Patriots Report Card: Receivers fail to answer Chiefs' aggressive plan
The Patriots offense had little in the way of answers for what the Chiefs threw at them on Sunday. After allowing just 16 points, 184 yards passing and 3.7 yards per rush attempt in Foxboro, the Chiefs still do not rank inside the top-10 in any major category. It's not a world-beating defense. But it looked like one.
Among the reasons they were as stout as they were at Gillette Stadium was their plan to take away what the Patriots did best. Double-team Julian Edelman. Double-team both Edelman and James White in the red zone. Eschew a free safety — against a receiving corps devoid of consistent deep threats — in order to add another body to pressure Tom Brady.
Those were the ingredients for a dominating Chiefs performance and a Report Card that won't be making its way onto anyone's fridge at One Patriot Place any time soon.
Tom Brady had to have a good idea of what the Chiefs were planning on doing to his favorite target after the first Patriots third-down attempt of the day. Despite a free safety doubling Julian Edelman, Brady had no one to harm Kansas City for playing that way. No deep weapon to attack the vacated area of the field. His interception was odd-looking — though the route Matt LaCosse ran seemed to drift wide — and he had Meyers at the goal line open on the last play of the game. But this was another instance where it was apparent Brady didn't have much to work with. More on this in the receivers grade...
RUNNING BACK: C
There was some good. James White made a nice-looking throw to Jakobi Meyers for 35 yards. And White averaged 5.5 yards per carry for his second consecutive game with a solid rushing performance. Brandon Bolden — set up by a nine-yard run from White — scooted into the end zone on a jet motion run. But this group was unable to establish much consistency either in the run or pass games. They averaged 3.5 yards per carry and 3.1 yards per target.
Maybe when Mohamed Sanu is healthy enough to play more often (38 percent of the snaps over the last two games) things here will change. Maybe getting N'Keal Harry into space more often will help. But in this game, the Patriots didn't have enough to beat the Chiefs plan. Kansas City dared the Patriots to throw deep with how they doubled Edelman. Is that because Brady doesn't trust the other receivers or that the other receivers aren't aware enough to help their quarterback in those situations? It looked like a little of both. No receiver outside of Edelman had more than one catch.
TIGHT END: C
Matt LaCosse looked wide open on a third-down seam route in the first quarter. The Patriots tried to run it again early in the second, on the first play of their next possession, and it got picked. Brady's throw was curious in that it looked well off the mark, but LaCosse's route looked like it faded to the corner when often those routes attack up the seam of the defense. Hard to know the call, but also hard not to second-guess LaCosse's path. LaCosse and Ben Watson were targeted six times, making three catches, and neither seemed to do much to be able to create space in the running game. The Patriots are insistent on using LaCosse on "wham" types of blocks, but they didn't couldn't get the run game going early.
OFFENSIVE LINE: C-
Part of the reason the running game (with the backs) struggled as it did was due to the work up front. Isaiah Wynn, Marcus Cannon and Shaq Mason all had difficulty clearing space — as did third-string center James Ferentz. If you noticed Tony Romo touting Patriots outside runs on the CBS broadcast, it might've been because the team was struggling to run up the gut with a new-look interior. But without impact tight ends in the run game, the edges were hard to seal as well. Pass protection was an issue throughout. Even when Brady had chances — like his fourth-down incompletion to Edelman — there was pressure in his face impacting throws. Wynn, Cannon and Ferentz were all on the scene for sacks. Wynn and Ferentz each had four total pressures allowed.
SPECIAL TEAMS: C
Which way do the Report Card scales tip when Patriots special teams units are responsible for both a blocked punt that led to a Patriots touchdown and a blocked field goal that led to a Chiefs touchdown? On the positive end for Joe Judge's unit, Jake Bailey dropped two of his four punts inside the 20 (setting the Patriots single-season record in the process). On the not-so-positive end, they averaged 19.4 yards per return on five short kickoffs. Ends up being a "meh" kind of day. Hence the "C."
DEFENSIVE LINE: B+
This group helped prevent a banged-up Chiefs running game from being able to crack 3.0 yards per carry (2.6), which made them relatively one-dimensional and forced them to execute in the passing game — with a quarterback with an injured hand against two-deep safety coverages — play after play after play despite playing with a lead. The result was a stingy second half that saw the Chiefs pass for just 57 yards and score three points. Deatrich Wise recorded a hit and a sack, while Danny Shelton had three hurries and drew a personal foul penalty. Wise and Lawrence Guy were both docked for penalties that hurt this grade.
Talk about defending the run . . . This group was key in getting that part of the plan locked down. Kyle Van Noy had four run stuffs, while John Simon checked in with two more on the edge. Van Noy also checked in with three quarterback pressures — including one hit on third down that drew a facemask penalty on Patrick Mahomes. Dont'a Hightower and Chase Winovich had a pair of pressures themselves. Shilique Calhoun was flagged once but was on the field for 20 valuable snaps. That's the most work he's seen since Week 7.
First, the good. J.C. Jackson's pick was preceded by some phenomenal coverage. It was a play that also featured how the Patriots were going to play Andy Reid's crossing routes with one deep safety and then a strong safety to take away the crossers and swap roles with a slot corner mid-play if need be. Devin McCourty was solid in that role, as well as in his role defending Travis Kelce. His strip of Kelce ended up being critical in getting the Patriots back into the game. Stephon Gilmore allowed just two catches for 13 yards while shadowing Sammy Watkins all over the field. Playing two-high safeties in the third quarter was a smart adjustment by the Patriots to take away the big play. But it was the big play that got them early. Mecole Hardman got behind Jonathan Jones, and Jones tried to go for the football as it approached rather than tackle Hardman. Even if that would've resulted in a pass-interference call, it would've been a better result than the 48-yard touchdown that occurred.