The Kansas City Chiefs probably won’t see it this way, as it’s certainly not Andy Reid’s style, but heading to Foxborough, Massachusetts, Sunday, they should feel relatively confident in their upcoming game with the New England Patriots.
As crazy as that sounds, Andy Reid has appeared to have a decent grasp on the Patriots defense over the past few meetings, and now the Chiefs are coming in with easily the better personnel.
Bill Belichick and the Patriots always have some tricks up their sleeves and will likely find some success, but it shouldn’t be enough to slow down a Chiefs team that simply can overwhelm the Patriots at every level. The game in its entirety is still anyone’s to win, but when the Chiefs have the football, they completely control the game and should be able to impose their will.
The Patriots haven’t faced an offense near the caliber of the Chiefs this year and some of their opponents were able to take advantage of their lackluster defense. There was plenty of tape to watch down in the AP Laboratory this week to find areas that the Patriots defense struggled in.
New England Patriots defense
When facing the most common offensive personnel, 11 personnel, the Patriots usually keep six players (a mixture of defensive linemen and linebackers) in the box and have one safety spinning down at the snap. Their nickel package most commonly utilizes a third cornerback, and when they go into a dime package, they will use a third safety.
As teams attempt to go heavy against the Patriots, they will bring more players into the box, as well as a seventh front-seven player and often still spin the safety down deep into the box. This is also similar to how the Patriots will play in the red zone unless forced to spread out against four or five wide alignments.
The Patriots coverage is by far mostly man-to-man coverage with a single-high safety over the top that often starts the play by sliding over toward the most lethal deep threat. The deep safety still keeps same responsibility, but the Patriots make sure they don’t get beat over the top. They’ll mix up press, press-bail, and off-man technique even on the same play, but tight press or mirror technique is the go to.
Stephon Gilmore is the most talented cover player on their team, and beyond Gilmore, there isn’t another player on the Patriots defense that is that impressive in coverage. Jason McCourty and Jonathan Jones have struggled to defend wide receivers on the outside while Patrick Chung and Devin McCourty are often the defensive backs assigned to tight ends and have had less than solid success.
As a pass-rushing unit, the Patriots manufacture most of their pressure through stunts, twists and the use of their amoeba front with constant shifting of who is standing and in a down stance. Trey Flowers and Deatrich Wise are the most dangerous one-on-one pass rushers on the roster.
The Pats like to utilize a lot of big bodies across their defensive line to help defend the run without having to add extra bodies into the box. Danny Shelton, Lawrence Guy, and Malcolm Brown all are big bodies capable of eating blocks and taking up space, so the second-level players can remain clean of blocks.
Like against the pass, the Patriots like to press the line of scrimmage with their linebackers, resulting in what looks like a six-man front at times. Kyle Van Noy and Dont’a Hightower are the main linebackers seeing the field for potential running downs, while Elandon Roberts gets some run on passing downs.
The Patriots will still stunt and twist their defensive linemen and linebackers against the run to free up players to get one-on-one chances with the opposing running backs, but this also creates distinct rushing lanes especially against gap or power-blocking schemes.
How the Chiefs win
This matchup with the Patriots is shaping up to be almost the exact opposite of the Jacksonville Jaguars game of last week. While last week, the Chiefs were stressed into winning one-on-one matchups while defenders were in advantageous positions, this week the Chiefs should gladly choose to attack those same one-on-one matchups. The solo coverage skill of Patriots players pales in comparison to the Chiefs skill players, so challenging the one-on-one matchups wherever they occur should be job number one for Patrick Mahomes.
To keep a balanced attack, the Chiefs will have to run the ball when they have advantageous boxes, such as even blockers and defenders. Specifically using their power and gap blocking schemes, they usually save for the red zone or end of the game.
As the Chiefs find success attacking outside single coverage and start to gain some traction running the ball, the middle of the field should open up even more. The Chiefs should be able to feature slot wide receivers and tight ends over the middle of the field much of the game.
2 things of note: 1) NE plays a ton of man coverage and doesn't really have the players with the cover skills to do so. 2) The MOF is consistently open vs NE. They run a mix of single and split S looks but underneath there is rarely adequate help. pic.twitter.com/a6ZwykYtfM— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) October 12, 2018
Attack under-talented cornerbacks
The Patriots will leave their outside cornerbacks on an island against wide receivers whether in man coverage or their Pattern Match Zone and it’s an area the Chiefs should be able to exploit. Tyreek Hill and Sammy Watkins are both going to be mismatches for the Patriot corners and will be in position to carry this game from an early start.
Vertical routes, timing routes and crossing routes over the middle of the field should all be open game. Not only are the opposing cornerbacks not up to snuff athletically, proper spacing will leave them without over the top or underneath, especially as the field is spread out into four or five-wide alignments.
Man coverage on the outside with minimal help available for NE CBs against KC WRs coming up Sunday night. pic.twitter.com/b4Jii8cg1f— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) October 12, 2018
Both outside cornerbacks have one-on-one assignments with outside wide receivers on their timing routes and both wide receivers open up for the ball without a cornerback being in position to contend the throw.
This has been a theme throughout the film for the Patriots—defensive backs simply haven’t played well in man coverage for them. This is one of the few plays where the Patriots have multiple hook defenders in the middle of the field (one was man on the running back who stayed in pass protection), but most of the time the middle of the field is wide open in the underneath to intermediate zones.
The only exception to that is when the Patriots try to utilize their Pattern Match Zone, which is most common for them vs 3x1 alignments.
The Patriots biggest coverage mixup to their man to man is a C3 Pattern Match Zone. The go to vs 3x1 sets for NE and will pressure Mahomes to make the quick diagnoses of which defender is taking which receiver. pic.twitter.com/SGU20GgN7y— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) October 12, 2018
When faced with “Trips,” the Patriots defense often gets out of man pure man coverage and will go to a Pattern Match Zone to assist with the clutter off the line. Generally, it still plays out like man coverage to the offense—they just have to be aware that just because a defender is carrying a receiver that they may also be looking to pass that receiver along and re-take their zone.
Light boxes equal big runs
Against 11 personnel, a single TE, RB and three WRs, the Patriots often stick to their nickel defense but only play six players in the box. As the snap is about to occur, a safety will spin down to eight to 10 yards off the line of scrimmage. It’s up to the offense to get a one-on-one situation with their running back and that safety on a run play and some teams have been able to find some major success doing that to NE using a power run game.
NE will play a lighter 6 man box, with a spinning S, vs 11 personnel. With their amoeba like front, off-ball LBs are often on the LoS or pressing gaps allowing gap/power blocking schemes to excel. Power with pull playside G & C. LDT was the best IOL on their Power plays, Devey up pic.twitter.com/R6eJcqixrQ— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) October 12, 2018
The six-player box with the safety set for man coverage against the tight end is presented to the 11 personnel and the offense goes with an Off-tackle Power. The double pull, as well as leaving the backside defensive end unblocked, held by the possibility of a Quarterback Keep, gives the offense a vast number advantage. If the play-side offensive guard on the pull makes a better block, the center would have a clear run to the linebacker and leave the running back completely free of defenders.
Even with the blocks executed somewhat poorly, the play still goes for a big chunk play due to a lack of second-level speed from the Patriots.
The Chiefs have often used these power and gap-blocking concepts from the spread formation late in games or in the red zone this year, and I’ll continue to ask for them to do it more often throughout the game.
This particular matchup just sets up perfectly well for it based on how the Patriots crowd the line, making the combo blocks and reaching the second level super easily. The biggest question will be Jordan Devey’s ability to pull around the horn because that was something Laurent Duvernay-Tardif excelled at, and it wouldn’t be surprising at all to see some more of Mitch Morse pulling around the edge in this game.
Make them stop Travis Kelce
The Patriots have often opted to take Travis Kelce out of football games when they play the Chiefs, even at the cost of leaving Tyreek Hill or Kareem Hunt in favorable matchups.
Whether or not they come out of the gate trying to take Kelce away, the Chiefs should force them into doing so. The Patriots have struggled with tight ends so far this year, and simply, their safeties and linebackers may be even less adept in man coverage than their cornerbacks.
I know NE has fared well against Kelce in the past but whew, they tried to give Ebron the baby-Kelce attention and still got torched. Missed jam off the LoS by the LB and a simple speed cut leaves McCourtey behind. pic.twitter.com/wnjMHIv6XO— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) October 12, 2018
New England will certainly try to jam Kelce off the line at all costs with an EDGE player, and in years past, would carry him all the way up to the safety, who is taking him in coverage.
That’s still a very winnable position for Kelce and the Chiefs, but if the Patriots don’t feel like using three players to slow down Kelce, leaving Hill, Sammy Watkins, and Chris Conley in pure single coverage, the Kelce-against-anyone matchup should be exploited until they do.
Combined with the lack help over the middle of the field, Kelce, Demetrius Harris, and slot wide receivers Conley and Watkins should be able to beat the Patriots up over the middle all game long. Simple speed cuts and rounded routes by Luke Wilson (Lions tight end) and Eric Ebron (Colts tight end) were beating the Patriots routinely, so unless the Patriots are going to dedicate the extra player to Kelce or slot receivers, there should be minimal resistance.
The bottom line
This is a game that the Chiefs offense should be able to dominate at all levels and have their way with the Patriots defense.
Andy Reid surely isn’t telling the team that, but they watch the film, too, and with the swagger that Mahomes, Kelce and the like has instilled into this team this year there is no doubt they are coming into this game knowing that they are the better unit of the two by a wide margin.
The biggest threat to the Chiefs offense is going to be the Patriots offense holding the ball for 75 percent of the game, and that’s an insanely high percentage, but the Chiefs should be able to put plenty of points up quickly against this defense.
It’s been a few weeks since Mahomes has had gaudy box-score numbers, but this should be the cure for that. The wide receives should win their single-coverage matchups on the outside while Travis Kelce and slot wide receivers have plenty of space over the middle to do their damage.
The running game should have room to flourish until the Patriots get into heavier packages, which the Chiefs can dictate with their own packages.
Here’s to a shootout on Sunday Night!