Defenses must be on watch for Kamara, Chargers’ receivers
We’re taking a look at one critical matchup in every NFL playoff game, continuing with Sunday’s divisionalround contests.
Chargers WRs Keenan Allen, Mike Williams and Tyrell Williams vs. Patriots CBs Stephon Gilmore, J.C. Jackson and Jason McCourty
Throughout his career, Bill Belichick has displayed a penchant for erasing his opponents’ primary offensive threats. But the Chargers present a unique challenge for the Patriots, as a comprehensive defensive performance is necessary to counteract the deep and diverse attack.
Allen stands as the Chargers’ foremost threat, as he had accounted for more than twice as many targets (136) and nearly two times the receiving yards (1,196 yards) as the next closest player on Los Angeles’ roster. But both Mike Williams (6-4, 220 pounds) and Tyrell Williams (6-4, 205) proved to be matchup problems for opposing defensive backs and readily able to lend a hand to quarterback Philip Rivers on jump balls.
New England’s secondary, however, has the players to mix and match with Los Angeles’ receiving corps. Gilmore had perhaps the best season of any cornerback, earning all-pro honors. The undrafted rookie Jackson, meanwhile, has performed admirably on the outside, allowing the team to move the versatile McCourty all around the field, including in the slot.
Perhaps the biggest question for both New England and Los Angeles will be how Belichick deploys his secondary. Allen most often lines up on the inside, which could make shadowing him difficult. Leaving Gilmore to handle Mike Williams while a safety shades over to provide bracket coverage on Allen is one option, but Belichick might be reticent to leave Jackson in such a position, even with help.
Saints RB Alvin Kamara vs. Eagles’ linebackers and safeties
In New Orleans’ 48-7 romp over Philadelphia earlier this season, the worst-ever loss for a defending Super Bowl champion, the Saints rushed for 173 yards and two touchdowns on 37 carries. Mark Ingram did the bulk of the damage and tallied both scores, but it’s Ingram who poses the greatest threat to the Eagles in the rematch.
Perhaps the most indelible moment of the Saints’ Week 11 rout was when Kamara burned Jenkins on a 37-yard, fourth-down scoring catch down the sideline, to which the Eagles’ safety responded by giving the middle finger to Sean Payton, his former coach. Jenkins later said the gesture was all in good fun, but the move was a symbol of how much frustration Kamara can force on Philadelphia if he breaks the offense open.
Controlling the line of scrimmage to keep Kamara and Ingram under control will be paramount for the Eagles, who will be counting on Fletcher Cox and Company to set the tone up front. The unit has shown a marked improvement on this front late in the season, allowing just 57.5 rushing yards per game in the last four contests.
But the biggest challenge for Philadelphia might be containing Kamara at the second level and in the passing game. But Jenkins, linebacker Nigel Bradham and the rest of the defense last week bottled up another all-purpose threat in the Bears’ Tarik Cohen, who had 27 yards on three catches.
Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen