The Patriots love to scheme out the opponent's top threat, often going to extreme measures to ensure it happens. Following up on Rich's repost and spin of the Kansas City Star's Sam Mellinger's article that features former Giants Offensive Coordinator Kevin Gilbride's insights to what Bill Belichick's defense might do in the game, we need to look at what threats the Chiefs have besides Jeremy Maclin and Travis Kelce. Maclin suffered a high ankle sprain in the Chiefs playoff win over the Houston Texans and will be very limited with the injury making it difficult for him to cut and change direction. That could make things easier for the Patriots defense to try to take away their #2 option in TE Travis Kelce. The Patriots will find a way to jam, batter, and harass Kelce within the legal confines of the NFL rulebook in order to force the Chiefs to beat them with someone else.
With the Chiefs' top two receiving threats, three if you want to count Jamaal Charles being on Injured Reserve for the second half of the season, likely out, the Chiefs will have to find someone else to step up and make plays for them. The first thing people will refer to is the Chiefs running game. The Chiefs have done a good job of getting two players to step up in the absence of Charles, with Charcandrick West and Spencer Ware both ascending from an anonymity status to a powerful 1-2 combo for the Chiefs. Both players are capable of grinding out yards, although I'd say that West is a better receiver and better in space while Ware is a more physical runner between the tackles. Both can give the Patriots fits if the Chiefs offensive line can dictate the matchups in the trenches. Ware had 72 carries for 403 yards and 6 TDs while offering little value as a receiver. West had 160 carries for 634 yards and a TD while contributing 20 catches for 214 yards and 1 TD as a receiver. Given the Patriots will likely single the running back on pretty much any given play with a linebacker, this could could turn into a bad matchup if the Patriots pass rush can't get the job done.
Going into the passing game, the Chiefs have Albert Wilson and Chris Conley as the #2 receiver and the primary backup on the boundary. Wilson is a small, but speedy receiver whose damage comes on screens, slants, and quick-outs. In order to counter the speed and suddenness, the Patriots should cover Wilson with Malcolm Butler, especially if Maclin is not in the game. Wilson has been listed as Questionable for the game with a Hamstring injury, although I suspect it's not severe enough to really hamper much of his game. That means the other matchup will be Logan Ryan against Chris Conley, which could favor the Chiefs in a 1-on-1 matchup if Conley goes vertical. Conley is an athletic freak of nature at 6'2" 215 with a 4.35 40 to go with a strong performance in the vertical and broad jump tests in last year's NFL Scouting Combine. The Patriots will likely keep a safety back, likely Devin McCourty, to help over-the-top on Conley in case he does go vertical if he isn't already helping on Travis Kelce. With the Patriots likely selling out to stop Kelce, the Conley matchup could be the one the Chiefs go to in order to get the ball moving.
It will be interesting to see how the Patriots match personnel. The Chiefs have two starting offensive linemen still in concussion protocol and not available for the game. Do the Patriots matchup with defensive backs or do they matchup in base. If they go base, that creates single coverage on the boundary against the Chiefs receivers and if they go nickel, that creates opportunities for the Chiefs to run the ball against a smaller box. In the Patriots case, it's better to not be predictable because predictability is a weakness against a team that's as well-coached as the Kansas City Chiefs. For the Chiefs to win the game, it is likely that the running game consistently grinds 4+ yards per carry while controlling time of possession and at least one of Wilson/Conley gets 100 yards and a touchdown reception on offense in addition to the Chiefs defense forces turnovers that create short fields. When the Patriots scheme out a player, it creates an opportunity for another player to potentially take advantage of that fact and have a big day on offense. The question tonight will be whether that actually happens or not.