Five things we had wrong going into Patriots-Chiefs
Five things we had wrong going into Patriots-Chiefs
FOXBORO -- You hear it every year: Week 1 is the Great Unknown of the NFL season.
The reason? Because offensive and defensive schemes are so vanilla during preseason games, all teams -- especially teams that have added important new personnel or turned over their coaching staffs -- have some things up their sleeves that their first opponents of the regular season aren't expecting.
The same phenomenon can apply to those of us covering these teams, and there was no better example than what happened Thursday night.
After watching more than a dozen training camp practices, seeing four preseason games, and talking to players and coach Bill Belichick several times a week, there was plenty we still screwed up going into Week 1. Here's a list of five (which, let's be honest, could be longer).
EVERY PREDICTION ABOUT THE CHIEFS
The assumption was that the Patriots would be able to keep multiple sets of eyes on both Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce throughout the opener, taking away Alex Smith's top two weapons and leaving him with an unproven stable of backs and pass-catchers to help him keep up on the scoreboard with Tom Brady. Though Kelce (five catches, 40 yards) was kept largely in check, the Patriots gave up uncharacteristically long touchdown passes of 75 yards (to Hunt) and 78 yards (to Kareem Hunt) that helped open up the game. Did not see that coming. That the Patriots offensive line -- a group that returned all five starters from last year's impressive quintet -- couldn't create enough space to pick up one yard on two fourth-down tries was also a head-scratcher. And how the game finished was completely unexpected. It's why players wondered openly if there needed to be an attitude adjustment. A two-play drive for the Chiefs, with runs of 58 and 21 yards, that featured some of New England's best run defenders being pushed around . . . A three-and-out where Brady was sacked twice . . . a 12-men-on-the-field penalty that helped the Chiefs convert on third down and drain the clock . . . Not typical of the Patriots, and one of the many things that night we didn't factor into our predictions.
HOW THE PATRIOTS WOULD REPLACE JULIAN EDELMAN
Chris Hogan would be the guy, we thought. And he was in some respects. He was the clear No. 2 receiver in Julian Edelman's absence. You could even make the argument that he was the No. 1 based on snap counts. (Hogan played 73 snaps to Brandin Cooks' 67.) But he didn't see his first catch until the third quarter, and it was Danny Amendola (six catches, 100 yards) who was the heavily-targeted player over the middle of the field. That has happened before, like in 2015 when Amendola's usage saw a huge spike with Edelman out, but the thinking went that the Patriots may try to protect Amendola because his health late in the season have proven critical to the offense in years past. A heavy workload meant a greater risk of injury for the 5-foot-10, 185-pounder, and he was knocked from the game with a head injury after 32 snaps and seven punts-fielded. The Patriots had multiple pass-catching backs at their disposal to help make up for Edelman's absence, but Dion Lewis played just six snaps and Rex Burkhead saw only 10.
HOW THE PATRIOTS WOULD UTILIZE DAVID HARRIS
The veteran linebacker was expected to play a significant role in the middle of the Patriots defense after he was signed this offseason, and he was spotted throughout camp in the middle of the defense, helping with the communication in the front seven. That he saw just two snaps was worthy of a raised eyebrow. Looking at the Patriots game plan, the number of snaps given to Harris made sense. They were in dime for much of the game. They felt they needed speed on the field. And that's not Harris' strong suit. Still, to see Harris get only a couple of snaps -- and on one of those snaps for him to completely diagnose the up-the-middle run, shoot the proper gap, and then miss the tackle -- was something that few if any predicted. It will be interesting to see how much, if anything, changes next weekend against the fast-paced, pass-happy Saints offense.
HOW JAMES WHITE'S ROLE WOULD EVOLVE
The Patriots were very open about the fact that they wanted to become more predictable at the running back position in 2017. Last year, it was too easy to determine whether they were running or passing based on whether it was LeGarrette Blount or James White on the field. The thinking went, with Rex Burkhead and Dion Lewis now in the fold (and healthy) they could be less predictable. Mike Gillislee and James White would still have their distinct roles of "big back" and "sub back," respectively, though. That wasn't necessarily the case on Thursday. Though Gillislee was clearly the "big back," getting the goal-line and short-yardage carries, White was more than just a pass-catcher out of the backfield. He ran 10 times for 38 yards against the Chiefs, and while that average isn't ideal, he did show some elusiveness between the tackles at times, running for gains of eight, five and 10 in the first quarter. He ran 39 times all of last season and averaged just 2.4 carries per game in 2016.
HOW JORDAN RICHARDS WOULD BE USED IN THE FRONT-SEVEN
Jordan Richards was left off of each of our 53-man roster projections until it was clear the team valued him enough to sit him in the final preseason game. The expectation was his role on special teams earned him a role. While that may be true, as he's still a core player in the kicking game, what was not expected was that he would be used as a linebacker at the end of the line against the Chiefs on opening night. The results were mixed during his 41 snaps as he did force a fumble in the first quarter, but caught caught in traffic on a Hunt touchdown later in the game. Belichick explained the next day that the logic behind his defense's four-safety package (with Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, Duron Harmon and Richards) was to keep up with Kansas City's speed. "We did what we thought was best for the game," Belichick said. "Obviously, things didn’t work out good. They gave us a lot of receivers on the field, different combinations of them, so we played more defensive backs or those type of players. That’s part of the matchup. But, we didn’t do nearly as good a job of it as we need to do. We’ve just got to do a better job. It’s no one guy, it’s no one play, it’s no one thing."