The Kansas City Chiefs already had a head start on the New England Patriots after they embarrassed the Houston Texans 30-0 Saturday.
The Texans, head coached by former Patriots coordinator Bill O’Brien, run New England’s offensive system. So the Chiefs essentially are on their second week now preparing for the Patriots’ offense. We’ll find out just how much this matters Saturday at 4:35 p.m., when the AFC Division Playoff game kicks off at to Gillette Stadium.
The Patriots, quite obviously, are much more talented than the Texans. To compare Tom Brady to Brian Hoyer would be unfair to the latter and downright insulting to the former if the two quarterbacks weren’t such great friends. The Patriots don’t have a DeAndre Hopkins, but the Texans don’t have a Rob Gronkowski or a Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola or even James White.
The Patriots also were able to watch how Kansas City matched up against a similar offense. So, any advantage the Chiefs gained by already studying the Texans was made even when the Patriots checked the film Sunday. The Chiefs had great success against the Texans’ offense, however, forcing five turnovers and allowing just 226 total yards. They let up 112 yards through the air and 114 yards on the ground, including a 49-yard run.
The Chiefs have an 11-game winning streak, so as Patriots head coach Bill Belichick already noted this week, there’s no recent blueprint to beat Kansas City.
The Patriots likely won’t put up gaudy numbers in the ground game, unless they’re able to rip off a long run, but they could have success through the air as long as they avoid costly turnovers.
The Texans were unable to do that. Duh.
Let’s look at the Chiefs’ takeaways Saturday:
— Hoyer had a nearly clean pocket, but still forced a poor throw into the middle of the field to Nate Washington (initially lined up outside on the right). Hoyer likely expected Chiefs safety Eric Berry to drop deeper into the field. Washington had the inside edge on cornerback Sean Smith, who gave the veteran a large cushion at the snap.
Berry is a dangerous playmaker and has the ability to play near the line of scrimmage at strong safety and deep at free safety. He could give the Patriots issues in the middle of the field and on deep passes.
— Smith (top of the screen) did a nice job of avoiding traffic as he followed Washington off the line. Athletic nose tackle Dontari Poe quickly shakes center Ben Jones with a swim move, forcing Hoyer to throw the ball aimlessly into the middle of the field, where linebacker Josh Mauga picks it off.
— The Chiefs make it difficult to throw deep, since Smith and rookie cornerback Marcus Peters are adept in off-man coverage. Brady has a tendency to overthrow receivers on deep balls, like Hoyer did on this attempt down the middle of the field to Washington that sailed right into Peters’ arms.
It might be best for the Patriots to just forget the deep ball altogether. The risk of turning the ball over grows on deeper passes, and the Chiefs’ secondary has proven to be dangerous. Peters had eight interceptions during the regular season, while safety/slot corner Ron Parker had three and Berry and Smith had two each. Brady has struggled on deep throws in the second half of the season.
— Hoyer had Hopkins open as the Chiefs dropped into a Cover-3. He just severely overthrew his star receiver, and Smith made an opportunistic play by pulling in the interception. There’s a near-zero percent chance Brady makes this throw Saturday.
The Chiefs mostly switch between Cover-1 and Cover-3, and their cornerbacks tend to play off. That might not work against the Patriots’ small and shifty receivers who do their best work over the middle of the field. The Chiefs’ big cornerbacks and safeties could make life difficult for Gronkowski, however.
— Edge rushers Justin Houston and Tamba Hali are most notable, but Poe and defensive ends Jaye Howard and Allen Bailey aren’t too shabby either. Bailey forced a fumble by bull-rushing left tackle Chris Clark into Hoyer on this play.
Houston and Hali both are banged up, but Brady still will need to get rid of the ball quickly behind a leaky offensive line.
Brady threw two interceptions and lost a fumble in the Patriots’ 41-14 loss to the Chiefs last season. One of his interceptions came on a miscommunication, and the other happened when he thought he could thread the needle over the middle of the field and couldn’t.
The Patriots’ success against the Chiefs in the divisional-round playoff game will depend on their ability to avoid turnovers. Brady has been fantastic at holding onto the ball this season, leading the NFL with a 1.1 interception percentage with just two fumbles lost. It also will be based on the offense’s capacity to flip a switch with Edelman back on the field.
The Chiefs’ offense won’t likely score many points against a stout Patriots defense, so it’s up to Brady to play it safe and advance to the AFC Championship Game.
Thumbnail photo via John Rieger/USA TODAY Sports Images