Tom Brady completed just 14 passes. He failed to eclipse 160 yards, threw two interceptions (including a pick-six) and ended the game with a QBR of 22.2.
It was one of Brady's worst games in recent memory. And it culminated in the Patriots worst loss this decade. But how the Patriots lost, and more importantly how the Chiefs won should strike fear throughout New England.
Granted the loss occurred over 15 months ago, but the Chiefs "winning formula"-as Brady referred to it on his Monday interview with WEEI- hasn’t aged a day since that very faithful Monday Night in 2014.
Hoping history doesn’t repeat itself will no doubt be on the mind of every Patriot fan come Saturday. But what should be on the mind of Belichick and Brady? McDaniels and Patricia?
Here are five keys to containing Kansas City
Efficient Crossing Routes
To say New England's O-line is decimated would be putting it lightly. Luckily, Sebastian Vollmer will play Saturday but if the game comes down to the patchwork protection around Brady the Pats are in trouble. To neutralize KC, New England must rely on quick, crossing routes which get the ball out of Brady's hands and have a high percentage of completion. In last year’s Super Bowl- the Pats were unable to stop All-Pro Michael Bennett from getting to the Quarterback. They instead combatted the pass rush with quick cutting and rub routes by Amendola and Edelman (who will play Saturday). Not only did this keep the Pats from taking negative plays, it proved the ideal weapon against the superior size and “pressed man-to-man” of the Seattle secondary. Inside the numbers, the Hawks were unable to lock into their imposing man-to-man scheme. The chaos of crossing routes preventing The Legion of Boom from using their physicality to chuck Pats playmakers off the ball or spy Brady's eyes from the “centerfield” safety spot. The same goes for KC. Eric Barry is both imposing on the Chiefs back line and a ball hawk. Where as their secondary thrives of turnovers caused by their DB’s pressing style of man coverage and inside zone disguise.
However (like in Glendale) the cutting routes will keep the pressure on the DB’s who must now account for conflicting, often confusing coverage assignments. The Chiefs are tops in the league at defending inside the numbers- tallying 18 interceptions while allowing just 3 touchdowns. And Marcus Peters- the rookie corner with 8 picks on the year- will likely matchup up with Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola lined up in the slot. Incorporating Edelman is a necessity for New England and utilizing rub routes (which Danny Amendola is exceptional at executing) could be just the thing to spring #11 in man to man outside, while helping the duo find pockets in the inside zone.
How do you neutralize the tanks on KC's d-line? Keep them from any water breaks. The Pats must employ the up-tempo and thereby exhaust a KC pass rush who've recorded 47 sacks on the year and whose pressure has forced 22 interceptions. The combination of Justin Houston, Tamba Hali, and Jaye Howard can give the Pats nightmares- however if New England can keep those lineman's hands on their hips and off Brady- the Pats could have KC in disarray defensively and subsequently scrambling to play catchup on the score line. Leading into the next key to victory…
Prevent the Chiefs from "playing possession”
KC’s offense isn’t adept to play from behind. Thriving off the turnovers created by their defense- the Chiefs win when they dominate the TOP or time of possession while capitalizing on a short field. If QB Alex Smith can keep Kansas City methodical, they not only keep Brady on the sideline but force the Pats to play KC football- i.e. A low-scoring slugfest. Matt Patricia cannot allow the Chiefs to chew the clock.
Win 3rd down
It sounds simple but the stakes are raised when the visitors rank 2nd in getting off the field on third down.
If the Pats O continues to be prone to 3-and-outs, New England once again falls into the Chiefs trap. Andy Reid will happily take the ball in good field position, shaving minutes upon minutes off the clock, even if it ultimately only amounts in three points. Again a field position/time of possession game favors Kansas City.
But New England is no push over on 3rd-down either. Ranking 11th in the league in 3rd-down stops, the Pats can flip the script with solid containment of Alex Smith who is prone to scamper for late-down conversions. New England's must adopt a similar approach to the one they maintained against Seattle last February, containing Russell Wilson on the edges and not allowing him to extend plays. Smith’s athleticism and arm strength are both vastly underrated and if he can keep plays llive it allows the speed of Jeremy Maclin (questionable for Sunday) and size of Travis Kelce to make an even bigger play down the field.
Offensively, the return of Julian Edelman (with his counterpart Danny Amendola healthy) could prove the Patriots 3rd-down difference maker. Each of them having tallied eleven 3rd-down conversions on the season.
No Big Plays
Like New England, Kansas City has a soft spot for the short, high-percentage routes. In four postseason outings, Alex Smith has thrown only one interception- partly due to his choice to check-down and allow his athletes to go to work.
New England cannot allow this. Travis Kelce- a poor man’s Rob Gronkowski- proves to have the greatest big play potential outside of Jeremy Maclin. His size and speed make him tough to bring down, and his ability to create separation often demand a double-team.
And double-team the Pats should. Even if matched against Jamie Collins or Patrick Chung (a likely go for Sunday) Kelce still has the strength to break the tackle. Having safety help over the top is an investment worth making for a defense prone to giving up the big one.
By Cam Melllin