Pick Six:  Observations from the Division Round Game

The Patriots advanced in the Divisional Round 41-28 over the Los Angeles Chargers. New England played a nearly flawless first half, and jumped out to a 35-7 lead through the first two quarters at Gillette Stadium. With the win, the Patriots advance to their 8th consecutive AFC Championship game to play the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium.

Six Comments from the Division Round Game

1. From the start of the game it was apparent that New England was going to attack Los Angeles’ Cover Three zone with short passes, and hope to pick up nice yardage after the catch. Julian Edelman was terrific working in between the zones, picking up 151 yards and eight first downs on nine catches. Early in the 2nd quarter the Chargers’ appeared to be in man coverage on a third-down opportunity in the red zone and defensive back Desmond King II got caught biting on Edelman’s in-cut and allowed Phillip Dorsett to get wide open for a touchdown catch.

2. Los Angeles’ edge pass rushers Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa were schemed out of contest by New England’s inside runs and quick passes. The Patriots’ offensive line never allowed a sacked and gave up only two quarterback hits in 44 drop backs. The line also drew only one penalty, a holding call on Joe Thuney late in the 4th quarter.

3. New England ran Sony Michel a lot on first down with mixed results. Eight of his 17 first down runs where held to two or fewer yards, but he broke enough of them to pile up 103 yards and three touchdowns on first down. All three touchdowns were scored out of an I-formation, running behind fullback James Develin into the middle of the line. The Patriots primarily ran dives and zones runs against the Chargers, and stayed away from counter plays, or power plays, that pull a guard around the center.

4. After surrendering a touchdown on Los Angeles’ first possession, New England’s defense held the visitors to five consecutive punts, including three three-and-outs. Part of their success was due to holding running back Melvin Gordon to only six yards on seven first-down carries. Quarterback Philip Rivers found some success tossing the ball on first down, as he gained 118 yards on four big pass plays to receivers Mike Williams, Tyrell Williams, and Keenan Allen.

5. Really good play from the Patriots’ defensive front kept the Chargers’ offense off track in the first half. Defensive tackle Adam Butler and end Trey Flowers ran a stunt against the offensive line to force Rivers out of the pocket and into a third-down incompletion in the 1st quarter. They ran the twist again late in the 2nd and it resulted in a ten yard sack by Flowers. Flowers simply beat right tackle Sam Tevi midway in the 2nd, forcing Rivers to scramble and throw the ball away on second down. On the following third-down play, New England sent six pass rushers – including Patrick Chung from the corner – which forced Philip Rivers into a high pass attempt to tight end Antonio Gates.

6. That early Chargers’ touchdown came on a 43-yard bomb to Keenan Allen after cornerback Stephon Gilmore momentarily lost his footing trying to keep up when Allen faked an in-cut. In the 2nd quarter Gilmore knocked down an underthrown ball intended for Tyrell Williams, and he picked off a deep pass thrown to Allen in the 4th. Although the game was long since determined, Gilmore made a nice pass deflection on coverage of Mike Williams on the Chargers’ final two-point attempt.

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