Patriots-Chiefs Preview From Tom E. Curran: Can they keep up with KC?
Here are some stark numbers. In their past five games going back to their win over the Browns, the Patriots have scored touchdowns just twice in eight goal-to-go situations. In each of the past three games, they’ve failed on their only trips in close. In the red zone over their past five games, they are 8-for-19 scoring touchdowns when they get in the red zone including 2-for-3 last week. They are at 48.98 in red-zone scoring for the season, 24th. They’ve scored eight offensive touchdowns in the past five games and two of those came late last week when they were swimming upstream against the Texans.
The point? The Patriots aren’t generating points and this week they go against a Kansas City team which is well-stocked and always a threat to drop 30. Can the Patriots offense keep pace if the New England defense is merely respectable as it was last week against Houston? Or do the Patriots need to get the Chiefs muzzled to have a shot?
WHEN THE PATRIOTS RUN
Even though the Chiefs changed coordinators, scheme and some personnel, they still get gashed on the ground with some regularity. Only twice this year have they held an opponent under 4 yards per carry. The last three games, they’ve let up 430 on the ground on 70 carries (6.14 per carry). The Chiefs are in pretty decent shape defensively in terms of health (Frank Clark has a shoulder injury but is listed at questionable; Morris Claiborne is out at corner). The Patriots are absolutely signaling that they are close to getting it going on the ground. Sony Michel had his best game start-to-finish against Dallas and the Patriots were making progress on the ground early against Houston but had to bail because of the score and the fact that, because the Patriots passing game scares no one, the box is loaded with humans. Still, I’m going on faith here that Dante Scarnecchia and his OL get things moving downhill.
WHEN THE PATRIOTS PASS
Just bad. Last week was just bad. Tom Brady was sacked three times by Houston and harried more than that. His final tally of 326 passing yards on 24 for 47 throws were cotton-candy stats. The Texans played press-man on everyone much of the time, Brady’s protection didn’t hold up waiting for wideouts to uncover or double-move because they have a hard time winning with straight speed/route running and the sped-up process made everything look bad. Why might it be different against a Chiefs team that gets after the passer as well? One, it’s a home game. That matters to pass rush. Second, Mohamed Sanu was useless last week as he tries to come off that high ankle sprain. With him and Julian Edelman – mangled shoulder – reduced, it’s been hard If Sanu is closer to health, it will make a difference. Finally, score. If they don’t fall behind by a bunch, everything is different. The Patriots are now onto their third center with James Ferentz in this week. He will be tested by the very talented and explosive Chris Jones. Third down, red zone and goal-to-go are everything this week. The team’s been bad at all three because only one guy (Edelman) is reliable. So, until further notice…
WHEN THE CHIEFS RUN
The Chiefs have been effective on the ground, if not explosive. Their offense is so multi-dimensional they get plenty of room to run against opponents running out as many as seven defensive backs (which the Patriots will likely do). That’s why they are so difficult on third down – multiple options to gain yards. LeSean McCoy is the main option and he’s averaging 4.9 yards per carry with limited duty for his old ass. He may get more duty this week with Damien Williams injured. The Chiefs brought Spencer Ware back to help McCoy and Darwin Thompson. Lost in last week’s loss was the fact the Patriots did a nice job bottling up Carlos Hyde despite the illness which racked the defense and certainly played some role in the result.
WHEN THE CHIEFS PASS
The Patriots can certainly withstand what the Chiefs offense brings. The issue is how long do they have to do it? For instance, last week it was 14-3 until 5:41 was left in the third. One of the touchdowns the Patriots allowed came on a short field. Both came on well-schemed plays that were more about outflanking than outexecuting. When they got an outexecuting touchdown, they needed two shots to do it with Deshaun Watson throwing to Will Fuller on a play where Kyle Van Noy was blatantly held. The Patriots offense couldn’t score, couldn’t sustain drives and eventually, the defense buckled just a little. The Chiefs have more offensive talent. Between Travis Kelce, Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins, Mecole Hardman and DeMarcus Robinson, Patrick Mahomes has enough to stress the Patriots. First priority will be Kelce. Second priority will be Hill. It will be interesting to see if the Patriots send Stephon Gilmore to deal with Kelce and double Hill. Makes sense given Hill’s otherworldly speed.
The Patriots are as good as it gets in punt coverage and have been very good at kick coverage after a dip last season and early this year. Their issue is punt returns (they ain’t got a guy) and kicking where Nick Folk comes back from his appendectomy with pressure to continue being a steady stop-gap. Hardman is a tough guy to deal with on returns. Punter Dustin Colquitt has dropped 18 of 39 punts inside the opponents 20. Kicker Harrison Butker hasn’t missed a field goal inside 50 yards and is 37 of 39 on extra points.
OUT: CB Morris Claiborne (shoulder), CB Rashad Fenton (hamstring) and RB Damien Williams (rib). QUESTIONABLE: DE Frank Clark (shoulder, illness) and S Jordan Lucas (illness) are listed as questionable.
QUESTIONABLE: LB Ja'whaun Bentley (knee), T Marcus Cannon (illness), S Patrick Chung (heel), DT Byron Cowart (head), WR Julian Edelman (shoulder), C Ted Karras (knee), CB Jason McCourty (groin) and WR Mohamed Sanu (ankle).
Veteran official Jerome (“Hoading!”) Boger is on the call with his crew. The home team loves having Jerome - usually. This season, though, the crew is calling penalties on the home team more frequently than the rest of the league. He hasn’t reffed a Patriots game since last season when the Bills visited.
The Patriots are favored by 3 and the total is 48.5. The Patriots are 7-5 against the spread and nine of their 12 games have gone under the total. The Patriots are on a 21-game home winning streak and have covered 16 of those.
Chiefs 27, Patriots 20
Week 1: Patriots 16, Steelers 13
Final: Patriots, 33-3
Week 2: Patriots 30, Dolphins 0
Final: Patriots, 43-0
Week 3: Patriots 20, Jets 6
Final: Patriots, 30-14
Week 4: Patriots 19, Bills 13
Final: Patriots, 16-10
Week 5: Patriots 30, Redskins 13
Final: Patriots, 33-7
Week 6: Patriots 16, Giants 3
Final: Patriots, 35-14
Week 7: Patriots 16, Jets 13
Final: Patriots, 33-0
Week 8: Patriots 27, Browns 10
Final: Patriots, 27-13
Week 9: Patriots 23, Ravens 13
Final: Ravens, 37-20
Week 10: Patriots 26, Eagles 13
Final: Patriots, 17-10
Week 11: Cowboys 23, Patriots 16
Final: Patriots, 13-9
Week 12: Patriots 24, Texans 23
Final: Texans, 28-22
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