When the New England Patriots hosted the Kansas City Chiefs in week six of the regular season, their defense surrendered 40 points and 446 yards. While the final numbers are anything but impressive, the unit actually played a sound game in the first half: it was able to challenge second-year quarterback Patrick Mahomes with diverse blitz packages and exotic looks and forced two interceptions.
Mahomes, of course, went off in the second half and nearly brought Kansas City back to win the game before a last-second field goal decided it in New England’s favor. But the plan for the Patriots was established against the likely league MVP: take advantage of his inexperience. Kent Swanson, who covers the Chiefs as a film analyst for our sister site Arrowhead Pride, agrees that New England might find success that way.
“His biggest weakness this year has been his inexperience, and you saw that with these two teams’ first match up,” said Kent when he spoke with Pats Pulpit earlier this week about the two teams’ upcoming matchup. “The Patriots threw some looks at him he hadn’t seen before and it took him a half to get settled into that game. Our guess is New England will have some unscouted looks to try and catch him.”
New England certainly needs to play its best and most creative football in order to keep the 24-year old in check. After all, Mahomes has had a very good first full season as the Chiefs’ starter. “Mahomes has been so productive because of his success when the play breaks down,” Kent said about him. “If he doesn’t see the play perfectly or if the protection breaks down, Mahomes has been able to make a play outside of structure.”
But while the quarterback and the passing game attached to him take center stage when talking about the Chiefs’ league-leading offense, the team’s running game can also not be overlooked. Even though Kansas City parted ways with Kareem Hunt in late November, the team’s ground game did not skip a beat. One of the reasons for that, is of course the productivity of the Chiefs’ passing game and it freeing up things on the ground.
“The majority of the Chiefs’ run plays have a passing concept attached to it,” he said when talking about Kansas City’s rushing attack. “They are a run-pass option heavy team, so the defense often dictates the frequency at which they hand the ball off. That being said, they found success on the grand last week against the Colts. Damien Williams has been great since he has been given the majority of snaps.”
Williams, the Chiefs’ new lead back, is not the only skill position player to keep an eye on today. Kansas City has All-Pro talent at wide receiver and tight end as well in Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce, respectively, as well as other big play weapons with wide receivers Sammy Watkins and Chris Conley. This pick-your-poison attack poses a threat to every defense in the NFL, so what should the Patriots do?
“We at Arrowhead Pride discussed this on our podcast The AP Laboratory this week,” said Kent about the matchups for New England’s defense against Kansas City’s plethora of weapons. “Our guess is that Stephon Gilmore will line up on Sammy Watkins and the Patriots will mix up doubling Kelce and Hill. If the Chiefs want to continue to have success, Watkins will need to have a good game against Gilmore.”
New England used the same basic plan in week six, but a lot has changed since then: Jonathan Jones is no longer one of the Patriots’ top three at cornerback and instead had to make way for impressive undrafted rookie J.C. Jackson. Together with Gilmore and Jason McCourty, Jackson forms the core of New England’s cornerback group and he might very well be the Patriots’ defensive wild card today.
Will Jackson be given Watkins so that Gilmore can take Hill? Or will the Patriots use the rookie on the third receiver, with speedy Jason McCourty taking on the Chiefs’ most dangerous wideout? The questions will get answered at 6:40 pm ET today.