The Kansas City Chiefs didn’t create a blueprint on how to beat the New England Patriots so much as they just copied what everyone has known for years. Crowd the middle of the field. Take away the quick passing routes. Hit Rob Gronkowski coming off the line of scrimmage. Pressure Tom Brady with just three or four rushers.
That’s been the vaunted “blueprint” to beat the Patriots every since Brady elevated into Tom Freaking Brady back in 2007 (and you can substitute Randy Moss for Gronkowski, too).
Former Ravens defensive coordinator and Jets and Bills head coach Rex Ryan figured a way to limit Brady’s pre-snap advantage by not revealing where the pressure was going to come from and which players were going to drop back into coverage. Chiefs defensive coordinator Bob Sutton served as Ryan’s linebackers coach and assistant head coach with the Jets from 2009-12. It shouldn’t be a surprise that he had a “blueprint,” too.
The big difference between the Chiefs defense and the latter-day Jets defenses is that the Chiefs have the personnel to act out the strategy- and very few teams in the league are able to replicate it.
The Chiefs have five players that were named to the All Pro team in the past five years- and even with EDGE Tamba Hali (2013 All Pro) sidelined, the Chiefs put four All Pros on the field in SS Eric Berry (2013, 2015-16), CB Marcus Peters (2015-16), LB Derrick Johnson (2015), and EDGE Justin Houston (2014).
That’s a stud player on the defensive line, one at linebacker, and two in the secondary. Houston was able to generate pressure, Johnson was able to cover the running back out of the backfield and crowd the middle of the field, Peters erased Chris Hogan the entire game, and Berry shadowed Rob Gronkowski to great success.
How many other teams in the league have this level of depth and skill? Not many, it turns out. Here are the possible options with teams boasting three or more All Pros from the past five seasons.
10. New England Patriots (3 All Pros)
The Patriots boast three All Pros on defense in FS Devin McCourty, CB Malcolm Butler, and LB Dont’a Hightower. Could the Patriots be one of the teams that could affect the Patriots offense? Probably, but they lack the depth on the defensive front to generate enough pressure with just three or four players. Brady might be able to pick the Patriots defense apart.
9. Houston Texans (3 All Pros)
The Texas have three All Pros in their defensive front seven in J.J. Watt, Whitney Mercilus, and Benardrick McKinney. Jadeveon Clowney is another player of note. Houston lacks the depth in the secondary to blanket Gronkowski and eliminate either Hogan or Brandin Cooks. They could definitely impact the Patriots offense, but someone will eventually get free. The Patriots play the Texans in week 3.
8. Denver Broncos (3 All Pros)
The Broncos have EDGE Von Miller, CB Chris Harris Jr., and CB Aqib Talib. The Broncos have an extremely talented defense capable of affecting the Patriots receivers and getting Tom Brady off his mark in the pocket, but they are less capable at disrupting the middle of the field where RB James White or Gronkowski could have a strong game.
7. Miami Dolphins (4 All Pros)
Surprised? Well, the Dolphins have two recent All Pros in EDGE Cameron Wake and DT Ndamukong Suh. New LB Lawrence Timmons was named an All Pro in 2014 and CB Alterraun Verner was named an All Pro way back in 2013. Verner isn’t even projected to be a starter and the Patriots have no problem picking on Timmons in coverage, so the Dolphins also have question marks on their back end. The fact that SS Reshad Jones has never been named to an All Pro team is super unfair; he’s a great player.
6. Carolina Panthers (4 All Pros)
LB Luke Kuechly and LB Thomas Davis Sr. form one of the best linebacker duos in the league and both are extremely adept at covering in the middle of the field, while DT Kawann Short is disruptive in the middle of the field. The Panthers brought back former 2012 All Pro EDGE Julius Peppers, but who knows how much gas he has left in the tank. The Patriots play the Panthers in week 4.
5. Los Angeles Rams (4 All Pros)
The Rams have one of the best defensive tackles in the league in Aaron Donald, along with other All Pros in LB Alec Ogletree, EDGE Connor Barwin, and EDGE Robert Quinn. That’s a devastating defensive front, but like the Texans they might lack the depth in the secondary to take down the Patriots for a full four quarters.
4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4 All Pros)
LB Lavonte David and DT Gerald McCoy are two of the best at their position. CB Brent Grimes had an outstanding 2016 season and was also named an All Pro in 2014. They just added SS T.J. Ward, who was an All Pro in 2013 and the bane of Rob Gronkowski’s health, so the Buccaneers are a team to watch when they face the Patriots on Thursday Night Football in week 5.
3. Seattle Seahawks (4 All Pros)
CB Richard Sherman, FS Earl Thomas, and SS Kam Chancellor still create the Legion of Boom, and LB Bobby Wagner is one of the best in the business. The Seahawks beat the Patriots last season, too, with Chancellor one of the few players capable of defending Gronkowski one-on-one. Wagner can crowd the middle of the field and Sherman and Thomas can erase large portions of the field. This is a tough defense to beat.
2. Kansas City Chiefs (5 All Pros*)
The Chiefs are clearly able to beat the Patriots, although the loss of SS Eric Berry with a torn Achilles certainly puts a damper on their victory. Hali is also on the physically unable to perform list, so the Chiefs will have Peters, Johnson, and Houston moving forward. That could still be enough, but it’s definitely something to monitor.
1. New York Giants (5 All Pros)
The Giants had five All Pros in 2016 alone. SS Landon Collins, CB Janoris Jenkins, and CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie form one of the best secondaries in the league, capable of covering whatever combination of personnel the opposing team trots out. DT Damon Harrison is the best run defender in the league and EDGE Olivier Vernon is fantastic at generating pressure. This would be a difficult defense to crack.
The Patriots will have faced four of these teams in a span of five weeks to start the season (Chiefs, Texans, Panthers, Buccaneers) so we’ll get a good sense of how the offense is able to adjust to the opposing personnel. New England also has three games against the Broncos and Dolphins in a span of five weeks after the bye, so that will be good to monitor, too.
I venture that the Giants and Seahawks are the only two teams capable of following the Chiefs example because they can pressure with four, cover running backs with linebackers, defend Gronkowski with a safety, and remove a wide receiver with an All Pro cornerback. I don’t know if the Chiefs can even copy themselves anymore with the loss of Berry.
The Chiefs didn’t do anything fancy that the Patriots hadn’t seen before. They just executed it as well as they could have with a roster of extremely talented players. We’ll see if these other talented defenses find a way to follow the plan.