Better to Catch the Chiefs on an Off Day
By John MacKenna, Patriots Insider
Just as the Patriots find ways to win, the Chiefs find ways to lose. Consider each team's last road game. Two weeks ago, the Pats overcame the loss of their top three cornerbacks and pulled out a 40-22 win in St. Louis. New England used a determined pass rush to protect their vulnerable backfield, and Kicker Adam Vinatieri threw a touchdown pass on a fake field goal play.
The Chiefs traveled to New Orleans last week without their superstar running back, Priest Holmes. Backup Derrick Blaylock stepped in and carried 33 times for 186 yards, and Quarterback Trent Green completed 22 of 33 passes for 311 yards. But the Chiefs made the least of those opportunities and scored only two touchdowns. The Saints escaped with a 27-20 victory.
The Chiefs lost in New Orleans because they turned the ball over four times and committed 12 penalties for 94 yards. The goat was receiver Johnnie Morton, who killed one drive by fumbling at the Saints' 5-yard line and another by falling down on a deep route and allowing a New Orleans interception.
Week in, week out, the Chiefs post great numbers everywhere except in the standings.
After back-to-back road losses the last two weeks, they stand at 3-6. Since
starting the 2003 season with nine straight wins, the Chiefs are 7-9.
"People want to say we're a bad and awful team," said return man Dante Hall, who had a 63-yard kickoff return last week. "We're not a bad and awful team. We're just making bad and awful mistakes."
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick yesterday expressed a lot of respect for the Chiefs. "This year, they are 3-6 and offensively they are better in every area," he said. "You look at the penalties. You look at a couple of turnovers and this team is very close to being where it is last year, record wise. On the field they might actually be a little bit better."
On those days when they put it all together, the Chief are dominant. The Atlanta Falcons brought their 5-1 record to Arrowhead Stadium on Oct. 24 and had their heads handed to them in a 56-10 loss. The Chiefs ran for eight touchdowns, including five in the first half.
The Kansas City numbers were staggering that day: 540 yards total offense, 271 yards rushing, 36 first downs, 38:54 time of possession. Holmes ran for 139 yards and four TDs. Blaylock also had four TDs to go with his 90 yards. Green completed 20 of 27 passes for 269 yards.
"This is really a dynamic team," Belichick said yesterday, "They are very dangerous. You look at a game like Atlanta, who is a very good football team, and they just totally crushed them."
The next week, the Chiefs knocked off Indianapolis 45-35, giving them 101 points in their last two games at Arrowhead.
Should the Chiefs get on that sort of offensive roll on Monday night, the Patriots are in trouble. This game is no gimme for New England. Arrowhead Stadium is one of the NFL's toughest venues. The fans take pride in causing delay-of-game and false-start penalties with their deafening roar.
The Chiefs have the NFL's top rushing attack, which gains an average of 164.2 yards. They also lead the league in total yardage with an average of 422.1 yards and are third in scoring at 26.4 points a game.
The key to the Kansas City attack is the powerful offensive line. Left tackle Willie Roaf and right guard Will Shields are both perennial Pro Bowlers. Left guard Brian Waters and center Casey Wiegmann are also outstanding. Wiegmann is the smallest at 6'2", 285. Waters is 6'3", 318, and the others are larger still.
"They have a great offensive line," Belichick said. "You are definitely talking about three Pro-Bowlers up there and maybe more than that in terms of, we will see what eventual awards those guys bring in, Roaf, Waters, Shields, they are outstanding. Not good, they are outstanding on the offensive line."
The Patriots will catch a break if Holmes, who is doubtful with a knee injury, sits this one out, but Blaylock showed last week that he too can do the job.
Aside from Morton's miscues last week, the Kansas City receivers have played well lately. TE Tony Gonzalez has come on in the last three weeks with 23 catches for 319 yards. WR Eddie Kennison has 18 catches for 274 yards over the same span, while Morton has added 15 catches for 197 yards.
At 34, Green is an experienced passer who is adept at reading defenses and finding the open man. He is completing 67 percent of his passes with 13 touchdowns and 8 interceptions.
"It seems like every other play is about a 20-yard gain," Belichick said. "They throw it deep. They throw it short. They run it inside. They run it outside. They run draws. They run screens. They run reverses. They run straight handoffs. Whatever they run looks like a good play."
It would be nice if the Patriots could reproduce their performance in St. Louis, when they protected their weakened defensive backfield by putting heavy pressure on Rams QB Marc Bulger, often when rushing only four men.
The Chiefs' linemen should be able to buy Green more time than Bulger got, which would force the Patriots to gamble, either by bringing more rushers or by giving Green the extra time and hoping the DBs can maintain coverage.
Given the strength of the Chiefs' run game, New England will be tempted to keep its linebackers and even strong safety Rodney Harrison in the box, leaving CBs Randall Gay and Earthwind Moreland in man coverage, where they will likely get burned a few times.
Blaylock is undersized at 5'9", 210, but he is fast and hits the hole hard. The Patriots down linemen need to command the attention of the Chiefs lineman to keep them off the linebackers and stop Blaylock from getting into the secondary. Patriots DT Ty Warren has played well in the last two games. The Patriots need him to hold his own against Chief RT John Welbourn.
On offense, the Patriots should be able to move the ball well. The Chiefs' defense is among the league's worst, allowing an average of 352.3 yards and 26.4 points. Patriots RB Corey Dillon did most of damage outside the tackles last week against Buffalo. Against the Chiefs, he should find holes up the middle as well.
Last week, Saints QB Aaron Brooks and WR Joe Horn connected on passes of 57, 42 and 40 yards against the Chiefs. Look for QB Tom Brady to throw some long balls toward WRs David Givens and David Patten, and even Deion Branch, should he return from his knee injury. RB Kevin Faulk and TE Daniel Graham should get open underneath.
"I think you have to be careful about being over-aggressive and losing the ball," said Belichick. "We have had problems turning the ball over offensively. We have given up a couple touchdowns in the last couple weeks."
The Chiefs can bring some pressure. They have 22 sacks, led by DE Jared Allen and LB Scott Fujita with four apiece. But the Chiefs are hardly opportunistic on defense. They have picked off nine passes but recovered only one fumble on defense.
Considering what the Chiefs did to the Falcons and Colts at Arrowhead, the
Patriots will have their hands full. They need to find a way to win and hope
that the Chiefs once again find a way to lose.
John is a regular contributor to the Patriots Insider. You can find him in the forums under the name: oldnslow. You can also find archives of his columns on the Insiders by searching for "John MacKenna"
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