KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The Chiefs head into a hostile environment Sunday night, a place that hasn't forgotten the loss they handed to the home team last season.
Andy Reid and Alex Smith out-dueled Bill Belichick and Tom Brady in their house with a 42-27 win on opening night.
Flip the page to a season later and the Chiefs come in to Gillette Stadium with the fifth-ranked offense in the NFL and second overall in points scored at 175.
The game is another opportunity for the fifth time in six games to make a statement to the national media and the rest of the NFL.
Patrick Mahomes outshining Tom Brady would start to turn even more heads about the legitimacy of this Chiefs team as a contender. The two biggest obstacles standing in their way don't even play on the field. Belichick and football research director Ernie Adams are the two that will likely have something cooked up to slow down the Chiefs offense.
Here's what shows up on tape:
1. Know where #28 James White is at all times
Running back James White will be the key factor in this game. He is the matchup nightmare the Patriots will try to isolate against the Chiefs linebackers in coverage. This is a matchup offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and Brady will exploit and win more times than not. White is faster than Broncos running back Phillip Lindsay and can gash the Chiefs in both the run and pass.
He can have a massive night against the defense if they don't show him the proper respect for his talents. Rookie running back Sony Michel is their change of pace back. He isn't as explosive as White but he does like to run iso and off tackle but needs more time to reach his top-end speed.
2. Pick your spots with Brady but mix the coverage
Brady is starting to lose more zip on his fastball each week and needs between two and three hops to load up for the deep ball over 25-yards. His accuracy is beginning to decline outside the numbers and his deep balls are consistently starting to be under thrown. Brady can still hit a receiver on point inside the numbers at the 15-yard range but his decline from the Super Bowl to this season is noticeable.
He is also starting to shy away from hits more and not following through on some of his throws. Brady is protecting himself more now and avoiding contact any chance he can. The weakness in the offensive line's pass protection is the guard combination. Center #60 David Andrews is having to help left guard #62 Joe Thuney. Kansas City can run twist and loops at their A gaps and force Brady to throw before he is ready. The nickel blitz is also there off the edge but it has to be blended with zone coverage to avoid exposure.
Zone coverage will force Brady to maintain his accuracy throughout the game but they will need to disrupt his timing with his safety blanket #11 Julian Edelman and be prepared for the left guard pulling on play-action to draw the inside linebackers up so #87 Rob Gronkowksi can run a crossing route over the middle. Gronkowski appeared to deal with an ankle injury during the Patriots matchup against the Colts that limited him to play-action passes and seam routes. Brady is typically looking for Edelman, Gronkowski, White, #13 Phillip Dorsett and #15 Chris Hogan in that order.
3. Expect the delayed blitz and a surprise of zone coverage and a spy on Mahomes
The Patriots will likely bring delayed blitzes off the edge or at the guards of the Chiefs. Belichick will likely also want to contain Mahomes in the pocket. One of the ways that can be done is a defender spying Mahomes and moving with him rather than dedicated to coverage. He likely wants to force Mahomes to throw into tight windows with zone coverage and jump some of the routes that appear open just like the Jaguars did with their interception off of zone coverage. The Jaguars dropped a defensive lineman in zone coverage to take away a seam or crossing route they anticipated coming. The Patriots will likely try that at certain points in the game. The Chiefs best response will be to flood the zone coverages with route combinations that create spacing and rub routes that create huge potential for yards after catch.
4. Use 12 personnel to stretch the blocking angles out against the Patriots
New England's defense struggles against the two tight end set, especially if the tight ends are both on the same side. The Chiefs could utilize this with a combination of Travis Kelce and Demetrius Harris or even Anthony Sherman as essentially the second tight end. The Patriots have been gashed repeatedly with this on stretch runs, cutbacks, pitches and a toss might even be there for the taking. Kareem Hunt could find some running success early with this weakness.
5. The cutback lanes
The Patriots have some discipline issues in their cutback lanes. They also lack the speed to make up for it like the Jaguars can. The Chiefs can utilize ghost motion, stretch runs, counters and pitch plays to stretch the Patriots defense out and cutback off of it. Once they have established this, they can blend in some play-action passes and bootlegs off of it. The Patriots also crash hard on run/pass options or popularly known these days as RPOs.
6. Find #25 Eric Rowe
The Patriots weak link in their secondary right now is Eric Rowe. He struggles with speed on vertical routes and double moves. He can't keep up with them and is typically in trail. There is an opportunity to use both Sammy Watkins and Tyreek Hill speed against him and isolate his matchup. The Patriots try to give safety help when they can but if there is single high or the safeties are distracted he can be burned. Especially on rub routes inside the ten. The Patriots also struggle with deep crossing routes and passing those off in their zones.
This matchup has the potential to be a high scoring affair with both offenses exploiting the weaknesses of each other's defense. The opportunity is there for Mahomes to declare that he has arrived as the next wave of quarterback on his biggest national scale yet.
Rowe did not play against the Dolphins or Colts and was limited on Wednesday with a groin injury but if he is on the field the Chiefs should test him.
And you can catch it right here on 41 Action News with our pregame coverage starting at 5pm on Sunday.