NEPD Editor: Oliver Thomas
Three years have passed since the New England Patriots and Kansas City Chiefs last met. It was Nov. 21, 2011, a Monday night, at Gillette Stadium.
Then-rookie Patriots halfback Shane Vereen registered his first NFL touchdown, while part-time cornerback Julian Edelman turned in his second career punt-return touchdown. In the secondary, a well-traveled cornerback by the name of Philip Adams intercepted onetime Kansas City quarterback Tyler Palko, and Kyle Arrington – donning No. 27 at the time – picked off two more as New England went on to a 34-3 victory.
Much has changed since then. And this time, the venue for what unfolds will be Arrowhead Stadium.
Here are some notes to monitor leading up to the 8:30 p.m. kickoff.
For the 1-2 Chiefs, in addition to halfback Joe McKnight, who suffered a torn Achilles in practice this week, safety Eric Berry has been listed as out with an ankle injury. Rookie wideout and return man De’Anthony Thomas is listed as questionable for tonight’s game with a hamstring injury, while cornerback Sean Smith, running back Jamaal Charles, rush linebacker Tamba Hali and defensive lineman Vance Walker are all probable.
As for the 2-1 Patriots, cornerback Alfonzo Dennard, who has not played since Week 1 with a shoulder injury, did not travel with the team after being listed as probable on Saturday. 2013 seventh-round defensive end Michael Buchanan, 2013 second-round linebacker Jamie Collins, offensive lineman Dan Connolly, tight end Rob Gronkowski and special-teamer Don Jones are all listed as probable.
- Quarterback Aaron Murray
- Halfback Joe McKnight
- Wideouts Albert Wilson and De’Anthony Thomas
- Offensive lineman Laurent Duvernay-Tardif
- Defensive end Damion Square
- Safety Eric Berry
- Wideouts Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins
- Offensive linemen Josh Kline and Jordan Devey
- Defensive linemen Zach Moore and Corey Walker
- Cornerback Alfonzo Dennard
There are some familiar faces in Kansas City. Two players currently on the Chiefs practice squad, undrafted tight end Justin Jones and third-year defensive lineman Jerel Worthy, spent part of the summer in training camp with the Patriots. The 6’8”, 275-pound Jones was first signed by the Patriots in May out of East Carolina, while Worthy, a 2012 Green Bay Packers second-round pick, was acquired for a conditional seventh-round pick in August.
In September of 2013, the Patriots also put in a claim on former Rutgers cornerback Marcus Cooper after the former San Francisco 49ers draft choice was waived, but he landed with the Chiefs instead.
New England did not need to claim defensive lineman Kona Schwenke, however. The Notre Dame product signed to the team’s practice squad earlier this month after originally signing with the Chiefs as a rookie free agent in May.
No. 12 Passing a Milestone
Tom Brady stands 219 passing yards away from becoming the sixth quarterback in NFL history to hit the 50,000 career yardage mark. It remains to be seen whether or not the 14-year Patriot will reach it tonight against the Chiefs.
Kansas City’s pass defense allowed 266 passing yards and two touchdowns in Week 1, 242 yards and three touchdowns in Week 2, and 205 yards and one touchdown in Week 3. Brady and the Patriots’ passing game, on the other hand, picked up 249 yards and one touchdown in Week 1, 149 yards and one touchdown in Week 2, and 234 yards and another touchdown in Week 3.
Behind Edelman and Gronkowski, the third receiver in New England’s offense has varied by the week. Kenbrell Thompkins and Aaron Dobson have yet to be active for the same game this season. Danny Amendola and Brandon LaFell have seen snaps favor the latter. And receiving tight end Tim Wright has been in the game for just 13 plays since Week 2.
And there’s only one ball to go around. It goes without saying Brady will have to stay upright to deliver it. Although the Chiefs have yet to convert offensive mistakes into defensive turnovers, the unit has forced its way into pockets.
Patriots Shuffling Pass Protection
Kansas City’s defense may running on half its cylinders without linebackers Derrick Johnson and Joe Mays, but the group’s collective pass rush has left its mark. With Hali, fellow outside linebacker Justin Houston, as well as defensive tackle Allen Bailey and nose tackle Dontari Poe, Kansas City’s front has proven to be both sudden and creative, using stunts and crash blitzes to establishes pressure, even if only four are taking part.
Nine sacks have been the byproduct for Kansas City’s front. New England’s offensive line as conceded seven to date.
Uncertainty abounds when it comes to the Patriots’ pass protection. Left tackle Nate Solder has shown his struggles against the speed provided by the likes of the Miami Dolphins’ Cameron Wake and the Oakland Raiders’ Khalil Mack. It has been a similar case with swing tackle Marcus Cannon playing left guard, where his footwork and combinations block have been tested. And with Connolly, two-year starter Ryan Wendell, fourth-round rookie Bryan Stork and first-year player Jordan Devey in the shuffle at center and right guard, the options outweigh the answers.
According to The Boston Globe’s Shalise Manza Young, more lineup changes are on the way. Against the Chiefs, Connolly is reportedly set to move over to left guard, Stork is set to get his first career start at center, and fellow fourth-round pick Cameron Fleming is set to get his first at right guard.
Stork played the final 15 snaps of last Sunday’s game, while offensive tackle Cameron Fleming has been called upon as an eligible tight end this season, spelling on run and play-action pass plays.
Ridley, Vereen and New England’s Running Ways
Kansas City’s defense has been run on to the tune of 130 yards per game this campaign. But, after a week in which the Patriots compiled just 83 yards against an Oakland defense allowing 200 through the first two weeks, expectations figure to be tempered moving forward.
While Stevan Ridley is the primary back, having harnessed 44 carries since Week 2 against the Minnesota Vikings, Vereen has taken just 13 and caught four passes. Look for some diversity out of the backfield versus Kansas City, and in addition to Brandon Bolden, rookie James White is active for the first time this season.
Gap Control Without Siliga
After starting the season with a hand injury, defensive tackle Sealver Siliga has now been placed on short-term injured reserve with a foot injury. The Patriots’ interior will need all hands – or clubs – on deck to contain Charles, a four-time 1,000-yard rusher working back into the fold, as well as Knile Davis.
While Charles has been limited to nine carries for 23 yards and five catches for 23 yards in two games this season, Davis has emerged as a complementary piece. The 5’10”, 227-pound Arkansas Razorback has compiled 214 rushing yards and three scores this season, including a 132-yard outburst versus the Dolphins last week.
The concerns start inside for the Patriots, but the multiple defense will require gap discipline from the inside out. Whether it comes from Joe Vellano, Chris Jones or Dominique Easley playing five-technique defensive end, or whether it comes from Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich standing up off the edge, the song remains the same.
With linebacker Dont’a Hightower stepping into his own, and with Vince Wilfork coming off his strongest performance since October of 2013, there are reinforcements. Kansas City’s ground game may very well hinge on them.
Matching Kansas City’s Passing Game
Quarterback Alex Smith has been sacked 11 times and Kansas City’s aerial attack has averaged less than 200 passing yards per game thus far into the 2014 slate.
Conversely, New England’s defense has netted seven sacks, a first-ranked clip of under 170 passing yards per game, along with six interceptions.
Those statistics reveal less than the matchups, though. And when it comes to Chandler Jones facing 2013 No. 1 overall pick Eric Fisher at left tackle, the linebackers and safeties assuming talented young tight end Travis Kelce, and cornerback Darrelle Revis likely tracking 6’2”, 220-pound wideout Dwayne Bowe, it’s a push. It’s a push that may open windows for receiver Donnie Avery and tight end Anthony Fasano.
Time will determine which side shoves back.