The New England Patriots will host a well-rounded Los Angeles Chargers team in their playoff opener on Sunday, one that has had tremendous success on both sides of the football this season. Last week’s wild card contest between head coach Anthony Lynn’s team and the Baltimore Ravens was a continuation of that: while not always playing their best football, the Chargers dictated the flow of the game for almost the entire game.
A big reason for that was the performance of the team’s defense. With the exception of two late touchdown drives, L.A. was dominating both the running game and the passing game by using unconventional personnel packages, forcing turnovers, and generally carrying out the assignments nearly perfectly. According to advanced analytics website Pro Football Focus, two players in particular stood out.
Defensive edge Melvin Ingram and Adrian Phillips were both named among PFF’s standouts from wild card weekend, and two statistics exemplified why. Ingram finished the game not only with two sacks, a forced fumble and a recovery, he also posted a run stopping percentage of 29.4%. PFF’s Rob Hamilton had to say the following about his outstanding performance versus the Ravens’ ground attack:
Ingram’s name came up early and often on Sunday, as he was the main culprit in suffocating Baltimore’s running game, finishing with five run stops on the afternoon. Not only did he have the highest run stop percentage of the weekend, but he also boasts the third-highest pass-rushing productivity of Wild Card Weekend at 12.9. [...]
Hamilton also pointed out how the Chargers moved Ingram around the formation — something Patriots head coach Bill Belichick also noted during a press conference earlier this week — in order to get favorable matchups. The plan worked to near perfection, and the Pro Bowler had a dominating performance versus Baltimore and its dual threat rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson.
Keeping Ingram in check will be a big task for New England on Sunday. Not only is he playing at an outstanding level right now, but he also lines up opposite another productive and versatile edge defender in Joey Bosa. Together, the duo registered 16.0 sacks so far this season as well as 19 quarterback hits — and the challenge the Chargers’ defense presents does not stop there.
As mentioned above, defensive back Adrian Phillips was also named one of wild card weekend’s standout performers. Hamilton wrote the following about the 26-year old, who has grown into a starting role in Los Angeles’ secondary over the course of the season:
On his 40 coverage snaps, Phillips allowed one reception on three targets for eight yards on the day, with a pass breakup and an interception accounting for the two incompletions. The interception led to a field goal, as did his first-quarter fumble recovery. Exclusively lining up in the box, Phillips also led all defensive backs with a run stop percentage of 16.7% [...].
Phillips allowed just a 2.8 passer rating on the day as a member of the seven defensive back package Los Angeles used on all but one snaps against the Ravens. As can be seen above, his usage was not limited to the passing game but also to stopping the run as a more traditional strong safety type of player — something that also helped the Chargers overcome their shortage at the linebacker position.
While the team will likely not use the same plan against a Patriots offense that is substantially different than Baltimore’s, Phillips is still expected to play 80-100% of the Chargers’ defensive snaps on Sunday. And like Ingram, he will be a player to watch — albeit one that is comparatively flying under the radar. But that just shows how well Los Angeles’ defense has been performing as of late.