Below are three takeaways from Thursday's press conferences with Chris Harris Jr., Joe Lombardi and Renaldo Hill.
Mac Jones 'operating at a high level'
Throughout his career, Chargers cornerback Chris Harris Jr. has faced the Patriots 10 total times. But Sunday's game will face a new challenge: a rookie quarterback.
Mac Jones will be the first rookie the Chargers defense will face in 2021, and the first since they met Dolphins QB Tua Tagovailoa in Week 10 of last year.
On Thursday, Harris Jr. talked about what he's seen from Jones, seven games into his NFL career. Jones topped 300 passing yards for the first time in the NFL last weekend against the Jets and has the Patriots offense trending upward.
"He's been great," Harris Jr. said. "I think for a rookie to come in and to learn this offense it's very difficult. To be able to make the checks and make the throws, he's been able to do that. So, I'm impressed with how he's playing as a rookie quarterback and it's definitely going to be a challenge."
Chargers defensive coordinator Renaldo Hill gave high praise to Jones ahead of their Week 8 matchup and talked about what's led to the young quarterback's success.
"He's going through, he's making all the checks," Hill said. "He's getting those guys in and out of the huddle. He's operating it at a high level. He's understanding where the pressure is coming from, you can tell that he's ready to go one gameday. He's just doing a good job of operating that system and he knows where to go with the ball and he gets it out quick."
Lombardi is 'ready for the unpredictable'
Chargers offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi focused on the problems the Patriots defense brings to the table and how he is preparing the Bolts offense to be ready for whatever is thrown their way.
Lombardi explained what makes a Belichick-led defense so good.
"One, they're well coached obviously," Lombardi said. "You know Bill [Belichick's] been there forever and they've always been good. They've always been smart, they don't beat themselves. They are very specific to each team they play. I mean they've got a structure and philosophy but there's a lot of nuances to how they play each defense. They're heavy up front, they've got big edge setters, they're going to funnel your run game inside…you've got to be flexible in your gameplan with this team."
Lombardi talked about the presence of Patriots linebacker Matthew Judon who joined New England this season after five seasons in Baltimore. Judon has 6.5 sacks on the season (three away from tying his career high sacks in a season) and 12 quarterback hits. Lombardi explained why the Patriots are one of the best in the business at utilizing their personnel on a yearly basis.
"They're so good at knowing who their people are and developing their game plan and their philosophy around who they are," he said. "Their evolution every year, based on their personnel, is something that has always been impressive. They know who they are, they know who you are, and they know how to put a plan together that gives them the best chance to win."
Odds and Ends
Harris Jr. talked about facing former Chargers tight end Hunter Henry on Sunday: "That'll be a great matchup to see him and DJ [Derwin James.] They've had a lot of battles versus each other. Of course, I'm gonna take DJ over anything."
Harris Jr. discussed self-scouting the defense during the bye week: "Of course, first and second down, being able to stop the run better, that's something that we put an emphasis on. If we can do that, we've been great on third down, we've been getting off the field. We've been great in the pass, great in not giving up explosives. So, if we continue to do that and tighten up our run, we're going to be very stout on defense."
Hill on what Justin Jones brings to the team if he plays Sunday: "Definitely having more depth. Having a guy who can play the run game. A guy who the other guys are comfortable with making all the checks and calls. So, I think it will allow the other guys to play faster. In his time away we were able to develop some depth…so I really think it will help us moving forward."
Lombardi talked about improving the screen and play-action game during the bye week: "We had some success in the Cleveland game. We had efficient screens against Baltimore, but that close to being big plays, just getting the timing down to where those five-yard gains turn into 20-yard gains. That, and then also calling them in the right spot and having the right screens up every week. Just having just a little bit more focus on that."
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