Under the guidance of Head Coach Bill Belichick the New England Patriots have become the epitome of flexibility and versatility in professional football. Like an expert poker player Belichick tries to conceal his hand and never reveal his tendencies to his opponent. On the football field this translates in to Patriots showing a variety of contrasting looks on each side of the ball. On defense they switch from zone to man to cover two to cover one to blitzing eight to rushing three. It can become extremely frustrating for offensive coordinators to try and attack them.
The job doesn't get any easier trying to contain their offense either as they continually switch personnel and packages to keep the defense off balance. First down might consist of a two back set with two tight ends and on the very next play they'll run an empty backfield from the shotgun that winds up being a tight end screen. What becomes even more frustrating is that there seems to be little that they aren't proficient at. If you have a weakness they quickly find a way to exploit it and then they are two steps ahead of you as you try to counter. With so much adaptability the Patriots are the without question the difficult team in the league to prepare for.
Chiefs Offense vs. Patriots Defense
Regardless of how many superstar athletes a team might have at their "skilled positions" the outcome to every football game is first decided in the trenches. The Patriots have built a dynasty around the ability of their defensive front seven to control the line of scrimmage while the Chiefs have followed the same guidelines to propel a powerful offense to the top of charts. Today the two units will square off in a battle of strength on strength in what is bound to be the Chiefs most physical game since meeting with San Diego.
With an opponent that is as difficult to block as New England the Chiefs couldn't have picked a better time for Willie Roaf to return to left tackle. Roaf has missed six and a half games this season with a hamstring injury and three of the Chiefs four losses have come with Roaf out of the lineup.
On the opposite side of the line John Welbourn will continue to be the starter at right tackle. Welbourn took over the duties at right tackle when Jordan Black moved to the left side to sub for Roaf. Apparently Welbourn has shown enough consistency that he's permanently beaten out Black for the job.
Directly across from Roaf and Welbourn will be New England's defensive ends Richard Seymour and Ty Warren, a perfect pair of 3-4 bookends. Both are aggressive high energy players that also possess the size and strength to put offensive tackles on their heels. Seymour is a three time pro-bowler and probably the best player on New England's front seven so it is only fitting that he finds himself matched up against Roaf. If Roaf isn't 100% healthy it will show up in a hurry against Seymour.
Looking back on the right side Welbourn will have his hands full with Warren the entire game. However, Warren shouldn't be the Chiefs main concern because outside linebacker Willie McGinest is the more probable candidate for creating havoc on the right side of the Chiefs offense. McGinest spends most of his time with his hand on the ground in a "6 technique" which is beyond the "C Gap" on the outside shoulder of the offensive tackle. From this position McGinest brings a highly effective outside pass rush but he also cuts off any sweeps or stretch plays that the offense might run to his right side. If the Chiefs have any chance of containing both Warren and McGinest they'll need to park Jason Dunn on Welbourn's right hip for most of the day.
As good as the Patriots defense is on the edges they almost equal the same elite quality in the middle. Former first round pick Vince Wilfork has emerged from the shadows of Keith Traylor and Ted Washington to become one of best nose tackles in the league. His match-up with center Casey Wiegmann is a critical component for the success with each ball club. Wiegmann has been up and down with his performances against big defensive tackles from week to week. Ted Washington of the Raiders and Jamal Williams of the Chargers each gave Wiegmann a great deal of trouble yet he turned around and dominated Miami's Keith Traylor and Houston's Seth Payne. Wiegmann will need to find a way to dominate once again if the Chiefs want to effectively run the ball.
Lined up directly in front guards Will Shields and Brian Waters will be linebackers Tedy Bruschi and Mike Vrabel. The outcome of battle between Casey Wiegmann and Vince Wilfork will determine how much success Shields and Waters have against Bruschi and Vrabel. Fullback Tony Richardson will also be a part of this attack up the middle but it is the offensive guards who will carry the bulk of the responsibility for clearing out the inside linebackers for Larry Johnson.
When it comes to running up the ball today Larry Johnson might find things a tad more difficult than they were against Houston. Unlike the Houston linebackers, Bruschi and Vrabel don't miss tackles, they don't over run plays, and they hit like a truck. The two New England linebackers are also extremely savvy and you can bet the have studied Johnson up and down to pick up any little tendency that might give them an edge.
The Patriots defensive backfield was already a little shaky coming in to the season but over the past nine weeks things have gone from bad to worse. Defensive backs Randall Gay, Duane Starks, Tyrone Poole, Guss Scott, Chad Scott and Rodney Harrison have all been injured and placed on IR. With all of the injuries and substitutions the Patriots pass defense has dropped to 31st in the league in pass defense, a far cry from the days of Ty Law and Rodney Harrison.
For now the Patriots secondary is manned by Eugene Wilson and Michael Stone at the safety positions with Asante Samuel, Ellis Hobbs, and Artrell Hawkins at the corners. When you look at how they match up against the Chiefs receivers there is a big opportunity for Tony Gonzalez and Kris Wilson to exploit some weaknesses. In last weeks game between the Patriots and the Saints, New England gave up at least 70 yards receiving to four different receivers. Tight ends Zach Hilton and Aaron Stecker were two of those receivers and they combined for 144 of those yards on 12 catches.
Unfortunately for the Chiefs the weather forecast is calling for 15 to 25 mile an hour winds and a 60% chance of rain. Those conditions favor the running game and will put somewhat of a damper on the Chiefs ability to hit New England with continuous deep strikes passes. Kansas City should still have the opportunity to take their shots down field from time to time with the help of play action.
The Bottom Line - If the Chiefs are patient with the running game they can use it to break the game wide open against New England's secondary. The Chiefs will also need to use a lot of 7 man protection today if they want to keep Trent Green off of his back against an ultra aggressive New England front seven.
Chiefs Defense vs. Patriots Offense The Patriots offense will be taking the field today without running backs Corey Dillon and Kevin Faulk. They will also be without wide receivers David Givens and Bethel Johnson. Fortunately they still have the services of receivers Deion Branch, Andre' Davis, and Troy Brown, not to mention a particular Super Bowl MVP quarterback named Tom Brady.
New England's injuries also extend to the offensive line where they will be playing without starting center Dan Koppen and tackle Todd Light. The Patriots have however had a couple weeks to come to grips with the shuffling of the offensive line and the reserves that have been asked to step in and play have performed much better than expected.
Due to the Patriots injuries it becomes a little easier to try and box them in to a probable game plan against the Chiefs defense. The Chiefs should come in to this game expecting the Patriots to spread the field with four wide receivers with a running back and tight end rotating in to the lineup.
If the Patriots do run the ball it will be on draw plays or misdirection plays. They would be foolish to try and run Patrick Pass in to the teeth of the Chiefs defense over and over again so what they'll do instead is spread the field and try to dink and dunk their way to the end zone. Tom Brady is a master at this and he'll most defenses apart with surgical precision. It also frustrates the defensive line because it is impossible to get pressure on a quarterback when he is throwing five yard patterns.
This type of game also takes away the Kansas City linebackers because it forces the defense in to nickel and dime situations. Now the Patriots have taken the game out of Derrick Johnson and Kawika Mitchell's hands and put it in the hands of Dexter McCleon and Benny Sapp. The Patriots might find out however that the Chiefs secondary is a little better than advertised.
The Bottom Line - The Chiefs will need to watch out for the Patriots tight ends Daniel Graham and Ben Watson. Both players create big mismatches against the Chiefs while they are in their nickel package. The Chiefs will also need to play man coverage against the Patriots spread formations. If they are dropping back in a zone Tom Brady will eat them alive. This isn't David Carr.
Special Teams - A week ago the Saint's Aaron Stecker broke off a big kickoff return against the Patriots that put New Orleans back in the game. Don't think Dante Hall and coach Gansz haven't watched that film and put in a similar return in to today's game plan.
When it comes to kickers Adam Vinatieri is as good as they get. He has broken countless hearts in cities all over this country as he ended a Tom Brady drive with a game winning kick. He last did it to Chiefs fans in 2002, will Kansas City be victimized once again?
2005 TEAM STATS AND NFL RANKINGS
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS
Total Offense - 361.8 (7)
Rush Offense - 140.7 (4)
Pass Offense - 221.1 (11)
Total Defense - 331.0 (25)
Rush Defense - 89.6 (5)
Pass Defense - 241.4 (29)
Turnover Ratio - +5 (9)
Pts./Game - 24.4(9)
Opp. Pts./Game - 21.4 (21)
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
Total Offense - 351.9 (9)
Rush Offense - 84.4 (27)
Pass Offense - 267.5 (4)
Total Defense - 382.9 (31)
Rush Defense - 119.5 (22)
Pass Defense - 263.4 (31)
Turnover Ratio - -7 (23t)
Pts./Game - 22.7 (12)
Opp. Pts./Game - 25.3 (25)
T Matt Light (Ankle)
RB Corey Dillon (Calf)
WR David Givens (Knee)
WR Bethel Johnson (Pelvis)
RB Kevin Faulk (Foot)
T Tom Ashworth (Knee)
ILB Monty Beisel (Back)
WR Troy Brown (Foot)
WR Tim Dwight (Rib)
TE Daniel Graham (Shoulder)
DE Jarvis Green (Shoulder)
OLB Willie McGinest (Finger)
FB Patrick Pass (Hamstring)
SS James Sanders (Ankle)
QB Tom Brady (Shoulder)
FB Ronnie Cruz (Knee)