|Jerod Mayo concerned about Jets running the ball, not their mouths||01.11.11 at 6:17 pm ET|
FOXBORO — Jerod Mayo is smart enough to let the his head coach be concerned about what is said in the media this week between the two arch-rivals.
What he’s concerned about is trying to repeat the lesson learned from the now-epic Cleveland game when Peyton Hillis ran roughshod over the Pats for 184 yards on 29 carries in a 34-14 thumping of New England on the shores of Lake Erie.
The Patriots haven’t lost since and one of the biggest reasons is not letting their opponent shove the ball down their throats. This week, the Jets will again try to do what they couldn’t do on Dec. 6 at Gillette, use Shonn Greene and LaDainian Tomlinson to establish the ground before unleashing any type of aerial assault.
“To be honest, I think we learned the most from that game throughout the whole season,” Mayo said. “Cleveland came out and ran the ball effectively, so now we know what to expect from other teams that try and do the same things. So, hopefully we can get on top of them early and make them throw the ball.”
While LT and Greene combined for 111 yards on 23 carries, they didn’t reach the end zone and their longest gain was of 14 yards. Mayo is pretty confident that the Jets won’t be discouraged by shellacking at the hands of the Patriots a month ago and will try to stick to Rex Ryan’s philosophy of “Ground and Pound.”
“All across that offensive line is experience and those guys do an excellent job opening up holes for LaDainian Tomlinson and Shonn Greene,” Mayo said. “Those are two different running styles. LaDainian has obviously had an explosive year and Shonn Greene is a downhill pounder. We have to prepare that way.”
Not only are the Patriots 8-0 since then, they haven’t allowed a back to rush for triple-figures and have held the opponents to an average of 92 yards a game. Very impressive. Still, Mayo – who leads the team in tackles with 193 as the run-stopping middle linebacker – can’t point to one specific light that magically turned on.
“You know, I’m not sure,” Mayo said Tuesday. “Every time you have a young defense, you have to stay on top of everybody. That Cleveland game is still in my head, so I try to go out and work hard each and every week and make sure that everybody else does the same thing so we don’t have another repeat episode of that. But, these guys have really been stepping it up the last couple of weeks and hopefully it continues.”
How important is it to stop the running game in the playoffs? Remember last year against the Ravens in the first round? Mayo certainly does. Ray Rice took it to the house on an 83-yard gallop off left guard and the Ravens were off to the races in a 33-14 win that eliminated the Patriots.
“I think you have to experience your first one,” Mayo said. “My first one wasn’t too good against the Baltimore Ravens. The first play or something like that, they got an 80-yard touchdown. Hopefully it’s different this year and that’s the plan.”
|Trags Take… Pregame Chargers||10.11.08 at 9:11 am ET|
If last week showed nothing else, the Patriots seemed to have found their equilibrium without Tom Brady.
That’s not to say they are riding a wave of momentum or pounding opponents into submission. It’s just pointing out the fact that these Patriots seem to understand that even when times get rough during a game, they have what it takes to come back.
The same may not be said for their opponents this Sunday night at the place forever known as “The Murph”
The 2-3 Chargers have allowed 129 points. Only six teams have allowed more this season, but ironically, one of them sits atop their division, the AFC West, the Denver Broncos.
San Diego has yet to fully recover from losing on the last play of the game to Jake Delhomme and the Carolina Panthers in their season opener at home, followed up by the ‘Open Hand’ call by referee Ed Hochuli that cost them the game in Denver the following week. Jay Cutler had appeared to fumble the ball at the San Diego 10 with the Chargers recovering and about to ice the game. But Hocuhli blew the play dead before he could cite instant replay, which clearly showed the ball coming loose out of the open hand.
Charger fans don’t want to hear this but… Dems da breaks.
And with the Patriots on the horizon this weekend in Southern California, another loss and their season could be fading more quickly than the sunset.
So, here’s what to look for:
1. Get to know Darren Sproles really, really well. He is the small running back with a huge impact on a game. LaDainain Tomlinson (toe) clearly isn’t what he has been in the last three seasons and the Chargers will look to No. 43 to try and create separation with a Patriots defense that has had its problems this year with speed.
2. Keep an eye on Antonio Gates. He has just three touchdowns but is averaging over 13 yards a catch on 16 catches this season. He has become Philip Rivers favorite target on third down, and for good reason. The Pats might have Adalius Thomas make a run at covering him close to the line of scrimmage and even downfield for that matter. Remember last year on Sunday night at Gillette when Thomas sprinted 65 yards for a TD when he dropped off in coverage?
3. Get vertical with passing game. Matt Cassel began to show glimpses of that last week with Randy Moss. This week, they face the team dead LAST in passing defense. The Chargers are allowing over 265 yards through the air each game.
4. Contain Chris Chambers. He is averaging 20 yards/catch and has five touchdowns this season. But a bum ankle may be the best defense against the deep threat and might keep him on the sidelines.
5. Both teams play the 3-4 and love to get to the quarterback. If Gates isn’t chewing up huge pieces of real estate, Thomas could pin his ears back and get to Rivers. But Shaun Phillips likes to do the same. The Chargers don’t have Shawne Merriman (knee) this season but Phillips can pick up the slack if he’s allowed to do so.
Bill Belichick on facing the Chargers for the third time in two years: “It almost seems like this is a division game. We’ve played them so many times it is to the point now that we have so many games on them just against us, that’s enough to really do a scouting report and a game plan, even [without] getting into all of their other games. Of course we have seen them. This is a very explosive team that average 30 points a game. They have lost a couple of close games, three by ten points. They’ve been able to do a good job of getting the ball down the field, leading the league in yards per catch. We know they are very good on third down. We know they are a very physical defense, very good on special teams both coverage and their return game is extremely dangerous. They are a big play passing team with a lot of good receivers. Vincent Jackson is becoming a go to guy for them and of course Antonio Gates, LaDainian Tomlinson, Darren Sproles – all his kickoff returns, he is very dangerous with the ball in his hands. We have to do a good job offensively of taking care of the ball. They are a good pass rush team and good turnover team in the secondary.”
Matt Cassel on concerns of facing a desperate 2-3 Chargers team: “Not really. We approach every game the same. We go out with the intention of winning each and every game. We’re not going to be surprised if they come out with intensity, we expect them to come out with intensity whether they were 5-0 or 2-3. We have to come out and play our best game in order to win. This is the NFL, week in and week out every team should come out and be eager. Whether they’re undefeated or they haven’t won a game and that’s just how it is. That’s how the NFL is if you don’t come out, you don’t perform and you don’t play well more than likely you’re going to lose that game. We’re expecting them to come out with a lot of fire and a lot of intensity and we have to match that.”
Offensive Coordinator Josh McDaniels on how Pats will attack the 32nd ranked pass defense in the NFL: “Every week we try to attack all three levels. Some weeks we end up throwing more down the field than others but that’s a product of the defense. If the defense gives us the opportunity to attack that third level down the field, than that’s what we would instruct our quarterbacks to do every week, not just last week. They gave us a few opportunities to go ahead and attack down the field and try to gain significant yardage or create field position for our offense. He is coached to try and take the big play if they give it to you and if not you have to find someone at the second level or use the backs at the check down. We always try to have enough of those in the game plan. It just so happened that last week we had a few of them.”
Final take: Chargers 31, Patriots 28
And if you’re having a hard time getting charged up for Sunday night’s tilt may I suggest the following tunes. For those of you, who like me, are stuck in the 70s, there’s the classic…
And for those of you who happen to be big Pink fans…
|Will Lightning strike twice?||10.10.08 at 1:10 pm ET|
The San Diego Chargers have been here before.
They stand a disappointing 2-3 on the season, one year after starting 1-3 and rebounding to win the AFC West and make it to the AFC title game, only to lose to the team they’re playing this weekend at Qualcomm Stadium. Will they have what it takes to turn the trick again? It will be tougher, that’s for sure. They have lost perennial pro bowl linebacker Shawne Merriman to knee surgery. Their defense has yet to gel and is giving up points at an alarming rate. And, oh yeah, perennial MVP candidate and star running back LaDainain Tomlinson has been battling a toe ailment since the season began.
Chargers general manager A.J. Smith was a part-time scout with the Patriots from 1978-80. He is originally from Warwick, Rhode Island and played wide receiver for the semi-pro Attleboro Kings of the Eastern Football League.
I had the chance to talk one-on-one with Smith, the man who has built the Chargers into a perennial AFC power. His comments on what was learned from Gillette Stadium last January and about injuries are eerily telling of what is tormenting the team this season.
The following is an excerpt from the interview that will appear this month in San Diego Sport magazine:
How has Philip Rivers matured as a quarterback, physically and mentally?
‘To me, I just think he’s a great student of the game, studies the game year-round and has got all the physical tools to be successful. No one’s going to compare him with Steve Young or Fran Tarkenton regarding his scrambling ability but he does have a knack of moving in the pocket at the right moment with his eyes down field. Really, a great feel for pocket pressure.’
‘He has always reminded me of Dan Marino because of all my years, 14 years in Buffalo watching Dan Marino with the Dolphins, regarding his quick release like Dan had and Marino’s ability to shuffle and avoid in the pocket. He’s always had that quality and, of course, Dan Marino didn’t have any 40-yard time and neither does Philip. I really, really like him. I think he’s grown as a leader by his performance and also his interaction with his teammates. We’re really, really pleased with him.’
‘With him, we always knew that he was a great competitor and a tough guy. We’ve known that throughout his career here. But in particular, to put on the line what he did, and because he is the quarterback and makes it go, was unbelievable through the process.’
‘We knew it while it was happening, but when the season ended is really when it took on a life of its own within our organization and moved throughout the country. There’s a little bond going on with this guy. He’s almost like the defensive linemen and offensive linemen by nature but he is the quarterback.
What has the team learned about toughness from its performance in New England last January?
‘We went into Foxboro with the walking wounded against one of the best teams of all-time on their turf and we fought to the bitter end before coming up a little short. I believe now that they really think they have the capabilities of beating outstanding Super Bowl-type teams, teams like the New England Patriots and the week before the Indianapolis Colts, defending Super Bowl champions in their house. You’ve got to be talented and perform well but you also must be strong mentally and tough-minded to accomplish great things. I think we gained experience during that tough playoff run. There’s no question in my mind.’
What keeps LaDainain Tomlinson ticking?
‘I’ve talked to him about that. We know this, everybody, all organizations, their goal is to build a team to win a championship. And all the players dream about this, as well as GMs and coaches. All that he’s accomplished and people now saying he’s a hall of famer that’s now playing, there’s only one thing that he wants, like the rest of us. He’s a great player, a future Hall of Famer and he wants to be the very best. His goal is to get that ring. He is doing everything he possibly can to help this football team make that happen. There’s nothing more he can do. He’s a great talent and a great competitor. The guy trains and thinks football all year long and a lot of our guys feed off that. The way he practices. If you’ve ever been to practice to see him in practice take a ball, either simulate a move or not, and burst down the field 50 yards and come back time and time again is unbelievable to see. We’re a very, very fortunate team to have him in our backfield, no question about that.’
What will it take for the Chargers to reach the next level?
‘We’ve been growing and growing toward this. It takes three things to make a championship happen. It’s being good, being lucky and being injury-free. Those three things are what I consider to be the winning formula. We will continue to work hard here and work to be consistent in all three phases of the game, offense, defense and special teams. I do think we’re balanced in those areas. I do believe we have the talent to make a real hard run at the Super Bowl. I really do. I think we’re confident going in. We’ll all find that out in about six months. Being good, we’re working on that. Being lucky, Marv Levy used to tell me, ‘You want to be lucky, make your own luck with good hard play.’’
‘But the injury-free is the one that torments me the most and all of us because you have no control over it and it can affect you tremendously in your quest to win a world championship. Case in point, last year we got hurt with superstars at the wrong time and there was nothing we could do about that. We did the best we could. But that’s over with. I hope we can keep our guys healthy and work hard because it will obviously help us achieve our goals.’
How has Norv Turner gained the confidence of the team and how has the team has embraced his philosophies?
‘I’m a big believer in Norv Turner and pretty much on record for that over the years. And then I was in a position to bring him in here as our head coach. Coach Turner’s professionalism and leadership really grew as the season moved along last year (2007). He took the team through an early, very difficult four-game stretch in which we were 1-3. A change was made and he never blinked. He is a very steady and confident guy. His message is always direct and very brief. When the winning started for us, when it turned, the players started to see for themselves.
How does the organization deal with expectations?
‘We break it down this way. Everybody wants to win a Super Bowl but how are you going to make it happen? First of all, you have to have ownership with full support and they have to back you with your plan and be there. I’ve got that here with (owner) Dean Spanos. He’s always been there. He said, ‘What do you need to win, what do you need to be successful? Just tell me, and I’ll be there.’ And he has. The second phase is to get the best players you can by any means, and that means thought the trades, drafting, street free agents, unrestricted signings, any way and get them quickly because time is of the essence to prove you’re heading in the right direction. And the third thing for me was to find yourself an outstanding, smart head coach that can operate under extreme pressure, a coach that can manage a game and make the critical decisions with sound judgment that’s going to enhance the team’s chance to be successful. To me, that was imperative for us. Norv Turner is the right guy at the right time. And No. 4 is win enough games to get the playoffs. Win your division is what we all want to do because you get a free bid to the tournament. But if you fall short because you’re in a battle, make sure you’re in line to get a wild card. Case in point, and I made this point to the team, the New York Giants. They did not win the division, Dallas did with 13 wins. New York fought down the stretch to get into the playoffs and they did and the rest is history. The fifth part for me is you want a playoff-caliber team each and every year. Keep going to postseason, if you do, maybe one of those years will be special one when our team will achieve its goal.’
‘Our players know the plan. When I think back five years ago, we were the worst team in the league with the worst players and we had no future. We’ve come a long way in a short period of time. We’re very, very proud of that but we have accomplished nothing. We haven’t won anything yet. But we’re moving in that direction.’