The 2015 season is finally here!! At least that’s what it feels like, but even this week we’ve had to deal with the Chandler Jones situation and Gronk suddenly having problems with his knee again. When will it end?
Nothing is ever simple or easy with the Patriots, but somehow they usually are able to fend off all distractions and problems and put up a great fight no matter who the opponent is.
That will be put to the test this week against a Chiefs team that hasn’t beaten themselves nor been beaten by anyone else in three months. I know all the crap that Andy Reid gets for game management stuff, but he deserves plenty of credit and we know the respect that Belichick has for him.
What’s scary to me about the Chiefs is they have a lot of those elements needed to knock off the Pats. In many ways they remind me of the 2009-2012 Ravens, though I wouldn’t say they’re quite as fierce. That Ravens team knew how to take the Patriots to the limit, if not totally dominate them like the first half of the 2009 Wild Card game or the second half of the 2012 AFC Championship.
Still, the Chiefs have some injury issues of their own and that could really limit what they can do depending on who can go and who can’t.
For the Patriots it all comes down to one big SUCK IT UP FOR THREE GAMES. How seamlessly can guys like Edelman, Hightower and Vollmer step back in? Is Gronk really hobbled?
As I’ve been saying for weeks now, we just don’t know who the 2015 Patriots really are. Well, we’re about to find out Saturday night and that’s both exciting and scary.
Here’s the gameplan to get back to the AFC Championship for the fifth-straight year.
Welcome to the great unknown. Who doesn’t have any question marks outside of Tom Brady in this offense? I can’t think of a single player that I know what to expect from.
The who-knows running backs – Steven Jackson and James White
? The walking wounded – Julian Edelman
, Rob Gronkowski, Danny Amendola, Sebastian Vollmer, Josh Kline? The sub par season guys – Brandon LaFell, Marcus Cannon, Bryan Stork? The rooks – Shaq Mason, David Andrews, Tre Jackson?
I can’t recall ever going into the playoffs with this many question marks and that muddies the projection of what they can and will do.
So the offensive gameplan is simple really – get back to what makes the old Patriots offense work. Edelman on the quick catch routes and Gronk up the seam. Amendola underneath. LaFell on some screens and down the sideline.
That’s what makes this offense work and they just haven’t had any of the pieces to even attempt it in a couple months.
But the true unknowns, for both us and the Chiefs, are Jackson and White. I can’t imagine Jackson running roughshod all over a very good Chiefs front, but I can see him picking up some key 3rd-and-shorts.
No, I think this is a White game in the same way Shane Vereen was under the radar in 2012 until the divisional game against the Texans and then it was like “where’s this version of Vereen been?”
White was the only player to consistently make things happen when the injuries started happening to Edelman, Amendola and Gronk. And with that trio back, things should finally open up for White in a way we haven’t seen yet.
So for all the talk of Edelman et al’s returns, it might James White who does the most damage.
Fundamentals. Fundamentals. Fundamentals. I can’t stress it enough. This isn’t one of those games where the Pats will live or die whether or not they get pass rush pressure. Those are the games everyone is used to in big spots.
No, this game is all about DO YOUR JOB. And with the veteran defenders we have, I feel pretty good that the defense will turn in a winning effort in this one.
Kansas City’s offense is in many ways a lot like the Patriots. They have far more gimmicks, but getting the ball to the open guy and letting him make plays is the foundation of what they do. There’s just a lot more read option, QB keepers, bootlegs, misdirection kind of stuff and that will stress an undisciplined defense.
That’s why the Pats got throttled last year. They were sloppy. They bit on the misdirection. They were missing tackles. They were losing contain. If that’s the defense that shows up Saturday night, it could very well get ugly once again.
But I trust that the Patriots defense will show up and play fundamentally sound because that’s who they are and that’s what Belichick has molded this defense into more than anything else.
The key player? Dont’a Hightower. The Chiefs can simply not be allowed to establish a consistent running game and Hightower is the biggest piece of the run-stopping puzzle.
The advantage the Pats have is that they shouldn’t be forced to stop the run from their sub-package with a light box. They should be in their “regular” 4-3 defense with Patrick Chung in box because the Chiefs don’t have the kind of weapons on the outside to force the Pats into nickel and dime unless they want to be.
I see Logan Ryan on Chris Conley (or Maclin if he plays), Malcolm Butler on Albert Wilson and McCourty playing true centerfield behind them. That leaves the eight man box to deal with Travis Kelce, who I expect to be taken out of the game by a combination of Chung/Collins/Hightower and perhaps Jordan Richards on pure passing downs, and the running game.
Alan Branch, Malcolm Brown and Akiem Hicks need to be at their best as well against the Chiefs running backs, clogging the middle and not getting too far upfield.
The final piece of the puzzle is Alex Smith’s running ability. The Patriots did a great job last year in the Super Bowl against Russell Wilson, keeping him in the pocket and fogging his reads. Wilson would tuck the ball to run but there was nowhere to go. Same thing here with Smith.
If the Patriots’ defense tackles well, and plays disciplined I see the odds firmly in their favor in this game.
Five Points of Emphasis
1. Defensive Fundamentals – I’m sorry to hit this again but it’s just so critical. If the Patriots contain Alex Smith and tackle well they will be fine. If they’re over-pursuing, missing tackles and trying to do too much, they’ll play right into the Chiefs’ hands. Boil it down and this is simply winning the physical battle. The Pats have the defensive pieces to do it and I have confidence they will.
2. Open Things Up For White – We know the Pats need Edelman, but I don’t think it’s smart to think he’s going to come in, catch 10 balls and take a bunch of big hits and be that same old Jules we know and love. No, the advantage of having Edelman back, even without the ball in his hands, is that the Chiefs will have to respect him and that alone does more than Keshawn Martin would do even if he caught a bunch of passes. The trickle down effect of all the attention Gronk and Edelman will get should be that James White often gets lost in the wash. He’s very much under the radar but this could be a breakout game for him. And I wouldn’t be opposed to some Steven Jackson screen passes either. Jackson likely doesn’t have the playbook knowledge to do it all, but they need to get him some touches that aren’t just running into the Chiefs brick wall front.
3. Special Teams Play Special – We saw it last week with the Chiefs returning the opening kickoff for a TD that they have game-changing ability on special teams. And we’re all well aware of the Patriots various snafus on special teams over the season. This could very well be where the game is won or lost and I’d expect the Pats to use plenty of veterans in key spots in the kicking game to ensure a mental breakdown doesn’t happen. Remember the Jets upset in 2010 got a huge boost from the second-year Patrick Chung’s fake punt attempt. Winning the special teams battle is vital.
4. Get the Lead – The Chiefs are not built, nor do they have the depth, to mount a major comeback if they get in a hole. No, they’re designed to get the lead and keep the lead with their ball control offense. The Pats must must must come out of the gate firing on all cylinders. A slow start could be a death sentence. Win the toss. Defer. Get off the field. Put points on the board. That’s the start we want.
5. 60 Minutes – No matter what happens the one thing I know is that the Patriots will fight the entire game. There is plenty we don’t know about this team, but this is one thing we can be sure of. Whether they’re in a huge hole quick or race out to a lead, the playoffs are about playing the entire game. Last year’s divisional game against the Ravens is the perfect example. I was shocked the Pats came out so flat and get into not one, but TWO 14-point holes. Whatever circumstances that led to that were hopefully corrected this year. The Patriots know firsthand what the Chiefs are capable of but they don’t have the same mystique the Ravens held over them. Regardless of how things unfold, it’s going to take a full game’s effort to go back to the AFC Championship.
Prediction: Patriots 24, Chiefs 13