Everything you need to know for Chiefs-Patriots
Bryson Vesnaver identifies key players, matchups and paths to victory for both New England and Kansas City.
Everything you need to know for Chiefs-Patriots
The Kansas City Chiefs coasted to a Wild Card Round victory over the overmatched Houston Texans, thanks to a shutout defensive effort that included three sacks, four interceptions, and two forced fumbles. But not everything was positive, as top WR Jeremy Maclin went down with an ankle injury, which may keep him out for this upcoming week.
The New England Patriots enjoyed their bye week this week, and are hopeful that they will have key players returning from injury come next Saturday. The Patriots started the season 10-0, but their offense struggled with injuries towards the end of the season and the team won just two of their final six games.
The last time these two teams met was the infamous Kansas City blowout last season that sparked many premature speculations of the Patriots’ demise. Will the results be the same this time? Let’s take a look at both teams.
Kansas City Chiefs
Despite losing HB Jamaal Charles in Week 5, the Chiefs continue to have a strong run game. Against the Texans, the Chiefs rushed for 143 yards on 35 carries, including 105 after first contact. QB Alex Smith (91.9 run grade) continues to find success on option runs and scrambles, while HB Spencer Ware’s 86.9 Elusive Rating since Week 11 is the second-best in the league.
The Chiefs secondary has been a strong point all season, and it was on display against the Texans. S Eric Berry (87.4 player grade) had an interception and a team-high +2.1 coverage grade in the game, while CB Ron Parker (76.2) was targeted just three times and allowed only one catch for five yards. Overall the Chiefs defense held Texans’ QB Brian Hoyer to a 44 percent completion rate, 4.0 YPA and had four interceptions.
While they did a good job of it against the Texans, pass blocking has been an issue for the Chiefs offensive line this season. As a unit they have a Pass Blocking Efficiency of 75.2, eighth-lowest in the NFL. Despite J.J. Watt missing half of the game, the Chiefs allowed pressure on 30 percent of Alex Smith’s dropbacks. LT Eric Fisher (50.8 player grade) allowed a sack and two hurries, for a team-low -2.3 pass block grade.
The Chiefs pass rush needs to hope that they have OLB’s Justin Houston and Tamba Hali at full-strength, because aside from those two they’ve had issues there. Houston and Hali combined for a ridiculous 39 percent of all Kansas City’s QB pressures this season. Not one other front-seven player finished with a pass rush grade above +1.0 this season.
TE Travis Kelce (73.3): With either a limited or not present Maclin, the Chiefs’ passing offense will need to rely a lot more on Kelce and his 85.2 receiving grade this game. His 1.83 yards per route run ranked fifth among TE’s this season.
New England Patriots
QB Tom Brady (92.9 player grade). TE Rob Gronkowski (96.4). Pretty obvious, but these two continue to dominate the league. Brady was our second-highest graded QB in the league this season, and his 77.7 accuracy percentage was a top-five number. Gronkowski, as usual, was our highest graded tight end and had the second-highest yards per route run at 2.31.
The Patriots secondary has been a strong point this season, particularly in pass coverage. Everyone talks about CB Malcolm Butler (81.3) and his top-15 coverage grade, and rightfully so. But it’s the safety trio of Patrick Chung (85.3), Devin McCourty (83.6) and Duron Harmon (78.0) that deserves much of the credit. All three of them have coverage grades greater than 82, which puts them all in the top-12 among safeties in coverage.
This is a no-brainer. The Patriots’ offensive line has been abysmal at times this season, thanks to both injuries and poor play. Only G Josh Kline (79.9) finished with an above average grade. Every single other lineman on their team has a grade of back-up level or lower (69.0 or below). Their overall pass blocking efficiency of 74.5 is the seventh-lowest in the NFL, and only one team has allowed more pressures than their 221 against.
There are not a lot of big weaknesses on the Patriots defense, but one of them would be their pass rush on non-passing downs. They get lots of pressure when they put in their pass rush specialists, but in their base defense only DE Chandler Jones (76.4 pass rush grade) is a real threat as a pass rusher. DE Rob Ninkovich has struggled this year (47.4) and DT’s Alan Branch (71.2) and Malcolm Brown (63.2) have been average or below.
WR Julian Edelman (86.9): Before his injury, Edelman ranked in the top 10 among receivers in overall grade (+11.5), receptions (61), touchdowns (7), missed tackles forced (15) and yards after catch (315). When he’s healthy, he changes the Patriots’ offense like nobody other than Brady and Gronkowski.
Matchups to watch
HB Spencer Ware (78.1) vs. LB Jamie Collins (91.3): Collins was our fourth-highest graded linebacker this season, and was very strong against the run (88.0 grade). He finished the year with a top-level run stop percentage of 9.7. Ware has forced 16 missed tackles since he started getting a starter’s share of carries in Week 11, and no back has averaged more yards after contact/attempt than his 3.91.
RT Marcus Cannon (40.1) vs. OLB Justin Houston (92.4): Even if Houston isn’t at full strength, there might not be a bigger on-paper mismatch than this one. Cannon is one of the lowest graded tackles in the NFL, and has allowed 31 pressures in only nine and a half games. Houston finished with 57 total pressures and a pass rushing productivity score of 15.3, second best among edge rushers.
Paths to Victory
Kansas City can win if: They can get their run game going with both Ware and Smith and open up the play action game to Kelce, and if their secondary can cover long enough for their pass rush to inevitably get to Brady
New England can win if: Their receivers can get open quickly enough for Brady to get the ball into their hands and take pressure off a struggling offensive line, and if they can shut down the run game and force Alex Smith to beat them with his arm.
Thanks to the support from the Ohio Film Office.