I broke down this play today on Patshow because I think it encapsulates a lot of what went wrong for the defense against the Chiefs.
At this point, it’s early in the fourth quarter and, gasp, the Patriots are WINNING! I know this fact has taken a back seat to the “Pats got blown out” hot takes, but fix the problems on first down and take away the fourth-quarter big plays and this is a game the Patriots likely win.
Let’s take a look how it broke down as we get Up Close and Personnel.
The Patriots are in a Cover 1 look with a slight twist, Duron Harmon and Eric Rowe trade off coverage of Tyreek Hill as he comes in motion from the slot at the bottom of the pic. Harmon comes flying down to the line of scrimmage, tipping to Alex Smith that both of the Patriots safeties are in man coverage, requiring Rowe to fill the deep middle for Harmon.
Here we are just after the snap. As you can see the outside corners are locked up with their wideouts. McCourty is a step behind Travis Kelce and this causes Rowe to hesitate in getting back deep. At this point it’s clear that Kelce is the best option, however there is no pass rush (we’re on first down here) so Smith stays patient, especially when he sees Rowe biting on Kelce.
The other thing to note is how Jordan Richards has been completely eliminated from doing anything by the left tackle. He’ll eventually break free but he’s essentially a wasted body on this down. At least if he had dropped he would’ve prevented Rowe from feeling the need to help on Kelce.
Cassius Marsh is in man coverage on Kareem Hunt. This is a mismatch for a number of reasons — first, Marsh had been on the team less than a week. Second, he’s now 20 yards down the field. That’s a long way to ask a defensive end to run with a linebacker. He should have some help from Kyle Van Noy, who is the middle linebacker, however Van Noy starts to slow up as if he was expecting it to turn into a scramble drill. Now, instead of having Hunt bracketed down the seam there’s just enough opening for Smith to find him.
Rowe and Van Noy can’t recover while Marsh is left in Hunt’s wake. Butler makes a valiant effort to make the tackle but it’s simply too much ground to make up.
Hunt scored, giving the Chiefs their first of three fourth-quarter scores that would bust the game wide open. As you can see, it was a little bit if everything that killed the Pats on this one. Rowe not really doing his job, Richards’ lack of noticeable impact, Van Noy giving up on the play a little too early and a newcomer getting left out on an island with a physically superior player.
But it also shows how easily fixable it all is. Really if Rowe just drops to the deep center this play is like an incompletion and the Pats are two downs away from forcing a punt then building on their lead.