What The Patriots Have To Do On Sunday

The 6-4 Patriots lead the AFC East, but whether they can maintain that lead is the challenge ahead of them. They will need to win at least 4 of their next 6 games to guarantee a playoff birth, and that starts on the road at Kansas City. The Chiefs are no pushovers. With key players returning to the field, the Chiefs will pose plenty of challenges. Chiefs insider Nick Athan from Warpaint Illustrated shares the keys to a Patriots victory from a Kansas City perspective.

Four things the Patriots have to do on Sunday:

1. Abandon the running game.

The Patriots will not be able to run the ball against the Chiefs this Sunday. They've yet to yield a 100-yard rusher this season. Though the Kansas City Chiefs defense is improving with each game but they are still susceptible in their secondary. Safeties Sammy Knight and Greg Wesley are more adept at supporting the run instead of the pass. Too many times this season the Chiefs safeties have been late getting over to help the cornerbacks.

Speaking of cornerbacks it looks like the Chiefs will be playing the Patriots at less than full strength. Starter Patrick Surtain did participate in some drills on Thursday and Friday but a determination of his playing status won't be made until Sunday morning.

That means veterans DeWayne Washington and Dexter McCleon will see plenty of action along with Benny Sapp. Sapp is the teams best blitzing cornerback and with the Patriots using four and five wide receiver sets, Sapp could be in Tom Brady's grill when he's on the field. The Chiefs also promoted fifth round draft pick Alphonso Hodge from their practice squad.

2. Stop Larry Johnson.

If the Patriots don't shut down the man-child known as Larry Johnson, they have zero chance of winning the game Sunday in Kansas City. Johnson set career records in rushing (211 Yards) and carries (36) against the Houston Texans. If Johnson has a weakness in his game, it's not being patient enough to wait on his blockers. However, he did a much better job of that last weekend. Johnson is also eager to carry the load and prove that he can be the man in this offense. With Priest Holmes lost for the season, Johnson knows he's status as the 2006 starter could hinge on his performance down the stretch.

That's bad news for Patriots. Johnson already runs with a Heavyweight Boxer's mentality. He does not get rattled and his confidence is soaring. He can score a touchdown from any point on the field. If he learns to catch the ball out of the backfield, Johnson will be a super star.

If the Patriots have an advantage, it's in their front seven. They'll need to run blitz if they hope to stop Johnson. However, All-World left tackle Willie Roaf will be back in the lineup on Sunday so the Chiefs won't limit their running attack to the middle of the line of scrimmage. They'll run a lot to the left with Roaf and guard Brian Waters plowing the road for Johnson.

3. Get to Trent Green.

Last year in Kansas City the New England Patriots did a masterful job of putting quarterback Trent Green in some very uncomfortable positions. They'll need to do that again this week. If the Patriots can collapse the pocket, Green's performance will suffer. Last week against Houston, he had enough time to complete passes down the middle of the field and that opened up the rest of their offense.

With the Patriots Zone Blitz schemes, the Chiefs feel they can exploit the middle of the field. Both Tom Brady and Trent Green have incredible vision and are very adept at taking what the defense gives them. Green threw a trio of touchdowns last week in Houston. For the first time in several games, he found his wide receivers in the end zone. Eddie Kennison caught two of them and Samie Parker, the teams' only deep threat, caught the other one. That also meant that tight end Tony Gonzalez was left in single coverage for most of the game and that could be a death nail to the Patriots secondary.

The Chiefs are confident that they can exploit that secondary. Green is a master at play fakes and moving the ball around to his receivers. If he does not have any pressure on him this Sunday, he's likely throw for 300 yards against the Patriots depleted secondary.

4. Coaching could determine the winner of this game.

Arguably the New England Patriots have the best coach in the NFL. In my opinion they have the very best in Bill Belichick. Nobody prepares for a game better or makes adjustments from quarter to quarter better than Belichick. His counterpart Dick Vermeil does not do either very well.

Though Belichick has had to deal with the loss of his father this week, that won't be an excuse for his team to fail in delivering a win in Kansas City, he won't let that be an excuse. My guess is that the players will rally around their leader and play one of their best games of the season.

Belichick knows that playing in Kansas City in front of one of the best home field advantages in the NFL, won't be an easy task. One thing he does better than any other coach is that he does not underestimate his opponents either at home or on the road. He also knows his team has been besieged by injuries but he offers up no excuses. Despite their 6-4 record, he expects to win every game and this one is no exception. The Chiefs have not responded well to their head coach this season and they face a must win Sunday after the Broncos defeated the Dallas Cowboys on Thanksgiving day.


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