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Where the Chiefs and Patriots are better and worse from last time around

Does last year's matchup have anything to do with this weekend's divisional playoff? We did a review / preview for the Chiefs vs Patriots.

NFL teams review recent game film on their opponents to discover tendencies, scheme, weaknesses, etc. I'd assume they usually don't care much about a game from the prior season. However, the Chiefs took on the Patriots last year on Monday Night Football, and the lopsided game seemed to change the fate of both teams. The Chiefs seemed to gain confidence and went on to win five straight games including a big win over the Seahawks before Oakland derailed their season. The Pats woke up, and went on to win seven straight and 10 of their final 12 games, eventually winning the Super Bowl.

Patriots coach Bill Belichick indicated to ESPN that he'll be studying last year's loss to the Chiefs even though a lot of football has been played since then. The Boston Globe called the Chiefs the "worst possible opponent for the Patriots". The author referenced last year's game before getting into a detailed scouting report of this year's Chiefs team.

"Yes, that game was a long time ago, but many of the key faces on both sides are the same, and the Patriots have many of the same issues this time - €” a shaky offensive line, and a lack of continuity because of several key players battling through injuries."

So, what better way to celebrate a Chiefs dominant victory and prepare for a huge game than to watch another Chiefs dominant victory? We took a look back at last year's matchup to see what we can learn, and looked at New England's last game to see what may be different this year.

Where the Chiefs won

  • Rushing offense: Jamaal Charles (92 rushing yards) and Knile Davis (107 rushing yards) both had several big runs on the outside. The Chiefs finished with 207 yards rushing with 5.4 YPC.
  • LT Eric Fisher and FB Anthony Sherman both had some huge blocks in the run game.
  • The quick and short passing game we all love to hate was in full effect. Smith was 20/26 for 248 yards and three TDs.
  • The Patriots had nobody who could cover Travis Kelce. Smith got him involved early and often, including screens and quick routes over the middle. The Chiefs TE had eight catches, 93 yards and a TD.
  • Chiefs CBs played tight coverage, allowed little separation, and nothing deep. They kept everything in front of them and tackled well. CBs Sean Smith and Marcus Cooper were great, challenging nearly every reception and limiting YAC (except on Brandon LaFell's TD, where the defenders all collided, and another 37 yard pass to LaFell in the fourth).
  • Chiefs defense sniffed out and stuffed screen passes. Tamba Hali, Justin Houston and the KC defensive linemen have also been great at this in 2016.
  • Misdirection in run game led to Knile Davis 48 yard run. Think about the Spencer Ware TD vs the Raiders for an example. Get the defense flowing one direction, the RB hits the hole quickly against the grain.
  • Jamaal Charles scored on a screen near the goal line, similar to what we've seen Jeremy Maclin score on this year with 2-3 WR / TE in bunch formation wide to the right end up as blockers for the easy TD.
  • LB and S bracket coverage on Rob Gronkowski. The Chiefs had a LB like Hali try to hit and disrupt him at the LOS, then a safety like Ron Parker picked him up coverage. Keeping Gronk off-balance and out of sync with Tom Brady was key. The NFL's best TE not named Travis Kelce had two catches for 31 yards and a TD (granted, he was just returning from an injury, so he may not have been 100 percent).
  • The Chiefs front seven got a lot of pressure up the middle, which helped prevent Brady from throwing deep. It forced him get the ball out before he was ready, and resulted in some off-target passes.
  • Dwayne Bowe earned his living on crossing and out patterns. amassing five catches for 81 yards and almost a TD (remember, it was 2014 when Bowe actually earned a living, and the Chiefs didn't throw WR TDs).
  • Chiefs won the all-important turnover battle: Hali had the sac / /fumble / recovery trifecta, Sean Smith had an INT and Husain Abdullah had a pick-six.

Where the Patriots won

  • Stopping the Chiefs inside run game. They were able to limit Charles to 2-3 yards per carry inside with Vince Wilfork and Dont'a Hightower.
  • The Patriots defense also didn't allow anything deep in the passing game, though this was the norm for the Chiefs last season.
  • Chandler Jones showed his ability to get after the QB with a sack and some pressures.
  • Brady's short passing game and improvisation. He completed several pitches, screen and shovel passes to running backs Shane Vereen and James White.

What's different now for the Chiefs

  • WRs Bowe / Hemingway / Avery / AJJ replaced by Maclin / Conley / Wilson. If Maclin can somehow play, it's a HUGE upgrade. If he doesn't ... they are still probably better.
  • Charles / Knile replaced by West / Ware. We'll see how this plays out but the Chiefs have shown they can run the ball with these guys. They were sixth in the league with 127.8 yards per game in 2015.
  • CB Cooper replaced by Peters. Cooper played very well in last year's game, actually, but Marcus Peters has been a revelation at CB as a rookie, especially forcing turnovers.
  • LB Derrick Johnson and S Eric Berry are back so the Chiefs defense is playing more dynamic and aggressive football.
  • EVERYTHING the Chiefs did last year in the passing game was short, quick. Alex Smith 2.0 has shown more of a willingness to go downfield and fit the ball in tight windows.
  • Speaking of Alex Smith 2.0, he's making a lot more plays with his feet this year. He amassed 525 yards rushing an two TDs while extending drive after drive with key planned and unplanned runs. The Patriots will surely be aware of the "dual threat."

What's different now for the Patriots

  • Ridley / Vereen are gone for New England. Steven Jackson and James White are now the primary backs. New England has struggled to run the ball this year. They are 30th in the league in rushing with just 87.8 yards per game
  • Injuries and roster turnover may have an effect on the Patriots ability to stop the run. Hightower has been out but should play this week, and he's reportedly much improved over last season. Vince Wilfork is gone, but Akiem Hicks has been a nice find on the interior defensive line.
  • Tom Brady was benched for Jimmy Garoppolo in last year's game, but he's been stellar ever since and is a legendary post-season QB. I wouldn't expect Brady to take a seat this week.
  • Keep an eye on LB Jamie Collins, he's vastly improved this year, and very well might be their best defender vs the run and pass both.

The bottom line

  • The Chiefs dominated the Patriots in 2014 but the Chiefs performance in Houston last weekend was even more one-sided.
  • The Chiefs are clearly a better team now than they were then but according to PatsPulpit, so are the Patriots -- if everyone is healthy (which it appears they will be).
  • A key this weekend will be the Patriots ability (or inability) to block the Chiefs front seven. From what I saw, the advantage will likely be with Bob Sutton's crew.
  • Like the Houston game, there are a couple of guys on this week's opponent that the Chiefs must contain.  Last week they did a good job on Watt and Hopkins. This week, Jamie Collins, Malcom Butler and Devin McCourty are very good on defense for New England, but they don't have one single dominant guy that must be game planned around. This week, it's all about the QB Tom Brady and TE Rob Gronkowski. If the Chiefs defense can harass Gronk and pressure Brady, we have to like their chances.
  • The Patriots are not a strong running team, so the Chiefs have an opportunity to make them one-dimensional. If they can do that, the Chiefs pass rush might be able to take over the game.
  • That said, the Chiefs have been vulnerable to great QB play in the past (even if they haven't seen many during the win streak). Especially difficult are the QBs that can get the ball out very quick before the pass rush can get home. Brady can be that guy, and has often done so in the playoffs.
  • The antidote to the above problem is great coverage. Great coverage leads to more sacks, as the QB has to hold the ball longer than they'd like. Sean Smith and Marcus Peters along with safeties Abdullah, Parker and Berry will need to stick close to Edelman, Amendola and Gronk long enough to make Brady pause. When he pauses, the Chiefs pass rush has to be there.
  • The Patriots have a coach and QB advantage over nearly ever team they face, especially in the postseason at home. We'll see this weekend if Chiefs coach Andy Reid, QB Alex Smith and the Chiefs defense are up for the challenge.

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