FOXBORO – The Patriots were able to survive an exhausted secondary player in the Jets last week. Of course, it didn’t hurt the case to see a backup quarterback in more than half of the game.
But the chargers?
They are a completely different can of worms and how the Patriots fare against Justin Herbert & Co. should reveal a lot about the team and where it is headed this season.
Herbert is one of the best quarterbacks in the league and the last player a team wants to face missing starters in the defensive backfield.
Having an exhausted secondary against the Chargers is like bringing a slingshot to a gunfight.
But there is no one to avoid it. Herbert & Co. is on the Patriots dance card this Sunday at SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles.
So Bill Belichick and the defensive braintrust will have to find a way to slow down Herbert if they want to keep the light burning on a possible playoff bid.
“They just have so much talent all over the field,” said Patriots defensive captain Devin McCourty, who missed part of the Jets’ game with a stomach injury but is on his way to play Sunday. “It’s just a lot of good players. It makes it hard for a defense because you can not enter one guy, there are so many good players out there. I think we all have to do our job and play well on Sunday.
While the Patriots did a great job against Tom Brady and his acclaimed arsenal with Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown, they did not do quite as well against Dak Prescott and his elite group of receivers with CeeDee Lamb, Amari Cooper and Cedrick Wilson.
The Cowboys put up the most yards of any offense (567) against a Belichick-trained defense in New England. Prescott also threw 445 yards, the most for any quarterback against the hoodie.
Since then, slot cornerback Jonathan Jones has been eliminated from the backfield equation, made for the season after undergoing shoulder surgery on Monday.
Then there is the elephant in the room. Stephon Gilmore, the only internal shutdown corner, was traded to Carolina.
How will the Patriots handle Herbert and his huge menu of weapons, which includes Keenan Allen (39 catches) and Mike Williams (6 TDs)?
One word comes to mind: Pray!
“They’re definitely a group you should be concerned about and we need to bring our ‘A’ game, just like you do every week,” Pat’s cornerbacks coach Mike Pellegrino said on Tuesday. “You have to prepare. Every quarterback has different skills that are dangerous.
“Justin is definitely a dominant quarterback and he is really developing into one of the better players in the league. It’s his job to score and our job to stop him. I hope we are ready for the challenge. ”
Let’s face it, with an offensive still evolving with rookie quarterback Mac Jones, the defense must deliver against the high-octane attacks on schedule.
If the unit, and the secondary in particular, can not keep up with the better attacks and quarterbacks, it is still a dream to run towards a playoff spot.
No doubt Belichick will see how the unit performs against a group he referred to Wednesday as “The Big Four” with Allen, Williams, tight-end Jared Cook and running back Austin Ekeler catching passes coming out of the backfield .
Can he cope with JC Jackson, Jalen Mills, Myles Bryant, JoeJuan Williams and Justin Bethel, who is primarily a special team player?
D’Angelo Ross is part of the training team and can be elevated to the game to give a little depth. Shaun Wade has not yet taken care of himself since being acquired from the Ravens. He has been dealing with concussion problems.
While Jackson has played decently, Mills has occasionally struggled against the opposing team’s No. 2 receiver. Most recently, Lamb lit him up during Cowboys week.
During last year’s 45-0 round of the Chargers, Gilmore pretty much took Allen out of the game and it had a huge impact on Herbert.
Maybe Jackson will mark Allen this time, and Mills will draw Williams with secondary help. Bryant is likely to clear the opening. Chargers also have Jalen Guyton, another receiver at lightning speed, in their arsenal.
The loss of Jones, who injured a shoulder against the Cowboys and then returned to play later in the game, making an important break to keep the Patriots in the game, is more significant than one might assume.
“You lose a lot more than a football player,” Pellegrino said of Jones. “You’re losing a leader, you’re losing a veteran, you’re losing a guy who’s really a Swiss Army knife in our defense. Jon Jones, to me, is like my other coach down there on the pitch. The guy is a great guy, works hard. He’s everything you’re looking for in a Patriot, he’s cool, he’s smart, he’s reliable.
“Last year I said he would go out there and play with one arm, and honestly, he did in that game,” he continued. “The guy defines toughness for me … I appreciate him. He puts in a lot. We get every ounce of him out. He will definitely be missed.”
It will at least be one last look at the secondary before Tuesday’s trading deadline at
There’s not much out there in the corner kick market, so chances are what you see is what you get when the Pats added a couple of corner kicks (Brian Poole, De’Vante Bausby) to the training squad on Wednesday.
If the secondary can somehow survive Herbert & Co., with a little help from a passing rush, it will bode well for the Patriots going forward.
“Everyone is ready to go,” Pellegrino said. “Next man up mentality.”
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