravens last Sunday. How do you think they match up in the chess match with Belichick this Sunday?
Nate Burleson: The Chargers have a wealth of knowledge on that coaching staff from having coordinators that have previously been head coaches in addition to Anthony Lynn. In the postseason, knowledge is as good as gold. Watching them play against Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens and complicating the way the Ravens run the ball, it was absolute genius to put so much speed on the field and have them focus on the backfield instead of down the field.
However, if that is their same gameplan this Sunday, which is highly unlikely, the Patriots will have an advantage. If you put three safeties, seven defensive backs out there, the Patriots can take advantage because they have a variety of ways to attack you. That kind of complex offense is going to put defenders in a pickle. It won’t be as easy as stopping the Ravens which was basically just stopping the run. Stopping the run against the Patriots is just the tip of the iceberg.
CBS Local Sports: In the other AFC game, the Chiefs host the Colts. The Chiefs lit up the league this year, but the Colts defense has been strong, particularly last week against the Texans. What is the key matchup for you in this game?
Nate Burleson: That Colts defense is tremendous. Anchored by Darius Leonard who, even though he got the All-Pro nod, it was mind-blowing that he didn’t get the Pro Bowl nod. He is definitely a top two player at his position. As a rookie, I am blown away by his maturity and his ability to get to the ball sideline-to-sideline.
Their gameplan against the Texans was to confuse Deshaun Watson at the snap of the ball and drop back into zone, forcing him to hold on to the ball and go through his progressions. With that said, it put Deshaun in a bind because, after he went through a few progressions, he wanted to take off and run. The Colts were disciplined in how they attacked him with blitzes off the edge and up the middle while everybody else was sound in their assignments.
That is important because, going into a game like this with Pat Mahomes, you can have a similar gameplan but you have to be sure that when you send a blitz it lands. If your blitz doesn’t get to Mahomes, he is going to gash you. He is smart, he can make every throw on the field, literally with his eyes closed in the case of that no-look pass. But, he also has guys like Kelce and Tyreek Hill that can beat any coverage. If you send a blitz, you have to get home.
The problem you face is similar to facing Tom Brady. Do you want to send a blitz and leave a hole behind that blitz? Or, do you want to sit back and play man, putting the pressure on each individual? Or, do you sit back and play zone where you try and force the quarterback to recognize zone? The Chiefs offer the same problem as the Patriots in that they can beat any coverage.