COSTA MESA — Gus Bradley was successful in coming up with a game plan to thwart an athletic rookie quarterback making his first postseason start.
The Chargers defensive coordinator’s challenge this week though could not be more diametrically different.
A day after Los Angeles advanced with a 23-17 victory over Baltimore in an AFC wild-card game, Bradley and the rest of the Chargers were beginning to prepare to face the most experienced postseason quarterback in NFL history in Tom Brady, who will make his 38th playoff start for New England on Sunday.
“It’s night and day, there’s no doubt about it but we’ve faced more Brady types than Lamar (Jackson) types,” Chargers coach Anthony Lynn said. “It is still about us playing fast and making plays.”
Bradley’s game plan to contain Jackson remained a big topic of conversation on Monday. The Chargers went with seven defensive backs on all but one of Baltimore’s 59 defensive plays as they held Jackson to 54 rushing yards. Jackson was 14 of 29 for 194 yards and two touchdowns, but he had completed only three passes for 26 yards the first three quarters.
According to Sportradar, the 58 snaps are the most any team has gone with quarter personnel (seven defensive backs) in any game since the NFL’s Next Gen Stats came online in 2014. The previous high was 31 by Buffalo in a 2016 Week 3 game against Arizona.
Los Angeles had previously used seven defensive backs on 15 or more snaps twice this season. They employed it 18 times in a Week 7 win at Cleveland and on 15 plays in the regular-season finale at Denver.
“It was a matter of putting our seven best, healthy athletes out there. The coaches did a great job getting us prepared this week,” defensive end Isaac Rochell said.
Lynn said he was surprised by Bradley’s idea to use it the entire game and that it led to lots of discussion with the coaching staff leading up to the game, but in the end it was the best move to make.
“We may not always agree, we will disagree sometimes, but that was a tough one that worked,” Lynn said.
Lynn said a lot of the credit also goes to the defensive line, which was able to get consistent pressure on Jackson. The Chargers got seven sacks, but only rushed five or more on three plays.
With the Chargers down to one healthy starting linebacker after Jatavis Brown was placed on injured reserve on Monday, it could be another week where the same strategy could again be used. They used two linebackers on only one play and had one linebacker on 15 snaps. The Chargers base alignment against the Ravens was four defensive linemen and seven defensive backs.
Los Angeles was able to make it work because safeties Derwin James, Jahleel Addae and Adrian Phillips are comfortable playing in the box. There were even some snaps where James lined up as a rush end.
“We lost two starting ‘Will’ linebackers (including Denzel Perryman earlier in the year) and so we thought that was the best move to make for this week. We were prepared to go the other direction if it didn’t work, but it worked just fine,” Lynn said.
The Chargers have lost seven straight to New England, including 21-13 in Week 8 last season. Brady was 32 of 47 for 333 yards but the Patriots had just one touchdown. Bradley’s strategy in that game was to use six defensive backs on 53 of 82 plays.
“Sometimes though, New England is a specific game-planning team. They may play you differently than they did another team or they will play you differently than they played you last year,” Lynn said.
“I played in that division for eight years and I never saw the same plan. So, that’s just something you have to wait and see and make those adjustments.”
Brady has won seven straight against the Chargers after losing the first two and Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers has never defeated Brady in seven meetings. They defeated New England in 2008, but that was when Brady was sidelined with a season-ending knee injury.