De­fenses must be on watch for Ka­mara, Charg­ers’ re­ceivers

USA TODAY Weekend Extra - - NFL - Michael Mid­dle­hurst-Schwartz

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

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