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The Patriots Should Crush Kansas City's Defense

Kansas City Chiefs v New England Patriots

I have more than a healthy respect for the Chiefs offense. I have an unhealthy respect. An irrational, debilitating, primordial phobia deep down in my amygdala that’s kicking in my fight-or-flight response. Mostly flight. So much so that by Sunday I’ll probably blindfold my family and put us in a rowboat to avoid the unseen terror emerging from the Arrowhead locker room. I am afraid of Andy Reid more than any fat man since that Santa at the St. Francis Christmas Bazaar when I was four.

The Chiefs defense is another story. They are the reason I like the Patriots chances. Even more than I did against the Chargers, as odd at that sounds in retrospect.

One of the under-talked-about aspects of these playoffs is that the Patriots have the best defense left in the NFL’s January Madness Final Four. And really, it’s not even close. They were 7th in the league in Points Allowed. Had the 7th lowest Passer Rating Against. The Rams forced three more Turnovers and had the same number of Interceptions. But on the whole, the playoff defenses that ranked higher than New England’s in most categories, Chicago, Baltimore, Houston and Dallas, are all eliminated. Here’s where the Chiefs ranked in a few key stats:

–Points Allowed: 24th
–Yards Allowed: 31st
–Rushing Yards Allowed: 31st
–Yards Per Attempt: 31st
–Rushing Touchdowns Allowed: 30th
–Passing Touchdowns Allowed: 24th
–Passer Rating Against: 12th
–Interception Percentage: 17th

What’s most surprising about that are the rushing totals, given how often they were playing with huge leads and opponents were forced to throw. But when you wanted to run on them, you could. And this year we’ve seen the Patriots commit to the run and do it effectively, finishing 5th in the league, with 127.3 Yards Per Game. Even more so since about Thanksgiving, with rushing totals of 215, 160, 273 and 131. Then last week, they more or less pinned the Chargers to the ground, grabbed them by the wrists and did the “Why are you hitting yourself, huh? Stop hitting yourself!” thing, with 155 yards and 3 touchdowns by Sony Michel. Which is important because of this:

The only loss coming in 2004, at 2-11 Miami in which Tom Brady threw four interceptions to squander Corey Dillon’s 121-yard night.

But against the Chiefs, it’s about more than just running the ball. Defensive coordinator Bob Sutton plays Reid’s usual 3-4 man coverage base defense and rarely mixes it up. I know the book on throwing stop sticks in front of the Pats offense is to jam the receivers and rush Brady up the middle. But that didn’t work especially well when they met in October. The offense gave Ryan Allen the night off. They had 12 possessions. The scored on nine of them. With four touchdowns and five field goals. One was a turnover on downs at the KC 40. The half ended one. And the other was a strip sack of Brady by Breeland Speaks. Other than that, Brady put up a non-cliff like 24-for-35, 340 line. Here’s what I wrote in that week’s Knee Jerk Reactions:

–For the Patriots offensively, it was all about the Chiefs not being able to get off blocks in the run game, not being able to beat Brady’s protection and simply not having the athletes to slow down any of his receivers. They did what Andy Reid’s defenses always do: Play a base 3-4 with man coverage behind it. (Even in goal line situations, like Brady’s touchdown when they doubled three receivers instead of playing zone so he had an opening to run through.) Without Justin Houston, who plays his best against New England and Eric Berry, who plays his best against everybody, they were simply over matched because the Pats offense had a better athlete at almost every position than the defender they were lined up against.

About getting Houston back, there’s been a lot of talk about how improved the Chiefs are since he got back in the lineup. And while I’ll concede he’s been impressive as hell since coming back in Week 10 with eight sacks and three forced fumbles, the team has also given up point totals of 54 (the historic Rams game), 33 (to the goddamned Raiders), 24 (Baltimore), 29 (Chargers) and 38 (Seattle). So if he’s been a huge difference maker, it hasn’t been enough to carry the defense.

Looking strictly at Kansas City’s pass coverage, the Patriots are a matchup nightmare for them. Consider what James White can do to Anthony Hitchens:

… Julian Edelman and Chris Hogan to their slot guy, Kendall Fuller:

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… and Gronk to everybody, as his three catches on five targets for 97 yards showed in Week 6:

So while as a team they are legitimately road underdogs in a sometimes brutal stadium, there’s more than enough reason to think the Patriots will be able to outscore even the best offense in the league. With power running like they’ve been doing more of as the season’s progressed. By being more physical with James Develin, Gronk, Dwayne Allen and the entire O-line blocking better than we’ve seen in years. Creating mismatches in the passing game. And getting more production from the best postseason winner ever, who’s conducting himself like a pissed off rage monster out to teabag the world. I’m feeling good, Louis. I’m feeling good.

Feeling good