The New England Patriots’ Monday night matchup against the Kansas City Chiefs serves as the perfect test for an untested and unimpressive 2-1 team.
The Patriots’ defense broke out in Week 2 against the Minnesota Vikings, but a too-close 16-9 home win over the Oakland Raiders in Week 3 looks even worse after the Miami Dolphins trounced the AFC West doormats 38-14 on neutral turf Sunday. The Chiefs aren’t as good as last season’s 11-5 record might suggest, but they’re a greater test than the Vikings or Raiders, and they have a dangerous pass rush that will constantly challenge a struggling Patriots offensive line.
Giving quarterback Tom Brady time to throw should be among the Patriots’ top concerns on Monday night. Check out what the Patriots will need to do to beat the Chiefs in Week 4:
PROTECTING TOM BRADY
Brady is used to playing with one of the top offensive lines in the NFL, and his numbers have dropped over the past two seasons as his line’s play has diminished. All-Pro guard Logan Mankins’ departure will hang over the Patriots’ head until the team finds suitable replacements along the interior offensive line.
Jordan Devey has started the first three games of the season at right guard, but after he was benched in the fourth quarter of Week 3’s win over the Raiders, it would make sense to start either rookie Bryan Stork or veteran Ryan Wendell, moving center Dan Connolly to guard. Left guard Marcus Cannon has struggled as well, and soon it might make sense for the Patriots to see what they have in Josh Kline.
The interior line will be tested by nose tackle Dontari Poe, while tackles Nate Solder and Sebastian Vollmer are tasked to stop outside linebackers, and sack machines, Justin Houston and Tamba Hali.
The offensive line will have to solidify against the Chiefs, because if Brady doesn’t have time to throw, there’s a very good chance the Patriots could lose this game.
LIMITING EXPLOSIVE PLAYS
The Chiefs’ offense is slightly held back by game-manager quarterback Alex Smith, but they have 13 plays of over 20 yards this season, thanks to some explosive playmakers. Running backs Jamaal Charles, who’s nursing an ankle injury, and Knile Davis are threats to go to the house every time they touch the ball.
The Patriots have been fantastic at limiting big plays this season, and that will have to continue in Week 4. Safety Devin McCourty is key to stopping plays of over 20 yards, since he hangs back at free safety on the majority of defense snaps.
The Patriots placed starting nose tackle Sealver Siliga on injured reserve this week, so Chris Jones, Joe Vellano and Dominique Easley will have to step up in his place. Three players are not as stout against the run as the 325-pound Siliga.
FINDING AN OFFENSIVE RHYTHM
The Patriots’ offense has been unusually stagnant in three weeks so far, and while the offensive line is chiefly to blame, there are many other elements to blame. Tight end Rob Gronkowski still isn’t 100 percent, running backs Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen are having trouble avoiding tacklers and the Patriots haven’t decided on a No. 2 starting wide receiver between Brandon LaFell, Danny Amendola, Kenbrell Thompkins and Aaron Dobson.
LaFell has received the second most snaps among Patriots receivers so far, and it might be time to see what LaFell can do as an every-snap skill-position player. The Patriots are openly admitting they can’t find a rhythm, so it makes little sense to keep rotating different receivers into the offense.
I predict the Patriots will win on Monday, but their offense will need to click to get it done on the road in a difficult environment at Arrowhead Stadium.