Bill Belichick Believes This Underrated Defender Is One Of Patriots’ Best Players

'(He's) a lot like Chung'


Nov 22, 2021

When assigning credit for the New England Patriots’ defensive resurgence, don’t forget to give Adrian Phillips his due.

Head coach Bill Belichick did just that Monday, speaking for nearly five minutes about the veteran safety’s impact and importance.

“This is one of our best players and one of our most versatile players,” Belichick said. “And he almost always does the right thing. When something comes up, maybe you haven’t covered it, maybe you haven’t exactly gone through that situation or that particular way of blocking — crack block or something has unfolded — he almost always does the right thing.”

Belichick said Phillips is “a lot like (Patrick) Chung,” the versatile safety/linebacker hybrid who was a cornerstone on three Super Bowl-winning defenses. Belichick once called Chung “one of the pillars of our program and truly in the upper echelon of the many greats I have had the privilege to coach,” so any comparison to him is high praise.

“Stuff happens, and he’s got a decision to make, it’s maybe a little gray, and he just does the right thing,” Belichick said of Phillips, who’s made game-altering plays in coverage and run defense. “He does what you would want him to do without really telling him exactly what to do in that situation. So all that’s impressive.”

Belichick lauded Phillips’ “instinctiveness and anticipation,” which he said have been evident since his days at the University of Texas. Phillips went on to play his first six seasons with the San Diego/Los Angeles Chargers — earning a first-team All-Pro nod as a special teamer in 2018 — before signing with the Patriots last offseason.

In his first season in New England, the state of the Patriots’ depleted roster forced Phillips into a full-time linebacker role, playing 624 of his 747 defensive snaps as an inside linebacker or edge rusher. Despite weighing in at just 5-foot-11, 210 pounds, he more than held his own, leading all Patriots defenders with 107 tackles and seven tackles for loss.

New England is much deeper at linebacker this season, allowing Belichick and his staff to move Phillips and second-year safety Kyle Dugger around the field as multi-faceted chess pieces. Through 11 games, Phillips has played 259 snaps in the box, 107 at deep safety, 106 on the defensive line, 74 in the slot and 34 as a wide cornerback, according to Pro Football Focus.

“Adrian was very good around the line of scrimmage for the Chargers,” Belichick said. “In San Diego, he played in the box, he played on the edge of the defense. They played that style of defense where the safeties really played as linebackers in Coach (Gus) Bradley’s defense, and you could see his instinctiveness. But you go all the way to him at Texas and talking to his coaches back there; it was pretty much the same thing in college as it was in the NFL. Very instinctive, very high IQ, plays faster and bigger than whatever his dimensions and times are. He’s got a real high level of instinctiveness and anticipation.”

Phillips has a career-high four interceptions this season, including a pick-six. He’s also been an impact run defender. During last Thursday’s 25-0 win over the Atlanta Falcons, he teamed up with defensive tackle Carl Davis for a fourth-down run stuff that forced a key turnover on downs.

One of New England’s defensive standouts since the start of training camp, Phillips enters Week 12 as PFF’s fifth-highest-graded safety.

“He’s got excellent hands,” Belichick said. “You look at some of the interceptions he’s made for us in his career, those are really good catches that a lot of defensive players might not be able to make that turnover play. So all those things are positive, and then when he gets the opportunity to do it, he’s a good tackler. He’s got good ball awareness to cause fumbles and that kind of thing and intercept passes.”

In the Patriots’ Week 9 win over Carolina, Phillips scooped up a fumble and returned it for a touchdown. The score didn’t count — officials ruled the ball-carrier down by contact — but Belichick pointed to it as another illustration of Phillips’ play-making ability.

“That was another good example of how quickly he reacted,” Belichick said. “He came from all the way on the other side of the field to be there, to make the recovery and got the ball in the end zone. It was really a good play.

“It didn’t count, but again, those are the kind of things he does on a pretty regular basis. You sort of take them for granted, but they’re really good plays. We can’t take them for granted, but he makes a lot of them.”

Thumbnail photo via Brett Davis/USA TODAY Sports Images
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