The Kansas City Chiefs offense is not the high-powered unit that the Patriots are, but they’ll need to turn in one of their best games of the year if they want to walk out of New England with a victory.
The Chiefs defense will set the tone of the game, but it’ll be up to the offense to take advantage of turnovers and short fields. The offense must translate momentum into touchdowns. The Patriots can score quickly, so it’s vital that the Chiefs keep their foot on the pedal all game. To do so, head coach Andy Reid’s side of the ball must accomplish some, if not all, of these five keys.
Will the Chiefs be able to establish the run against a stacked box?
With the possible loss of top receiver Jeremy Maclin, the running game will be counted on more than any other time this season. They’re also dealing with more injuries to interior linemen Mitch Morse and Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, who have already been ruled out, and running back Spencer Ware, who is questionable. The offensive line will play a crucial role since New England will likely have around seven men up front on traditional running downs, making each individual block important. Designed running lanes must stay open long enough and if one gets beat there won’t be more help coming. Reid will need to get creative with the run schemes with jets to wide receiver Albert Wilson, zone reads from quarterback Alex Smith, added blocking from fullback Anthony Sherman, or even a backfield featuring Ware and running back Charcandrick West together. The Chiefs need to run the ball to set up play action and a deeper attack.
Can Alex Smith out duel quarterback Tom Brady?
This is more of a trick question, as Brady is a far superior quarterback to Smith. However, Brady has to face off against the tenacious Chiefs defense, while Smith faces an easier task. Last year when up against Brady, Smith went 20-of-26 for 248 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions. That’s not a gaudy stat line, but it outperformed Brady’s two-interception day. A safe, but efficient performance like that will be needed again. Smith must take care of the ball and finish drives off with touchdowns, and let his defense do the rest. Smith also has proven to be a dangerous runner when he escapes the pocket, a skill that Brady does not possess. If New England sits a spy over the middle that could limit that attack, but would then provide more man coverage for Smith to exploit. The Chiefs are hoping they won’t need a 350-yard, 5-touchdown day out of Smith, as a turnover free but still productive day may be just enough to top Brady.
With Maclin injured, will the Patriots take away tight end Travis Kelce?
The staple of a Bill Belichick defense is to take away a team’s top weapon and make the others beat them. That would be a tough choice if Maclin and Kelce were both healthy, but even if a hobbled Maclin plays, Kelce figures to be the better weapon. The Patriots will look to employ a similar approach that Chiefs will to stopping tight end Rob Gronkowski, and that’s slowing them at the line of scrimmage and doubling them in the end zone. They’ll also try to strip the turnover prone Kelce of the football, especially if it rains. Kelce will need to step his play up to another level to avoid the turnovers and still haul in catches despite the traffic. Reid again must be creative in Kelce’s usage, as tight end screens from an outside or jumbo package might set up deeper slants or out patterns later in the game. However it’s accomplished, it will be very hard for the Chiefs to move the ball offensively if Kelce is not involved.
Can Wilson and wide receiver Chris Conley step up?
Maclin missed one game this year against the Pittsburgh Steelers, and the results were better than one might imagine. Kelce caught five passes for 73 yards, Wilson took three catches for 61 yards, and Conley caught a team high six passes for 63 yards and one touchdown. The Patriots defense is a lot better than the Steelers, and completions won’t be as easy. That’s why what Conley and Wilson do with their opportunities will be the difference in the Chiefs passing game. They cannot afford easy drops or penalties, and they must show up in the red zone and after the catch. If they can prove that they are viable weapons in the offense, that would open up the box for the run game and take an extra safety off Kelce. Smith must trust his young receivers to make plays and even stretch the field, since both are more than capable of springing deep in the secondary. It’s a tough environment and big stage for any young player, but Wilson and Conley will be counted on to make an impact.
Can the Chiefs start fast, or will it come down to a last-minute drive?
One of the better parts of the Chiefs recent win streak, has been how fast the team has started games. They had their early season woes, but they’ve scored on their opening drive/kickoff in each of their last four wins. A start like that against New England will allow the defense to pin their ears back and be more aggressive, while it also opens up the offense’s playbook. Kansas City cannot afford to fall behind quickly, as not only does that make them one dimensional with limited weapons, they’re also fairly unproven offensively late in games. Since joining the Chiefs, Smith has never converted a game-winning touchdown drive in the final two minutes, only a game-winning field goal drive against San Diego. This does not mean he can’t do it, as Smith’s shining career moment was actually a game winning 2-minute drive against the Saints in the 2011 divisional playoffs. He has the ability and has played some of his best football of late, but it’s a still not a favorable spot for the Chiefs to be in, especially on the road in New England.
The defense may be the better side of the ball, but how the offense does in these five situations will likely determine the outcome of the game. The Chiefs have overcome a devastating injury to running back Jamaal Charles, and could be without three offensive starters, but they still have a chance to be an efficient and successful offense against the Patriots. It’ll all play out from Foxborough Saturday at 3:25 p.m. on KCTV5.
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