KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Chiefs host their first AFC Championship on Sunday and are just one win away from their third Super Bowl appearance in franchise history.
Kansas City faces arguably the definition of excellence and experience in Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots. The team makes their eighth consecutive AFC championship appearance. The Patriots understand the focus, level of execution and intensity it takes this time of year to be in this position. The Chiefs have a massive challenge in experience against them this week.
Now is the time in the year where the Patriots relentlessly attack an opponent's weakness and continue attacking it until they’ve moved on to their next game. New England is relentless and ruthless in January. The Chiefs have a massive task ahead of them but they are a Patriots victory away from getting to their ultimate goal. Here are somethings to expect and attack on Sunday.
Fight through the doubles and isolation
The Patriots will likely run the ball on a more committed basis than the Colts did last week. Indianapolis abandoned the run when the Chiefs got up by 14 and routinely ignored their biggest strength. It cost them a chance to keep the game close for four quarters.
New England likely won’t make the same mistake. Brady, Belichick and Josh McDaniels have been here before. They will likely use a tight end or bunch formations and run at Dee Ford. This will be New England’s way of tiring out Ford before he even has to pass rush in the series.
The Patriots will likely double team Chris Jones in the run to wear him down as well. The added bonus is New England would limit Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs offense’s with this strategy, as well as try to quiet the Arrowhead crowd.
Kansas City will have to split through the double teams, disengage the blockers and bring some run blitzes to discourage New England from trying this road for four quarters. This is the Chiefs biggest weakness and the Patriots won’t stop attacking it with Sony Michel, James White and Rex Burkhead until the game is over.
Jam Edelman and bracket
The Patriots passing game runs through Julian Edelman. New England utilizes him like the Chiefs use Tyreek Hill. They motion him all over the field to read the coverage an opponent is in, how they will defend him and to also get him a free release.
Edelman is a savvy route runner that understands the weak spots in coverage and where to attack for Brady to get him the ball. He will fit the voids in zone coverage to sit down in or the proper depth to run past so Brady can throw over top. Edelman is the offense’s top target and the player who routinely moves the chains.
This is a player the Chiefs need to chip or jam within five yards and not allow him to get free releases off the line of scrimmage. They may also need to utilize bracket coverage at times to make the throwing lanes tighter for Brady to get the ball to his favorite target. Edelman will still get his catches but the goal is to make Brady have the ball longer and take him out of his comfort zone.
This tactic will also allow Chris Hogan, Phillip Dorsett and Cordarelle Patterson to see more targets, but it’s worth the price to pay. Rob Gronkowski has looked sluggish this season and will still be tough to bring down in the open field but his explosiveness has diminished a great deal this season.
Another thing that Brady will likely test is the double move on Charvarius Ward. He bit multiple times in the Raiders game against Jordy Nelson. The Patriots will likely test it out with Patterson or Edelman.
Disguise and Zone
Brady has the ball out in 2.61 seconds on average this season per Next Gen stats. A team’s pass rush no matter how athletic will collectively struggle with that time.
The Patriots protection has had issues with teams disguising their blitzes and their rushes. The line can be setup to open up massive blitzing lanes but it takes a combination of zone coverage to force Brady to hold the ball and correctly timed angles to bring him to the ground.
The Chiefs don’t need to rush more than four or five but must give the illusion that they are bringing five to six. Also the Chiefs can use their wide nine rush package to attack the tackles. Left tackle Trenton Brown and right tackle Marcus Cannon can both be beat to the outside with their poor kick steps against the wide nine angles. Attack their outside shoulder and rip through.
At that point the Patriots will likely need to leave a player in to chip the edge or a back will have to force their attention to the outside and open up the A gaps. Zone coverage over the middle will be crucial in allowing those packages to work because Brady will hold the ball and pass protection makes assumptions based on the looks and slants off the defensive line.
Connect on the deep ball
Bill Belichick has 19 games worth of tape on what Patrick Mahomes prefers to do in the offense. Who he is most comfortable throwing to, the down and distance and how to make him uncomfortable in and out of the pocket.
The Patriots were able to rattle him during the first half of their last matchup. Mahomes was inaccurate at times and forced some passes that the Patriots were able to intercept. He gets into rhythm with his RPOs, bootlegs, crossing routes and short to intermediate throws.
Expect Belichick to try and take those away. He will likely have a defender dropping into zone on the slants of the Chiefs favorite play and attempt to have pressure ready on the bootlegs that help Mahomes gain confidence throwing on the run early.
Dont’a Hightower was very successful bringing pressure, chipping Travis Kelce and dropping into zone coverage. He was the difference maker in this last matchup and will likely have an impact again. The Chiefs motioned Tyreek Hill all over the field in their last matchup.
They also utilized the bunch and trips formation to limit the Patriots ability to bracket Hill and Kelce while also spacing out the coverage for Mahomes.
The Patriots struggled against deep crossing routes, so the Chiefs threw in a diagonal vertical route for Hill that lead to two touchdowns and three of the bigger plays in their previous matchup. Belichick will want to take that away but the Chiefs counter with multiple routes spaced apart attacking it or a double move off the expected route.
With Mahomes recent inaccuracy on deep passes and Hill’s heel injury that he sustained in the Ravens game, Belichick might be willing to see if they can beat him deep and take away the routine plays that keep the Chiefs offense on the field.
Isolate 52 against the running backs and account for 54
Elandon Roberts is the weak link in Patriots pass coverage. His athletic ability in coverage is below average at best. The Chiefs would benefit from isolating him in the flats against running backs and tight ends.
The running backs quickness would be too much for him to cover and lead to some easy first downs, especially option routes that engage him and force him to change direction unexpectedly.
Dont’a Hightower is the key to the Patriots defense. He is an aggressive blitzer and can cover a lot of ground quickly with a physical presence. The Chiefs will need to account for him in both run and pass blocking while Mahomes will need to keep an eye on when he is dropping into zone coverage to shut down the short and intermediate routes.
Misdirect in the run
The Patriots struggle with misdirection runs. They will likely want to bring run blitzes against the Chiefs shotgun zone runs. Kansas City will likely need to answer with toss counter runs.
The Steelers worked this to perfection and were able to account for 50+ yards on these runs. The run blocking will also need to give the Patriots some false keys.
It causes their linebackers to be hesitant and allows the offensive line to get to the second level to seal them off easier.
The Chiefs have a unique task this week. They are playing against one of the most experienced tandems this time of year. Brady and Belichick are accustomed to this type of pressure, intensity and ruthlessness needed this time of year. They make minimal mistakes and are well prepared for most situations.
This week will take the Chiefs most focused and passionate performance of the season as well as a few surprises to topple Belichick and Brady. Kansas City can not have the mental lapses in missed assignments, false starts, holds or a drop in intensity. The opportunity they have spent their careers training for is right in front of them and they can’t let missed plays on the field haunt them again or it will be a long off-season wondering what if.
Nick Jacobs can be found on Twitter: @Jacobs71 and can also be heard on the 4th and 1 podcast brought to you by 41 Action News. 4th and 1 is available on iTunes , Google Play and TuneIn . You can check out all the 41 Action News podcasts here .
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