De­fense gets to Rivers

Can they do the same to Ma­homes?

Boston Herald - - NFL PLAYOFFS - Karen GUREGIAN Twit­ter: @kgure­gian

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.

MATT STONE / BOS­TON HER­ALD

IN THE GRASP: Trey Flow­ers takes down Philip Rivers dur­ing yes­ter­day’s game.

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