5 Keys To A Chiefs' Victory Over The Patriots

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For the second time in 21 days, the Kansas City Chiefs will play under the bright lights of Monday Night Football when they travel to Foxboro, MA and take on the AFC East division-leading New England Patriots.

It’s a critical game for the 4-5 Chiefs, who head into a late-season schedule that also includes the Bears, Packers and Jets, as well as rematches with both Oakland and Denver. 

But Monday night’s match-up has piqued the interest of many for reasons that extend beyond the field -- it signifies the first time general manager Scott Pioli will take on the team he so diligently worked for from 2000-2008, during which he was an integral factor in the Patriots’ three Super Bowl wins from 2001-2004. 

 

When Pioli took over in Kansas City, it was little surprise that some familiar faces joined him, most notably QB Matt Cassel who, although he won’t be playing because of a hand injury, is still a relevant figure in this Monday’s contest.  Cassel took the reins as the starter in New England when Tom Brady went down with an ACL tear -- suffered against who other than the Chiefs -- and performed extremely admirably in his place.

 

Cassel and Pioli aren’t the only ex-Patriots now residing in Kansas City, as such names as Romeo Crennel, Anthony Pleasant, Otis Smith, Ryan O’Callaghan, and others once called New England home before becoming Chiefs. 

 

Some have chosen to refer to the Chiefs as the Patriots of the Midwest, but that’s more of a linguistic tactic than factual comparison as, although the two run similar ships, stark contrast exists between the franchises.

 

For starters, the Chiefs possess one of the league’s youngest rosters, relying on several players under the age of 25 to play critical roles, and feature a cast of youthful stars like Brandon Flowers, Dwayne Bowe, Eric Berry, Jamaal Charles, Tony Moeaki, and Jon Asamoah.

 

The Patriots, conversely, are known for the veteran studs who continue to get it done for them in the second halves of their respective careers.  No player personifies this notion more than QB Tom Brady, who at the ripe age of 34 is still competing and performing at an incredibly high-level, which was abundantly evident this past Sunday night when he carved up a talented Jets secondary.  Defensively, 32-year-old Andre Carter stamped his name on the Jets game by chipping in 4 sacks, good enough to vault his total to 8.5 on the season and place him amongst the league’s leaders.

 

The Patriots also love to set their offense in motion via the passing game, specifically a short passing game predicated upon precision timing and an intangible trust between Brady and his receivers.  Brady’s favorite target, Wes Welker, paces the league with 1,006 receiving yards and is a menace in the slot.  Welker is quick, tough, smart, understands how to leverage defenders, and he catches anything thrown within his frame.  Above all else, he and Brady seem to understand each other’s next move at all times, so if you lose Welker for just a split-second, it often results in you being left in his dust.        

 

On the other side, running the football is the name of the game in Kansas City, as the Chiefs are fifth in the NFL with 269 rushing attempts, or 42 more than the Patriots.  Although the teams have achieved identical statistical success per carry (4.2 on average for both teams), the Chiefs are a run-devout team that has remained steadfast in their dedication to the ground despite the absence of Jamaal Charles. 

 

The truth behind each team’s offensive approach is that they both play to their strengths.  New England throws it better than they run it, and the Chiefs are better at calling a high-volume of running plays then they are attempting 40 or 45 passes in a single game.

 

Is the blueprint for success the same in Kansas City as it is New England? In ways, yes.  Pioli believes in acquiring the "right" 53 for his franchise and is passionate about building a team that can consistently compete for championships, much like he helped the Patriots do during his tenure there.  Sure there are some differences in the construction of the roster, but’s that the nature of football, and both Pioli and Belichick operate under the mantra of doing what’s best for the football team.  The bottom-line when evaluating the work that both Pioli and Belichick have done with their franchises is that each has improved the team dramatically since his arrival, and both are the right leaders for their franchises.  And two of the best leaders in football, period.

 

On now to the 5 Keys for a Chiefs’ victory over the Patriots:

 

 

 

1. Jam receivers, be physical at the line of scrimmage: This isn’t a revolutionary suggestion, as many opposing defenses have recently keyed in on disrupting the Patriots rhythm by being physical with their receivers, particularly Wes Welker.  I see this trend as similar to how defenses zoned in on Antonio Gates in San Diego -- slow him down first, and the rest of your pass defense will fall in place.  In New England, Welker is Brady’s favorite target and has caught more passes than anyone in the NFL this year, so you know Brady will be searching for #83.  Whether the Chiefs decide to blanket Welker with Brandon Flowers (a la the Jets did some with Darrelle Revis in their two match-ups with New England) is yet unclear, but if Flowers draws the order he must make sure he mans up on Welker.  When jamming receivers, defenders must hone in on one technical aspect: strike the receiver, but don’t open up your frame.  Too often defensive backs load up for a powerful jam and in doing so open their chest, carrying their momentum one way or the other.  This creates a natural path for the receiver to run by.  Flowers and his mates need to jam the receivers of the Patriots, stay square to the line of scrimmage, and hang in their back pockets.  Beyond Welker, Brady loves to use his two second-year tight ends, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez.  Gronkowski is a mountain of a man and tough to deter, but knocking him off his spot will serve the Chiefs well.  Hernandez will be seen all over the formation, so however the Chiefs decide to defend him, they’ll need to make sure a versatile plan is in place.

 

2.  Consistent run fits: Look, the Broncos run the ball well.  Tim Tebow, for all his apparent limitations, is a tough QB to bring down, regardless of whether or not you know what’s coming.  You can’t excuse the Chiefs performance of last week, and it's clear the defense needs to be far better against the run (this dates back to the Miami game too).  Good run defense starts with defensive line fits.  Tyson Jackson and Glenn Dorsey are improving technicians on the line, but its imperative they endure both mentally and physically and set the stage for their linebackers to run around and make tackles.  Just like DB’s have to stay square in their jams, the defensive linemen must square up on the line, maintain vision of the runner, and play with the violence to shed their blockers and make tackles.  They’ll face a familiar foe in New England in RG Brian Waters, who has been a steady addition for the Pats.  The toughest task for the Chiefs will be facing LG Logan Mankins, a tenacious interior linemen for the Patriots.  We’ve already alluded to the fact that the Patriots aren’t a tremendous running team, and a lot of their runs come from shotgun formations, but when and if the Pats line up in power formations, it’s imperative the Chiefs find their fits and build the wall.  The Steelers did precisely this when limiting the Patriots on the ground in their 25-17 victory, and it’s an effective way to dictate and control the line of scrimmage.

 

3.  Pressure Tom Brady: You’ll notice pressuring the QB is a key nearly every week for the Chiefs, and that’s intentional.  Pressuring a good quarterback is the tested formula to get him off his game, and we’ve seen that happen to Brady a few times this season.  In Week 9, the New York Giants had Brady in a perpetual state of unease, and it showed.  Brady was twice picked off and had three turnovers on the day, and the most apparent issue for New England was that Brady didn’t seem to trust his protection.  The team ironed out those issues last week in beating the Jets, but it serves notice to Romeo Crennel and the Chiefs that getting to Brady is a prime strategy for slowing him down.  Tamba Hali’s sack numbers haven’t quite been at the pace many Chiefs’ fans expected this season, but that’s not to say he hasn’t been a factor.  Against the Patriots, he’ll face a bevy of blocking schemes, including the potential use of extra linemen, tight ends, and running backs to take him on.  Hali needs to see the space in front of him and use his hands effectively.  He’s a more than capable rusher, and if he has his best day in a while versus New England, he’ll cause all sorts of fits for Brady.

 

4.  Confidence, continuity on offense: Tyler Palko will get his first ever NFL start for the Chiefs on Monday, and it’s natural to wonder just how he will fare.  But there’s no time for Palko to get caught up in the moment, and it’s upon both he and his offensive teammates to start fast.  What can be done to ensure this is the case?  It starts with his teammates believing in him from the first whistle, and playing the game with confidence in both Palko and each other.  The offensive line must protect Palko, his running backs must dig for every extra inch they can, and his receivers must find open space and make plays.  It’s no mystery that the Patriots’ secondary has struggled mightily this year, so Palko may have an early chance to dump the ball to his receivers and allow them to move the chains.  Palko is a bright QB who has good football pedigree and takes his job very seriously, and all of his preparation will be tested Monday night in New England.  If his teammates believe in him and ooze the confidence that I expect them to, Palko will have a smoother transition into the starting role.

 

5.  Take a risk: Examine this game from a peripheral perspective, and you’ll see the pressure rests on the Patriots.  They are 6-3, ahead in their division, playing at home on Monday night in front of their fans, and the Chiefs are mired in a two game losing streak and without their franchise quarterback.  As far as many are concerned, the Chiefs have nothing to lose, so Monday night presents a chance for Kansas City to get creative and take some risks.  Maybe it’s a gadget play on offense, or more of the Wildcat package with Javier Arenas, or disguised corner blitzes, or a fake punt on special teams.  The possibilities are endless, but you understand the point.  Momentum is a powerful force in football, and if the Chiefs can swing it in their direction early in the contest, they’ll find themselves exactly where they want to be.  I’m not expecting the Chiefs to try an onsides kick every chance they have, or go for it on every fourth down (although it wouldn’t shock me if Todd Haley tried this), or blitz 8 men every play on defense.  The bottom line is they must execute as a team, as that was what sparked their unblemished October, but sometimes a calculated risk can turn the tides of a game, and maybe that's what it will take for the Chiefs to upset the Patriots on their home field.   

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