Patriots-Chiefs AFC Championship Preview
You all had a good time last week, right? Good. Because the vivisection the Patriots performed on the Chargers defense was kind of a one-time thing. It happened for three reasons:
1. The Chargers aren’t smart enough to play anything but that stupid Cover-3 zone;
2. The Chargers didn’t have enough healthy guys to put on the field at the second level instead of their DBs;
3. The Patriots had a week to get ready for that Chargers defense they were able to baffle and befuddle. It was breathtakingly easy. I’m not saying the Patriots won’t be able to move the ball and/or hang points on the Chiefs. Not at all. But it won’t be like shooting fish in a barrel like it was last week. On to the AFCCG preview...
WHEN THE PATRIOTS RUN
The Chiefs were 31st in total yards allowed, passing yards allowed and rushing yards allowed. They allowed 4.97 yards per carry. They didn’t allow many yards to the Colts last week. That’s because Indy could never stay on the field or in the right down and distance to challenge on the ground. KC still allowed 6.21 yards on 14 carries. The first key for the Patriots getting going is handling Chris Jones, the Chiefs excellent defensive tackle. The Patriots might run plenty through the middle but the trapping and pulling of their offensive linemen is one way they get angles and clear out very good players who are in the way. I have a nagging concern about field conditions and the ability of the Patriots big men to find the traction necessary for those kinds of blocks. Sony Michel can create yards after contact, so if he gets to the second level, bam, mission accomplished. As Phil Perry pointed out in his matchups piece, the Chiefs struggle against 21 (2 tight ends, 1 back) personnel. Last week, Dee Ford and Justin Houston were active off the edge in crashing down against the running game. I expect more Cordarelle Patterson side-to-side motion this week to make those guys stay home. Also, if the Chiefs go sub-defense, the Patriots can rototill.
WHEN THE CHIEFS RUN
The first time the Patriots played Kansas City, Danny Shelton was on the field for 61 percent of the Chiefs offensive plays. As the season wore along, his playing time diminished and he was a healthy scratch until the last three games when he was back on the field and the Patriots run defense was much more effective. But the Chiefs have such an array of weapons and their running back, Damien Williams (in for Kareem Hunt) has been just as effective as Hunt was on the ground that the Patriots may be forced into their lighter front without Shelton. That’s when teams have run with great effectiveness on them. Donta Hightower, Kyle Van Noy and Elandon Roberts had a terrific game in run-support early last week. So did Patrick Chung coming up from his safety spot. The Chiefs have an outstanding offensive line as well so this is a dangerous matchup for the Patriots since the Chiefs can hit a defense in so many ways regardless of down and distance.
WHEN THE PATRIOTS PASS
The Chiefs aren’t the kind of team that will sit there in zone and let the Patriots pick them apart the way the Chargers did. Neither do they have the same kind of secondary talent the Chargers had. Kansas City defensive coordinator Bob Sutton plays plenty of man and the Chiefs will need to get hands on Julian Edelman or pay the price. Look for the Patriots to move him around plenty so he can get clean releases and for Tom Brady to make KC pay if they devote too much attention to Edelman inside. The way Rob Gronkowski moved in the running game last week hinted to me that he’s close to being at his best physically. Expect him to be a factor as well as Phillip Dorsett and Chris Hogan. Edelman and James White are the straws that stir the drink most weeks but Sutton will try and neutralize them. This is a “run sets up the pass” kind of week where staying out of second and third-and-long and having play-action as a viable threat to open up space and slow down the pass rush is vital. With the Chiefs playing man, Brady may have to hold the ball a beat longer which makes the KC pass rush a bigger concern. Crowd noise and communication are also a factor. Still, New England’s health and Brady’s poise and experience favors the Pats.
WHEN THE CHIEFS PASS
What if I told you this isn’t the advantage you think it is? Yes, the Chiefs have the fastest in-game threat in the league with Tyreek Hill and the soon-to-be MVP with Patrick Mahomes, a terrific tight end with Travis Kelce, dangerous outside receivers and a versatile running back. But the Patriots – in each of their last two meetings with the Chiefs – got lit up by the long stuff. There were 67 and 75-yard touchdowns earlier this year. In the 2017 opener, there were plays of 58, 75 and 78 yards. The Chiefs can earn their way down the field too, so sealing up the long stuff with better communication on the back end doesn’t cure everything. But if New England does what I expect – gives J.C. Jackson help, lets Stephon Gilmore wipe away one of the big wideouts, and gets physical with Kelce as much as possible – they can make it hard on KC like they did the first time they played with a confusing array of fronts and coverages. Mahomes is a weapon and his composure when he scrambles is mesmerizing but if New England limits the home run scores, that will go a long way to making the Chiefs offense easier to deal with.
Adam Vinatieri missed two kicks for the Colts on Sunday and came out of the game complaining about the conditions being shoddy. Stephen Gostkowski is 10-for-10 in his career at Arrowhead but was 7-for-10 on grass this year (20 of 22 on turf). In the past five seasons Gostkowski is 38-for-45 on grass. Hill and Edelman are two of the NFL’s best punt returners and Cordarelle Patterson should get kickoff return chances which the crappy weather. The Chiefs allowed a blocked punt last week and the Patriots special teams have been outstanding at affecting kickers this offseason.
PATRIOTS- None. Nada. Zip. Zilch.
CHIEFS - OUT: LB Dorian Daniel (ankle)
Clete Blakeman leads the “All-Star crew” of officials. The last Patriots game he did was the blowout loss at Detroit. Prior to that was the Patriots AFC Championship win over Jacksonville. People got exercised this week because Blakeman was part of the officiating crew at the AFC Championship in 2014 when the Patriots were accused of relieving footballs of air pressure. Whatever. The Chiefs also lost the past two games he officiated for them. The bigger concern is the league office string-pullers on any challenges.
The Chiefs are favored by 3. The total is 56.
Mid-20s with winds up to 15 mph.
Patriots 34, Chiefs 30