FOXBOROUGH — The Chargers’ receivers are a sizable challenge.
Their three primary receivers — Keenan Allen, Mike Williams and Tyrell Williams — are all big and physical. Allen is 6 feet, 2 inches and 211 pounds. Mike Williams is the largest at 6-4 and 220, and Tyrell Williams is 6-4, 205. As a group, they’ll have a greater size advantage on the Patriots’ cornerbacks than any group of receivers this year.
“They’re big, they’re fast, they’re hard to tackle after the catch, they make big plays down the field,” Bill Belichick said Wednesday. “Both the Williamses, I think they’re averaging about 15 yards a catch, something like that. [Travis] Benjamin’s obviously an explosive guy that can score from anywhere on the field.”
They also have an accurate quarterback throwing the ball in Philip Rivers, who can use his receivers’ big catch radius to put his passes where only they can catch them. Rivers completed 68.3 percent of his passes this season.
They can do that, and they have. The Chargers tied for sixth in the NFL this season with 60 pass plays 20 yards.
“All of them make big catches,” said Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore. “You’ve got a quarterback like Philip Rivers, he can put it anywhere, so they make big catches for him. They use them in the right ways.”
Allen can play all over the field and can, as they say, run every route from the slot or the outside. He was by far the Chargers’ leading receiver with 1,196 yards He scored 6 touchdowns and averaged 12.3 yards per reception.
“Keenan Allen’s as good a receiver there is in the National Football League — big, quick, tough after the catch, hard guy to tackle, very good route runner, an exceptional route runner, great hands, concentration,” Belichick said.
Mike Williams is the leading red-zone option, with 10 touchdowns and seven inside the 20-yard line. He had 664 yards with, as Belichick said, an average of 15.4 yards per reception. Tyrell Williams’ stats are similar, with 653 yards, 5 touchdowns and 15.9 yards per reception.
The Patriots could put Gilmore on Allen and have J.C. Jackson shadow Mike Williams with safety help.
“He’s a little different,” Gilmore said of Mike Williams. “Big, can run. Big catch radius. He’s his own different receiver. You’ve just got to play him a certain way.”
Gilmore on Allen would be a heavyweight fight pitting one of the best route runners in the NFL against a first-team All-Pro corner who thrives on route recognition. That’s not a size difference to worry about, either, since Gilmore giving up only an inch and 9 pounds.
“He’s quick,” Gilmore said. “Very unique in his routes.”
Jackson, 6-1 and 198 pounds, would be giving up 3 inches and 22 pounds to Williams, though. He has high-end ball skills that could help him be competitive. What he lacks in relative size he does make up for in confidence.
“I feel like nobody can catch a pass on me,” Jackson said.
A lot in this game should come down to whether the Patriots can pressure Rivers, because if he has time to step up in the pocket and wait for routes to develop, he can use his receivers’ size to burn opponents deep.
Gilmore put the Chargers’ receivers in their own category physicality and size, saying there wasn’t a group the Patriots have played this year he could compare them to. In terms of sheer size, that’s true.
The 6-4, 213-pound Kenny Golladay had an efficient line of 6 catches on 7 targets for 53 yards and a touchdown when the Patriots lost to the Lions in Week 3. DeVante Parker (6-3, 216) caught just 1 of 4 targets in the Patriots’ loss in Miami ( didn’t play in the game in New England). Allen Robinson (6-3, 211) made just one 4-yard catch on 5 targets when the Patriots beat the Bears. And the 6-5, 213-pound Equanimeous St. Brown was 1-of-4 for 4 yards when the Patriots beat the Packers.
So, there’s actually more evidence that the Patriots down these big receivers than that they’ve had trouble with them, but they see the Chargers group as a different kind of challenge, and rightfully so.
“You put it up there, they make plays,” Gilmore said. “They’ve been doing it all year.”