Defense gets to Rivers
Can they do the same to Mahomes?
FOXBORO — Philip Rivers took a swipe at Trey Flowers after being chased out of the pocket by the Patriots defensive lineman for the umpteenth time. It was merely the second quarter.
That was just part of Rivers meltdown yesterday afternoon. He cussed out his offensive linemen in frustration after repeated penetration by the Patriots front. He screamed at the Patriots sideline. He jawed with officials. Why?
The Patriots defense effectively pushed his buttons. Bill Belichick and Brian Flores’ unit had the Chargers quarterback out of his comfort zone in the pocket, running for his life all day.
And if Rivers peered over to the Pats sideline, Belichick could be seen applauding his approval. His players made the Chargers quarterback — a veteran who’s seen everything from defenses during his 15 years — look completely out of sorts during the AFC Division Round game.
As much as it was a misgame match with Tom Brady and the offense having its way with the Chargers defense, the Patriots defense was pretty dominant in its own right during the 41-28 rout. Most of the Bolts points came in garbage time with the game well in hand.
The defense sacked Rivers twice, registered seven quarterback hits and countless pressures. They clearly got under his skin.
“Yeah, he was a little riled up, yelling at his guys. That’s just the way he is, taking out his frustrations. He got a little emotional out there, a little frustrated,” Flowers said following the game. “We just knew in order to be successful in this game, we had to get him out of his element, make him uncomfortable. It was just a great job by the defense all around. Guys in the back end holding up the coverage, guys in the front continuing to get pressure. It was an allaround defensive effort.”
For some time now, the defense has been coming on, making plays and making quarterbacks uncomfortable.
The unit isn’t elite like the squads of the Ravens and Bears. But they’re pluggers.
The biggest question now? Can the Pats make Patrick Mahomes just as uncomfortable, and just as crazy? Because the Chiefs quarterback is up next in the AFC Championship Game.
Last time the Patriots defense saw him was Week 6. It surrendered 40 points to the young gunslinger.
Let’s just say it’s going to be harder for Mahomes to crack the unit this time around.
Between the disguising up front that allows for more pressure and the emergence of J.C. Jackson as the second corner opposite Stephon Gilmore, the defense a different feel and outlook.
The Chargers came in with all these weapons and a top-10 offense. But they couldn’t run (19 rushing yards overall), and they had a tough time passing (Rivers was 23-of-49 for 299 yards, three TDS and INT). Obviously, the lack of running yards was in part due to the Chargers falling behind, but the Pats still shut down Melvin Gordon (15 yards on nine attempts).
While the sack numbers weren’t outrageous, the pressure was the true difference-maker. Flowers, Dont’a Hightower, Adam Butler and Adrian Clayborn were constantly flushing Rivers out of the pocket, or simply in his face.
While Rivers said after the he didn’t feel like the Patriots frustrated him, the evidence clearly suggested otherwise. It was all over his face, his gestures (the swipe is on film and confirmed by Flowers), and his voice – it was loud and clear to those around him.
“I do feel like we all frustrated him,” said Butler, “but there was one play where they (Chargers offensive line) cut me loose. No one blocked me, and I just came straight up the middle and he threw it away.”
In the secondary, All-Pro corner Stephon Gilmore for the most part had Keenan Allen. He fell for one double move in the first quarter, leaving Allen open for an easy touchdown. Gilmore also had a fourth-quarter pick. Rookie Jackson, meanwhile, held his own with the dangerous Mike Williams (five catches on 11 targets for 68 yards). Tyrell Williams had five catches for 94 yards.
Now for the Chiefs. They’ve lit up the Patriots defense in their past two meetings (82 points). They’ve been torched by Tyreek Hill.
Will they be able to rattle young Mahomes like they rattled Rivers?
“The competition gets better. (Mahomes) is a heck of a player,” said Flowers. “We have to continue to work hard this week and prepare hard for him.”
Jason McCourty believes both teams have improved.
“You improve throughout the season. Every team that’s playing now, no team that’s playing in the Championship game is the same as they were Week 6,” he said, “whether it’s an improvement on the run defense, whether it’s an improvement in the passing game, whether it’s different guys emerging and playing better this time of the season after more experience. Whatever the case may be, you’re improving week in and week out . . . I think it’s a combination of a lot of things starting to click.”
There sure were a lot of things making Rivers miserable yesterday.
IN THE GRASP: Trey Flowers takes down Philip Rivers during yesterday’s game.