I went back to watch the Kansas City Chiefs smoke the New England Patriots like a brisket in week 4 of 2014 to see if there was anything that could be taken away from the debacle. The teams might be different now, but there are some clear concepts that show why the Patriots should be in better shape this time- and how the Chiefs could repeat the blowout.
The Patriots had Cameron Fleming at right guard, and Bryan Stork received his first start at center. They used Shane Vereen as a rushing back, instead of as a receiving back. The Patriots offense wasn't good, although Brandon LaFell was extremely effective.
But if you asked me which players had the worst games against the Chiefs, I would point to defensive end Chandler Jones and cornerback Darrelle Revis. Left tackle Eric Fisher had his way against Jones, pancaking him and using Jones' aggression to remove the defender from the rushing lanes. Wide receiver Dwayne Bowe, he of 53 receiving yards this season, absolutely worked Revis on every snap.
Will the Patriots play better this time? Perhaps. I went to Twitter to see what everyone wanted to learn from the game.
@PP_Rich_Hill run D for the Chiefs— CK (@ronocyorlik) January 15, 2016
The Chiefs just physically overpowered the Patriots; there was nothing fancy, the Chiefs defenders just threw the the Patriots linemen to the ground and collapsed all of the rushing lanes.
The line of Nate Solder, Dan Connolly, rookie Bryan Stork, rookie Cameron Fleming, and Sebastian Vollmer was not able to generate much space for the running backs to maneuver, but that's not to say it was impossible. Stevan Ridley picked up 28 yards on 5 carries, including four carries of 5+ yards. Even Shane Vereen picked up 26 yards on 8 carries, although the bulk of his yards came after the Chiefs picked up a big lead in the second half.
A concern for the Patriots is that the offensive line of Vollmer, Josh Kline, Stork, rookie Tre Jackson, and Marcus Cannon won't offer much in the rushing game. Kline and Jackson are easily blown into the backfield, while rookie Shaq Mason doesn't offer enough support as a pass blocker to get the start over Kline.
@PP_Rich_Hill an offensive line— yo soy fiesta (@fiesta_yo) January 15, 2016
@PP_Rich_Hill amount of DL stunts- pats had big difficulty with it all year on OL— Corey Pramas (@PapaBurg4) January 15, 2016
The fact that Kline and Jackson lack the strength to hold the line of scrimmage should be a concern for the Patriots passing game because the Chiefs had a field day using their talented defensive tackles to collapse the pocket and to open up a cutback lane for the edge defender to beeline towards quarterback Tom Brady.
Still, I was surprised by how much time Brady had in the pocket for a good portion of the game. The line definitely did their job in pass protection, but the Rex Ryan influence was clear in Chiefs defensive coordinator Bob Sutton's defense.
What is Brady's strength? It's his ability to diagnose the opposing defense to set up his blocker and receivers in the optimal formation. What Rex loves is to put as many players in the box as possible so Brady sets his read-blockers. Brady will call the tight end into the formation and set the running back as an extra blocker, leaving just three receivers to move down the field.
Rex (and Sutton) will use a mush rush to keep these extra blockers in the backfield, to simplify the coverage for the secondary, and to frustrate Brady. A mush rush means the defenders aren't actually blitzing, but they're close enough to the line that the running back and tight end can't run their routes without fear of Brady getting clobbered.
Sutton also likes to blitz with his secondary and with linebackers. He'll often stack a safety in the box to rush after Brady, and then set the linebacker to immediately follow the defensive back so Brady will release the ball prematurely.
@PP_Rich_Hill how they covered gronk and Edelman— Aboo Mu'aadth (@GuletMohamed) January 15, 2016
Keep in mind that tight end Rob Gronkowski was still hampered by his ACL injury. The Patriots sent him into the flat to draw linebackers and safeties away from the middle of the field, in hopes that it would open up a passing lane across the middle for Julian Edelman or Danny Amendola.
The Chiefs used tight press coverage, in addition to their mush rush, to force Brady to hold onto the ball and dance in the pocket. It's entirely psychological. The standard way that Brady would read this defense is that the deep ball is the only open pass because of the tight underneath coverage. This is why LaFell had a huge day, but the limitations for Gronkowski really impacted how the rest of the offense could function.
With Gronkowski as a decoy, the Chiefs would drop one of their mushing front seven players into the shallow midfield to remove the easy crosser to Edelman. And that's all she wrote.
@PP_Rich_Hill Why Kelce destroyed us.— Fella (@FFAaroneous) January 15, 2016
The Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce picked up 93 yards and a touchdown on eight receptions. He had a great day in the office- so how did he do it?
Screen, screen, crosser, Tavon Wilson slipped, screen... it's all extremely simple.
The Patriots were playing a lot of 4-3 fronts with three linebackers in order to slow the Chiefs rushing attack (it didn't work). But as a result, Kelce was matched up with players like Jerod Mayo and Jamie Collins on a consistent basis. The screens were easy ways for the Chiefs to create natural separation, and then Kelce just had to make a single move on a defender in space to pick up some yardage- and the linebackers couldn't reach the sideline fast enough.
Can Kelce do this again? Absolutely, although the Patriots defensive front seven is infinitely better than what was trotted out last season. Chandler Jones had one of his worst days in the NFL, Rob Ninkovich was nowhere to be found, and Vince Wilfork played over 80% of the snaps. Jones is a much better run defender now, while Jabaal Sheard, Malcom Brown, and Alan Branch are marked improvements over their 2014 counterparts.
If the Patriots defensive line is better, then the Patriots could afford to play just two linebackers in Collins and Dont'a Hightower, leaving a defensive back in Patrick Chung to cover Kelce in space.
@PP_Rich_Hill Look for defense biting on misdirection and not setting the edge.— Sidney Torres (@sidneyvt) January 15, 2016
The Chiefs really won the day with their rushes towards Chandler Jones. Jones was overly aggressive, trying to read the fullback to make a stop, but instead leaving the defense vulnerable once he commit his efforts in one direction. Knile Davis and Jamaal Charles combined for 199 yards on 34 carries (5.85 yards per carry) without much trouble.
Jones would try to shed Chiefs left tackle Eric Fisher, and then the Chiefs back would just run to the opposite side of Fisher, away from Jones. It was pretty simple.
What was slightly more complex was the utilization of receivers to create misdirection. When the Patriots were in man coverage, the Chiefs would run the ball in one direction, but send the receivers to the opposite side of the field to pull the secondary out of position. Once the running back hit the second level, they were gone.
Overall, the two teams are very different now than last season. The Patriots will hopefully have a healthier squad, and the defense is far better. The Chiefs are returning players like safety Eric Berry, but Charles, Davis, and Bowe won't be a factor.
What will happen on Saturday? Who knows. As the last game showed, on any given week players the caliber of Jones and Revis could have terrible days. The Patriots can only control what's under their roof- and everyone had better be ready.