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Chiefs-Patriots focus points: control the game’s tempo

In the latest Arrowhead Pride Laboratory podcast, the AP Nerd squad previews Kansas City’s Week 4 game against New England.

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at New England Patriots David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

On this week’s game preview edition of the Arrowhead Pride Laboratory, we talked about three points on offense — and three on defense — to watch in an important matchup for the Kansas City Chiefs against Bill Belichick, Cam Newton and the New England Patriots.

Here are the storylines on both sides of the ball:

Offense

Controlling tempo

The last time the Patriots were able to beat the Chiefs, they limited the possessions in the game with a ball-control approach in the 2018 AFC championship Game. The offense wasn’t able to generate much rhythm and played from behind the vast majority of the game. That was the formula for New England in its last successful attempt. Whether or not that is part of the strategy this week, it behooves the Chiefs to control the tempo of the game from jump street. If ball control works early and the offense doesn’t start strong, the pressure builds as the game’s possessions get reduced by ball-control offense.

Can the Patriots’ front seven hold up?

There are a lot of names in the defensive line and linebacker groups of the Patriots you may not know. The talent level is lacking with losses like Dont’a Hightower, Josh Uche and Beau Allen to injured reserve or voluntary opt-out. The group lacks talent up front from a pass-rush perspective and needs an injection of athleticism at the linebacker level. That’s not to say this group is incompetent — they’ll just have to be more creative in creating pressure and covering Clyde Edwards-Helaire out of the backfield if they want to have success.

Coverage conundrum

The Patriots are left with a lot of difficult decisions to make defending the pass against the Chiefs. Their last successful attempt included a lot of man coverage and double-teaming Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill. The problem for New England is it doesn’t really have the same kind of talent to cover the weapons the Chiefs present on any given play. The secondary is old, with the McCourty twins, Adrian Phillips and Terrence Brooks all seeing significant snaps. Trying to handle the speed of the Chiefs might call for mix-and-match coverages. Communication and comfortability in a variety of looks could be easier with an experienced group.

Defense

Power run game

You’re going to see a lot of power/gap scheme from the Patriots on Sunday. Not only with the running backs, but also from quarterback Cam Newton. The Chiefs will have to play disciplined football to slow down a run game that put up 250 yards (6.6 yards per carry) on the ground just a week ago against the Raiders. Don’t be surprised if the Patriots are aggressive on fourth down with the kind of run game they can present.

Cornerbacks getting tested

The Chiefs will be without rookie standout L’Jarius Sneed for the next few weeks — a significant blow to a group that was already thin. Newton could certainly look to challenge the cornerbacks down the field, forcing a thin group to make plays on the football. Newton isn’t afraid to throw the ball down the field and has generated some explosive plays in the passing game. Even though the Patriots’ ‘receiving corps doesn’t present any daunting tasks, the cornerbacks will still have to produce when the opportunity presents itself. Charvarius Ward’s return will help a thin group, but Rashad Fenton and Antonio Hamilton will have to step up the last week of Bashaud Breeland’s suspension.

Rattling Cam Newton

The Chiefs can earn the opportunity to rush Newton with good early-down work in the run game. If they do, they can speed Newton up enough to make mistakes with a talented pass rush and a strong blitz package from defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo. Balls can sail on Newton, and pressuring him is how that happens. If the Chiefs can speed up Newton, forcing the throw by an athletic-but-aging quarterback, the defense could be in for some turnovers.


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