With less than 24 hours to go into their week-eight clash with the Los Angeles Chargers, the New England Patriots can count on former Bolt Adrian Phillips to play a key role in making their trip to the West Coast.
Phillips’ mission, if he chooses to accept it, will likely cover Chargers running back Austin Ekeler.
Ekeler’s status for Sunday’s game has been questioned, after missing practice Thursday and Friday with a hip injury. Despite being officially listed as “questionable,” Ekeler appears to be clear in his intentions to prepare for week eight. On Saturday night, the 26-year-old posted a story on Instagram, indicating that he picked himself as a starter for his fantastic lineup.
If Ekeler, indeed, could play on Sunday, that would be great news for Los Angeles. For the Patriots, however, Ekeler presents a problem with defensive coverage, to put it mildly. Western State’s product is the signature backstroke for the Chargers, having compiled 356 yards on 73 carries. He’s averaging nearly five yards per carry and has four rushing touchdowns. However, Ekeler is just as effective as a catcher as he is as a runner. In the Bolts’ first six games, he amassed 242 receiving yards with three touchdowns.
Given his abilities as a dual threat offensive weapon, Ekeler can be dangerous as a pass catcher, as well as a rusher. If the Patriots wish to contain him, they must pair him with a legitimate cover defender. If he was active for Sunday’s game, New England would almost certainly devote a defensive back to duty to cover him. As the Pats are currently slim in high school, that would mean one less defenseman against a powerful stable of skill position players such as wide receivers Keenean Allen, Mike Williams and tight end Jared Cook.
Sunday being Halloween, the Pats could take a page from the “ghost huntersâManual; wondering “Who are you going to call?” When it comes to covering Ekeler on Sunday.
Between his former Chargers teammate Adrian Phillips.
When the Chargers selected safeties Derwin James and Nassir Adderley in the first and second rounds in the 2018 and 2019 NFL Drafts respectively, it paved the way for the team to move on from Phillips, who had been a pillar of the teams’ unity. special Bolts. Since joining the Patriots in 2020, he continues to be one of the Patriots’ most trusted defenders. The 29-year-old ex-Charger has compiled 23 tackles over the season so far, with one pass and one interception. Still, Phillips’ greatest asset remains his versatility. He settled down well in the role of “Star” in the defense of the Pats. As such, he’s primarily used as a hybrid safety box, capable of playing the outside linebacker in most defensive schemes. However, he is also far from being limited to this role. Phillips is more than capable of lining up along the defensive line, around the corner of the lunge and even on the outside.
While Phillips is well aware of his former teammate’s abilities, it is his own prowess that makes him the perfect candidate to lure Ekeler to the men’s cover on Sunday. Phillips is at his best when playing in the box. He’s a strong tackler with decent speed and is more efficient when playing closer to the line of scrimmage. As such, he’s the perfect defensive back to cover a tight end or a running back out of the backfield, a la Austin Ekeler.
Despite the temptation to pair him up with a linebacker instead, the Patriots know Ekeler can be a gap in space. Although he plays in the vein of a linebacker, Phillips’ versatility makes him a better candidate to defend the running back as he moves down the field. Not only can Phillips cover Ekeler as a receiver, but he can also help disrupt his devious running style, which tends to be problematic for the Pats’ top seven to contain.
It’s important to note that Ekeler is far from the Bolts’ only offensive weapon. As well as employing one of the league’s best young quarterbacks in Justin Herbert, the Chargers also have an impressive arsenal of wide receivers. Receivers Keenan Allen and Milke Williams, as well as tight end Jared Cook, are all capable of big yards, while being effective targets in the red zone.
On Sunday, the Patriots are expected to deploy additional corps in the secondary, mostly in big nickel (five defensive backs) or dime (six defensive backs) packages. JC Jackson and Jalen Mills will attempt to contain both Allen and Williams. Safety Kyle Dugger is the logical choice to defend tight end Jared Cook, while safety Devin McCourty can help Phillips defend Ekeler.
In times when Phillips is free to pursue other targets, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him help cover the Bolts’ prolific receiver pair, each also his former Charger teammates. After all, Phillips has firsthand knowledge of what each wideout does best. Asked earlier in the week about his old friends, Phillips said the following:
âKeenan (Allen) is probably, if not the best, one of the best road runners in the league. And Mike (Williams) is – a 50-50 ball is more like 80-20 with him. He’s a real threat and then you have these guys together and they kinda get whatever you want because you can stretch the field with Mike and Keenan can kill you from pretty much any position. By going against them, you tend to know what they like. Keenan can do just about anything out there and you know Mike is going to do a lot more. So you just have to be ready for it.
Overall, the Patriots will need Phillips’ prowess on the field in order to see success on Sunday. Whether it’s a man-made cover against Ekeler or a cover aid against the Bolts’ flock of pass catchers, he’ll need to capitalize on his reputation as a âjack of all tradesâ. Yet knowing the strengths and weaknesses of his former teammates will also play a major role in his contributions to Week 8. If the last two years are any indication, he will be ready for the call. Like the real Patriots, he’ll take the duty as it is charged and “do his job.”