Bill Belichick shared his thoughts on the Kansas City Chiefs during his Tuesday morning video conference. Using the coach’s words as springboards, let’s take a closer look at the New England Patriots’ Week 4 opponent.
“Another impressive performance, like usual.”
One of the most highly anticipated games on the NFL calendar wound up being a relatively one-sided affair. The Chiefs battered the Baltimore Ravens on Monday night, racing out to a 27-10 halftime lead (despite missing an extra point and a field goal) en route to a 34-20 road victory.
Quarterback Patrick Mahomes threw four touchdowns passes and ran for another, with four of those scores coming in the first half. Kansas City’s defense limited reigning NFL MVP Lamar Jackson to 97 passing yards and sacked him four times. Head coach Andy Reid and offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy put Baltimore’s D on skates with a dizzying array of motions, formations and misdirections (more on that below).
Two second-half turnovers allowed the Ravens — who steamrolled the Cleveland Browns and Houston Texans in Weeks 1 and 2 — to pull within seven early the fourth quarter, but the Chiefs responded with a nearly seven-minute touchdown drive that effectively put the game away.
As Belichick noted, it was an extremely impressive performance by the defending Super Bowl champs, who now sit at 3-0 on the season.
“All the superlatives that have been said about him, I?d just be repeating them all.”
Though his accuracy dipped during an overtime win over the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 2, Mahomes has largely been phenomenal this season, completing 67.8 percent of his passes for 898 yards and nine touchdowns with zero interceptions.
Against Baltimore, he delivered several of his patented “wow” throws, including a 49-yard touchdown heave to Mecole Hardman that traveled 55 yards in the air …
… and this perfectly placed strike to Tyreek Hill in the end zone:
Mahomes finished with 385 passing yards and a 133.5 passer rating against a Ravens defense that had entered the game ranked third in DVOA. His 92.3 QBR through three weeks leads all quarterbacks.
“They can out-leverage you in a hurry, and once they get behind you, there?s not too many guys on that offense that you can catch.”
Speed, speed and more speed. That’s what defines this Chiefs receiving corps. Hill ran a 4.29-second 40-yard dash. Hardman ran a 4.33. Sammy Watkins ran a 4.43.
With burners at wideout and a precise, strong-armed, aggressive QB in Mahomes behind center, Kansas City’s offense is a threat to score instantly from anywhere on the field. In their three meetings with the Patriots since Mahomes took over in 2018, the Chiefs have tallied 17 plays of 20-plus yards, eight plays of 30-plus yards and 48-, 67- and 75-yard touchdowns.
“They have five good receivers out there on almost every play. It?s hard to match up with two, three or four of them. But they?ve got five and a great quarterback and a great offensive system.”
Belichick often has referred to Travis Kelce, the Chiefs’ star tight end, as a receiver. The perennial Pro Bowler has surpassed 1,000 receiving yards in each of the past five seasons and is on pace to reach that mark again this year, tallying 227 on 21 catches with two touchdowns through three games.
The Patriots’ coverage strategy against Kelce has varied by game. In the 2018 AFC Championship, cornerback J.C. Jackson shadowed him for the first three quarters before giving way to Stephon Gilmore. Last year, Kelce mostly saw safeties Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung.
An “all hands on deck” approach worked last week against another standout tight end, Darren Waller, with a rotating cast of defensive backs led by Joejuan Williams and Kyle Dugger holding him to two catches for 9 yards.
Waller, though, was by far the Las Vegas Raiders’ most dangerous receiving threat. Kelce is just one cog in Kansas City’s formidable offensive machine.
“I think the way that they spread the ball around is obviously a problem.”
How’s this for a balanced passing game: Kelce, Hill, Hardman, Watkins and rookie running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire all tallied between 62 and 87 receiving yards Monday night. All five caught between four and seven passes and saw at least six targets.
Edwards-Helaire was the Chiefs’ most notable offseason addition, and the first-round draft pick (32nd overall) is off to a superb start, registering more than 130 yards from scrimmage in two of his first three NFL games.
Mahomes’ touchdown passes against the Ravens went to four different players, including one to fullback Anthony Sherman and another to left tackle Eric Fisher.
“I think Andy continually comes up with little wrinkles here and there. You expect that a couple plays a game, but that?s not really the core of what they do.”
On Monday, those wrinkles included an underhanded shovel-pass touchdown to a fullback, a touchdown pass to an offensive lineman, a Wildcat reverse throwback, a tight end middle screen off of two fake running back screens, a quadruple stack formation, a play-action end-around pitch and various forms of pre-snap motion, much of it involving Hill.
Not every Chiefs game plan includes quite that many gadget-type plays, but they did burn the Patriots with one last year: a direct-snap touchdown to Kelce.
Kansas City consistently ranks near the top of the NFL in pre-snap motion usage. Communication will be especially important this week for a New England defense that’s been forced to replace roughly half of its 2019 starters.
“We know we?re going to have our work cut out for us in Kansas City. It?s a championship football team, and we?re going to have to play our best game and coach it.”
The first two Patriots vs. Mahomes matchups were barnburners, with New England winning 43-40 in October 2018 and 37-31 in overtime in that year’s AFC title game. In both of those games, the Chiefs’ offense started slowly before exploding after halftime, with 62 of their 71 total points coming in the final two quarters.
Last year’s meeting followed a different script.
With the exception of the long bomb to Hardman, New England’s defense successfully stifled Mahomes and Co., holding Kansas City to just three points in the second half and two touchdowns overall. The Chiefs won 23-16 in a game best remembered for N’Keal Harry’s incorrectly disallowed fourth-quarter touchdown.
The 23 points New England allowed are tied for the second-fewest any Kansas City opponent has surrendered during Mahomes’ starting tenure. Can the Patriots’ new-look defense replicate that success on Sunday?