A lot has been made, rightfully so, of the Chargers' decision to play with seven defensive backs in their victory over the Ravens. It surprised Baltimore, and they never really adjusted — mostly because they couldn't, due to the fact that the Chargers' defensive line just whipped an average Ravens offensive line.
It was heralded as a stroke of genius by Chargers defensive coordinator Gus Bradley. Maybe it was. Having seven defensive backs allowed the Chargers to play with more speed against the read option and speedy Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson. It did frustrate some of his running ability and the Baltimore offense as a whole.
If you've followed the game of football and cared about the game within the game for long enough, you know that no place in sports embodies the old adage that "necessity is the mother of invention" than an NFL coaches room. Some of Bill Belichick's finest moments — from Troy Brown and Julian Edelman as defensive backs, beating the Texans with Jacoby Brissett, to the eligible receiver plays vs. the Ravens in 2015 — have been born, not out of sheer genius, but out of utter desperation.
I think the Chargers' winning strategy against the Ravens was more about the coaches realizing that, after season-ending injuries to Denzel Perryman (Nov. 18) and Jatavis Brown (Jan. 19), the cupboard was bare at linebacker. Basically, to put what they had left on the field was a losing strategy, so they might as well try something different and hope it works.
Obviously, it did against the Ravens.
The Patriots will aim to get the Chargers linebackers on the field, and then exploit their many weaknesses. If New England does that, it will win this game. If not, the Patriots will be joining the Ravens in watching the AFC Championship Game from home.
How will they do it?