Stopping the most dynamic quarterback in the NFL. Keeping the game’s premier deep threat under wraps. Blanking a record-breaking tight end. Controlling the clock.
Facing the defending Super Bowl champions on the road would be daunting in any season. Yet the task appears more imposing considering how well Patrick Mahomes is playing.
He’s fresh off throwing four touchdowns against a tough Baltimore Ravens defense. Mahomes and head coach Andy Reid, the play-calling genius of his generation, have concocted the perfect brew of scheme and athleticism.
Here’s how the Patriots can slow down KC’s irresistible force:
Almost everything Reid and Mahomes do in the passing game comes off the threat of Tyreek Hill. The signature member of the superbly named ‘Legion of Zoom’ puts defenses in a panic no matter where he lines up because of his scary vertical speed.
Belichick must make Hill something his entire defense doesn’t need to worry about. Double coverage is the best way to do it.
The Pats used a similar blueprint in the AFC Championship Game following the 2018 season. Hill was doubled almost every play during a first half where New England shutout Mahomes and Co., 14-0.
According to @pff, the #Patriots used Cover 1 – Double coverage on 14 coverage snaps (38.9 pct) vs. #Chiefs, bracketing Tyreek Hill with Jon Jones or Keion Crossen at the LOS and D.McCourty over the top. That’s the most snaps in Cover 1 – Double in a game by any team this season.
— Michael Giardi (@MikeGiardi) January 21, 2019
Belichick has plenty of candidates to help shield Hill. Stephon Gilmore is the obvious choice, but the handsiest cornerback in pro football is better suited to a different matchup in this game.
Gilmore’s different role should leave Belichick choosing from J.C. Jackson, Joejuan Williams, and Jonathan Jones among others to look after Hill.
Showing No. 10 different looks will be just as important. Rolling the corner up in press coverage with safety Devin McCourty over the top will have Mahomes looking elsewhere.
The Patriots could also play the corner in off coverage. Then Adrian Phillips or rookie Kyle Dugger would blanket Hill underneath.
Match Gilmore vs. Kelce
Stopping Hill has to be the priority, but the Pats aren’t likely to forget about Travis Kelce. The only tight end in NFL history to record four-straight 1,000-yard seasons kills coverage underneath.
Kelce dissected the Ravens with six catches for 87 yards on Monday Night Football. He caught nine of Mahomes’ passes for 90 and a score against the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 2.
That level of production will soon condense a coverage scheme and give Hill the one-on-one opportunities he craves. The best way the Pats can keep bodies around Hill and still put Kelce on ice is by aligning Gilmore over the tight end.
Gilmore’s the top man in New England’s secondary, although his reputation is somewhat overblown. Officiating crews are finally paying more attention to 24 (about time), and it’s showing:
From @ESPNStatsInfo: Stephon Gilmore has been called for 3 pass interference penalties this season. Gilmore was called for 1 such penalty all of last season.
— Mike Reiss (@MikeReiss) September 27, 2020
Their recognition a chokehold doesn’t constitute textbook man coverage has exposed some of Gilmore’s shortcomings. Yet moving him over Kelce can mitigate the damage.
Gilmore is likely to be given some latitude to get physical against a bigger-bodied target. Putting his leading cornerback over a tight end is also nothing new for Belichick.
He did the same thing with Aqib Talib in 2013 to deal with then-superstar Jimmy Graham of the New Orleans Saints. Gilmore lined up against tight end Darren Waller a few times during last week’s win over the Las Vegas Raiders.
Hit Mahomes early and often
Every defense wants to bring the thump against Mahomes, but not many are equipped to do it. Fortunately for Belichick, the Patriots have a pretty mean pass rush this season.
They’ve logged five sacks through three games, with various players getting in on the act. More importantly, the Pats have been able to get pressure without blitzing.
Mahomes eviscerated Baltimore’s blitz schemes in Week 3. He missed just four of his throws and passed for three touchdowns when the Ravens sent extra rushers.
Those numbers rendered the Ravens’ pass rush impotent:
Only QB to drop back 40+ times against the Ravens to not take a sack since 2019:
Patrick Mahomes pic.twitter.com/REBxoWc31s
— PFF (@PFF) September 29, 2020
The Patriots shouldn’t need to blitz. Not when Deatrich Wise Jr., Shilique Calhoun, and Chase Winovich are winning their matchups regularly.
Winovich is rapidly emerging as the stud edge-rusher Belichick has lacked for too long. His playmaking skills wrecked Derek Carr and the Raiders:
— Roto Street Journal (RSJ) (@RotoStJournal) September 27, 2020
The Patriots create favourable matchups for their platoon of versatile pass-rushers. Their best scheme is an amoeba front where only one lineman puts his hand on the ground.
Sometimes every lineman stands up. The Patriots run a host of twists and games from this look, and blockers struggle to work out who is rushing and from where.
Confusion often leads to mismatches like a running back vs. a powerful edge-rusher. Ouch:
— The Checkdown (@thecheckdown) September 21, 2020
Letting Mahomes know they’re there will be crucial for the Patriots. He’s been sensational in two games this season, but average in the other.
The other was Week 2’s road win over the Chargers. L.A. brought the heat with a four-man rush led by bookends Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa.
Mahomes threw for 126 yards through three quarters against the Chargers, before turning it on in the fourth quarter. The Chiefs still won, but it took a 58-yard field goal in overtime.
Run to Win
Dominate the sticks, own the clock, and keep Mahomes on the sideline. Easy as 1, 2, 3, right? Well, not quite, but almost.
The Patriots have been a formidable running team for a while, but it’s more prevalent since Tom Brady left town. Cam Newton led an offense that amassed 250 yards on the ground in Week 3.
Newton’s dual-threat skills have made the Patriots a run-first offense:
That 2 yard run gives Cam Newton 4,930 career rushing yards, passing Randall Cunningham for second all-time.
The only guy left for him to pass? Mike Vick (6,109 career rushing yards)
— Alex Barth (@RealAlexBarth) September 27, 2020
It’s also helped to have Rex Burkhead churning out the tough yards. He helped himself to three touchdowns against the Raiders.
Burkhead is physical and shifty, but he is also able to get low through the hole. He’s tough to find and when tacklers do get to him, Burkhead finishes his runs with violence.
New England loves power plays and using pulling linemen to open holes for Burkhead and others:
Through three games, the Patriots’ draft pick making the most significant contribution is sixth-round OL Mike Onwenu (Michigan).
Starting at LG, he was solid Sunday. Pulling here (he’s No. 71) on a Rex Burkhead 17-yard run – don’t expect to see that movement from a 350-pounder. pic.twitter.com/nczW5MuriM
— Mike Reiss (@MikeReiss) September 28, 2020
The Chiefs know all about Burkhead. He’s the man who scored in overtime in that AFC title epic to deny them a Super Bowl berth.
KC went one better last season, but those Burkhead-inflicted wounds are unlikely to have healed. Sony Michel and undrafted rookie J.J. Taylor could also help the Patriots wear out a soft run defense giving up 5.3 yards per attempt.