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1. How has the team reacted to Bill Belichick this week with the loss of his father?
The Patriots have carried on practice as usual in the absence of their coach. In Belichick's place, Dante Scarnecchia, a veteran coach of 36 years, ran practices. Scarnecchia is a no-nonsense former US Marine who has been a special teams and offensive line coach in his time with the Patriots (24 years). Scar talked about preparing for the Chiefs this week and preferred not to discuss his own involvement. Belichick talked about having Dante on his staff last week, before the passing of his father, and what a positive it is to have someone like him around because he knows everything that's going on.
The players found out about Belichick's father Steve's passing after they came into the locker room following the dramatic win over the Saints last weekend. To a man they respected Steve Belichick, and talked about how they admired their coach's ability to put the team ahead of his own personal grief by preparing them for the game and holding the news off until after the game.
Veterans Tom Brady, Willie McGinest and Tedy Bruschi, are natural leaders getting players ready for meetings and setting tempo on the field. By all accounts the team has performed their normal preparation for the Chiefs with the coaching staff working on the game plan last weekend and setting things in motion before Belichick left for funeral services. Belichick was expected to rejoin the team Friday which gives them a couple of days to review preparations, although one of those days is a travel day.
2. Corey Dillon appears to be nowhere the back he was in 2004. Outside of injuries what's been the main reason he's struggled this season?
Dillon has managed to return to closer to form despite his injuries in the games leading up to the Indy contest. He averaged 4-plus yards per carry while delivering punishment to his would-be tacklers, he managed to slip through creases in the line to get into the second level, and he was breaking arm tackles. The trouble has really been the lack of cohesion on the offensive line and Dillon's injuries.
Dillon has been banged up, pretty badly, for most of the season. He has tried to return when he's less than 100 percent and has been banged up again. He's missed time due to three different injuries. When Dillon's not injured, which has been rare, the line hasn't blocked well. The first three games were atrocious blocking performances. Dillon had virtually no open holes to get past the line, with most of his yardage coming because he could break tackles at the line of scrimmage.
Some of the trouble could be related to the absence of Charlie Weis and predictable play calling at inappropriate moments. Teams know what's coming, and considering the Patriots' first few opponents have some of the best rush defenders in the league, it's understandable the offense sputtered.
The Patriots are missing four starting linemen from last season and they're starting two rookies on the left side. The lack of experience makes it easier to understand why they've had trouble opening holes in the running game.
3. How confident is New England knowing they'll face a Chiefs secondary that could be without their top cornerback Patrick Surtain and facing a team that has shown little ability in shutting down a strong passing game?
The Patriots are living and dying by the pass in 2005. Tom Brady is on pace to set career and franchise records in the passing game this season in completion percentage, passing yards and passer rating. The thing opposing teams understand when they play New England is that if they can control Brady's passing game, they've found a way to beat the Patriots.
The question of confidence is interesting because the Patriots believe they can move the ball against anyone. They know it will be tough, but the offense is full of confidence in Brady's ability to find the open guy. They manage to give him enough time to get the ball out of there.
The games the Patriots lost this season Brady struggled with accuracy, timing with his receivers and having enough time to look downfield before the pressure got to him. It's less of a matter of the defense covering his receivers than it is getting pressure up the middle against him. If he has enough time, it matters little who is covering the Patriots primary receivers. Brady has an innate ability to know where to go with the ball, and that is evidenced by the fact that eleven different receivers have catches 23 yards or longer this season. Teams can't cover everyone and Brady will chew up a defense that doesn't apply pressure.
4. Tell us about former Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Monty Beisel who was a fan favorite?
Beisel is a good guy. From his first days in camp when we interviewed him about joining the team to his locker room interviews now, he has bought into the whole team concept the Patriots promote. He plays unselfishly and is open to input from all those around him. It looked from the beginning that Beisel would be one of the two new additions to the Patriots roster that worked out well, like Rodney Harrison, Rosevelt Colvin and others.
Beisel made one faux pas on a local radio show when he talked about the secondary issues the team was having, something which was uncharacteristic of the Patriots who are on air here. The secondary has had major issues and has given games away by blown coverages. Beisel was spoken to behind the scenes about his comments and hasn't made another mistake since.
The one negative on Beisel is that he gets caught up in the interior traffic and swept out of the play. Beisel was unable to shed blocks to get to the ball and missed filling the appropriate gap. The new system is part of the issue with Beisel, because when he knew where to go, he would "bring it," leveling backs at the point of contact.
Unfortunately Beisel has been out of position enough to warrant a change when Bruschi returned. The positive is that Beisel remains part of the key rotation at inside linebacker with Vrabel and Bruschi while the other free agent linebacker, Chad Brown, remains on the sideline.
5. Do the fans in New England believe that this team will get back to the Super Bowl this season?
Not likely. There are so many flaws with the team in its current condition, fans are just happy for a win nowadays. They know that losing six defensive backs, the starting center, starting left tackle, right tackle, two receivers and the team's three running backs spells disaster. The fact that the Patriots have a positive record gives fans hope.
The talk in New England is what will happen when those guys get healthy. If, and that's a big "if", the Patriots get those guys back, this team is better than last year's roster, except for the secondary. The offense has the ability to put up amazing numbers if they can find some consistency on the line and at running back.
The fans expect this team to make it to the playoffs, and win their one home game. After that, it really depends on who's healthy. If the starters are back, then I'd say the fans believe the team can beat anyone.
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1) Just how improved is the Kansas City defense over the defenses of years past?
The defense has improved leaps and bounds from a year ago. Though statistically they still rank at the bottom of the food chain, they are strong at stopping the run. Their weakness is in the secondary. When they unleash their linebackers this defense could turn the corner to respectability.
2) Have the Chiefs lost ground in the running game since Priest Holmes has been sidelined, or have they been able to adjust?
I'm in the minority but I thought Larry Johnson should have been the starter from opening day. He's far better at breaking the long run and his last second touchdown against the Oakland Raiders two weeks ago proved he can be the man in this offense. To a man the offensive line prefer to block for Johnson than Holmes. They love his running style and the attitude he brings on each run. They've adjusted even though the offensive line has yet to play the same five lineman for consecutive games.
3) How is the offensive line doing?
Will Shields should play Sunday and return to left tackle. Guard/Tackle John Welbourn has solidified the right tackle spot and that was the primary reason the Chiefs offense was so strong a week ago in Houston. With Roaf back, the Chiefs can run up the gut and to the outside with equal efficiency. They have not protected Trent Green as well as they've done in the past but most of that is due to the fact Roaf has only played in three games this season.
4) Have injuries had a big impact on the team?
The injuries have been worse for the Patriots. Defensive tackle Ryan Sims lost in the season opener will be back either this Sunday or next week when Denver rolls into town. The key has been Roaf though. You could probably take out any other member of this team and they'd survive an injury. But Roaf's absence has affected the ability of this offense to produce points from one week to the next.
5) How have the Chiefs defensive backs fared this season?
Patrick Surtain when healthy has been dominant. Teams don't even throw to his side of the field. Eric Warfield is back in football shape his four game suspension. He had a strong game against the Texans last Sunday. Safety Sammy Knight has been solid and Greg Wesley seems to be returning to his old hard hitting form. But can they match up against the Patriots pass happy offense? We'll find that out very early on Sunday afternoon.
6) Have the free agents that joined the team helped?
They've all made an impact. Knight and Surtain have been solid. Linebacker Kendrell Bell has been misused all season. The Chiefs have not allowed him to play downfield and his effectiveness has suffered. In Pittsburgh he attacked the football. In Kansas City he spends far to much time playing the middle of the field. Defensive end Carlos Hall needs more playing time. He's the fastest defensive end on the team but injuries have held him back.
7) What players have turned in better/worse performances than you expected?
A surprise has been middle linebacker Kawika Mitchell. The light came on and he's solidified the middle of the defense. He's adept at stopping the run, covering tight ends and running backs. He's also been allowed to blitz a lot more and that's made him a complete linebacker.
The most disappointing would have to be kick returner Dante Hall. He seems to be running more tentative than he did the last two years. Teams are kicking the ball to one side of the field and surrounding him. He needs to reclaim that reckless abandonment and try to outrun the coverage. Too many times he goes straight ahead instead of cutting back away from the pursuit. Granted he's not had solid blocking ahead of him but he's far too talented to be struggling this much.
8) What is the biggest concern you have about the team?
Probably in the coaching staff. Though the defense has showed more passion the last several weeks, the offense has been too inconsistent to maintain a winning streak of more than two games. They got some of their swagger back last week against the Houston Texans but that can't be a true gauge of their abilities. The Texans don't resemble an NFL team. The coaching staff needs to put the ball into the hands of its playmakers on offense and defense. If the coaching staff can do that, the Chiefs can make a playoff run.
9) How will the Chiefs do in their division, and do you see them making the playoffs?
I don't think there is any way the Chiefs can catch the Denver Broncos. They might be the best team in the NFL. Quarterback Jake Plummer has been special this season. Though I question his ability to perform well in a playoff game, he's certainly played like an MVP for the Broncos. The San Diego Chargers still have three brutal road games on the schedule. They still have to play the Redskins, Colts and Chiefs away from home. If the injury to tight end Antonio Gates is more serious than projected, the Chargers will fall short of their playoff aspirations. He's the engine that makes that offense go. LaDainian Tomlinson might be the best running back in the NFL but Drew Brees can't win without Gates in the line up.
As for the Chiefs, they'll have to win at least five of their last six games to get a wild card game. Jacksonville, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati all have less than challenging schedules down the stretch. Meanwhile the Chiefs play four AFC games at home and that could be to their advantage. But that's a moot point if they don't beat the Patriots at home Sunday.
10) Do you see opportunity when the Chiefs play the Patriots or do you see trouble?
I see an opportunity. This is the final run for this team. With a pending coaching change, retirements and some veterans playing their final season in Kansas City, these guys appear ready to rally around those things and make one final push. They could use this game as a spring board and let's face it, nobody wants to play this team down the stretch if they're playing well. So this game is huge.
11) What do the Chiefs do really well?
They are very strong running the ball and stopping the run. Despite injuries they still have the best interior offensive line in the NFL in Pro-Bowlers Will Shields, Brian Waters and center Casey Wiegmann. On defense they're led by some veterans up front like Lional Dalton and John Browning. They have some youth at linebacker in Mitchell and first round draft pick Derrick Johnson.
On offense if the running game is solid, then Trent Green can pick apart any defense if he gets the time to throw the ball. He's deadly accurate. As for their defense, they need to be more aggressive and let the talent make plays. When they're playing solid bump and run that allows the front seven to attack the line of scrimmage and penetrate the backfield.
12) Who do you think will win on Sunday?
I think the Chiefs will win this game. They are getting healthier and with their backs against the wall, they've shown the ability win some close games. I don't expect a high scoring game this Sunday.
If the Chiefs can control the clock like they did last weekend, then they'll have a decided advantage. If not and the Patriots control the clock, the Chief defense could wear down and New England will leave Arrowhead with a victory.
Bottom Line: Chiefs 23 - Patriots 20
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