Chargers and Pats offer complex schemes

The 3-4 defense has won five of the last six Super Bowls with Monte Kiffin's heralded cover-2 the only oddity in the bunch. The Chargers and Patriots both specialize in this aggressive scheme.

The challenges the 3-4 defense poses are many.

Linebackers are coming from every angle and quarterbacks are forced into situations they aren't quite comfortable with.

The cornerbacks, knowing that pressure is coming, jump more routes and take a risk they wouldn't normally try, believing that the quarterback's hurry will force an errant throw.

The Patriots allowed just 237 points over the 16-game regular season and were sixth in yards allowed per game. The rushing defense ranked fifth.

Each week, something new appears. Even looking at the game tape from the last four years may not be enough for the Chargers' offense.

"I think Bill does a great job of adding a wrinkle here and there for their defense," head coach Marty Schottenheimer said. "And I think that's one thing that you always have to expect from them, that they might come with something you haven't seen before."

"They have a heck of a group over there, a real smart group," quarterback Philip Rivers said. "You have to have a smart group to do all the things that they do. To be honest with you, I'm going to expect everything you can put in a playbook."

The Chargers are no slouches either. They led the league in sacks, were eighth-best against the run and ninth best in completion percentage allowed.

There may, however, be no quarterback better equipped to handle pressure than Tom Brady. He has excellent vision and a knack for hitting his hot receiver.

"He's going to get rid of the ball quick," linebacker Shawne Merriman said. "He's a smart quarterback and he knows how to get rid of the ball and that's what we expect from him."

With a full compliment of defensive talent on the field, the Chargers front seven has been touted as one of the best in football, including the NFL sack leader.

His relentless approach to the game will likely get its belt cinched slightly tighter. Three people may not be enough to contain him.

"You're not going to outrun him," Brady said of Merriman. "He's 270 pounds. He runs like a deer. He's powerful. He's quick. He plays with a high motor.

"If it's not Merriman, it's [Shaun] Phillips or [Donnie] Edwards or [Randall] Godfrey or [Luis] Castillo or [Igor] Olshansky or [Jamal] Williams. The front seven is just… they're dominant. It's probably the best defense we've faced. They present a lot of problems for you in pass protection. They're so big. They cause a lot of problems for you running the ball. [They're] one of the best teams on first down. They create more second and third and long opportunities than any team in the NFL. They're good on third down. It's exactly what you want from a defense."

"Wade [Phillips] has been at it a long time," Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said. "His teams have always played well defensively we ever he's been. Their linebackers are an outstanding group. They have a great front seven. Those two guys off the edge are tough, but they bring the inside people as well, Godfrey and Edwards, in different combinations. They bring sometimes one, sometimes the outside two, the inside two, two up one side, two up the other side. So they keep you off balance. You have to block all seven of them. They're hard to get blocked."

Standing out amongst the Patriots defenders is Tedy Bruschi. He is not only a solid player but also an emotional inspiration that drives the team.

He was a huge part of New England's three Super Bowl teams and is aiming for a fourth.

"He's their leader," Schottenheimer acknowledged. "He's the one that's able to guide most of the plays and make plays for them. And also just understanding what's going on out there, he can coach them up and let them know what he's thinking. They didn't have that with him before and obviously I think it hurt him at the time. But now he's back and you can see that he makes a lot of difference on their football team."

Bruschi, however, is countered nicely with league MVP LaDainian Tomlinson.

The league's top rusher has had his way with New England in the past, despite the 3-4 defenses strength of stopping the run first to whittle down the options for the offense.

With 351 yards rushing over the last two meetings and in the midst of one of the greatest single-seasons ever, Tomlinson is an offense unto himself.

"You have to find a way to bring LT to the ground," said Bruschi. "What you see is defenders in good position but what LT does, is he puts them in bad positions on defense with his burst and his quickness. You talk about other running backs that have that burst and acceleration out of their cut but, when you talk about LT and his burst and his cut, they are just better than everyone else's burst and cut."

The Patriots, meanwhile, will chip Shawne Merriman at every turn. Daniel Graham will be asked to get a hand on the linebacker to slow him down.

"I like to look at it as winning one-on-one situations," Merriman said. "I haven't been in too many of those, and haven't all season, so I don't expect to see it too much this game."

The game will eventually come down to mistakes, turnovers, and ultimately the play of the quarterbacks.

"He knows exactly how it needs to be run," cornerback Asante Samuel said of Rivers and the Chargers offense. "Making plays for his team and stepping up. He got them this far and he holds a great record. He is just doing a great job for them."

"They do a good of protecting the ball," linebacker Rosevelt Colvin said. "Their offense can move the ball, especially in the running game, if they get up and they can run the ball and keep the clock running, possession of the football is definitely going to be a must in this game."

Will Rivers do it better than Brady against stout defenses? A win may depend on it.


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