The New England Patriots went into last winter’s AFC Championship Game with an unexpected coverage plan for the Kansas City Chiefs.
Most of it was effective in the 37-31 win, though some things had to be tweaked in the second half. The Patriots began the playoff game with cornerback Jonathan Jones, with help from safety Devin McCourty, covering Tyreek Hill. Cornerback Stephon Gilmore covered Sammy Watkins, cornerback JC Jackson took on tight end Travis Kelce, and cornerback Jason McCourty shadowed Chris Conley.
Jackson let up a touchdown to Kelce midway through the third quarter, so the Patriots adjusted. Gilmore moved over to Kelce, while Jackson took on Watkins.
Overall, Jackson allowed two catches on three targets for 50 yards to Watkins and one catch on three targets for the 12-yard touchdown to Kelce.
Gilmore let up one 54-yard catch on three targets to Watkins and didn’t allow a reception on one target to Kelce.
Jones didn’t allow a catch on two targets with a pass breakup over Hill. Jason McCourty didn’t allow a catch on one target with a pass breakup over Conley. Cornerback Keion Crossen, who was traded to the Houston Texans in the summer, allowed a 42-yard catch to Hill.
Conley left the Chiefs to go to the Jacksonville Jaguars, and Demarcus Robinson has emerged as the No. 3 receiver in Kansas City’s offense. The Chiefs also have added rookie speedster Mecole Hardman.
So, how should the Patriots handle Kansas City on Sunday in the AFC Championship Game rematch? If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. So, it seems Jones and Devin McCourty should team up to take out Hill again this week. Gilmore performed well in limited time against Philadelphia Eagles tight end Zach Ertz this season, so it would make sense to have Gilmore take on Kelce in at least a limited role. Kelce is the Chiefs’ top receiver this season, and though he is a tight end, he’s essentially used as a big receiver. Gilmore seems to have the technique of covering a bigger, slower target down pat.
That would likely leave Jackson on Watkins, and Jason McCourty, if healthy, on Demarcus Robinson. When Hardman comes into the game, the Patriots could shift and have Jackson cover the speedy rookie. All of this would free up safety Patrick Chung to cover Chiefs running backs LeSean McCoy, Damien Williams, Darrell Williams and Darwin Thompson, all of whom have receiving skills.
The Chiefs haven’t been quite as high-powered this season as they were in 2018, averaging 6.3 yards per play to last year’s 6.8. Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes is on pace for 28 touchdowns in 14 games this season after throwing 50 touchdowns last year.
But the Chiefs’ offense still is dangerous, and the Patriots’ defense will have to be at its best to slow it down.