The New England Patriots dropped to 10-2 following a loss to the Houston Texans 28 – 22 on Sunday Night Football on the road. Despite a literal plane carrying the flu-addled players to the Lone Star State, the Patriots fell behind early and could not overcome the deficit despite a strong push in the fourth quarter.
The Patriots return home this week but the match-up is a rematch of the 2018 AFC Championship game. The Kansas City Chiefs and their Pro Bowl triplets on offense of Patrick Mahomes, Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill invade Foxboro intent on gaining a measure of revenge after New England went into Kansas City last January and walked away with a third consecutive trip to the Super Bowl.
This week’s game will be broadcast nationally at 4:25 PM by CBS and can be seen locally in the Boston area on WBZ-TV Channel 4 and on WPRI-12 Channel 12 in the Providence market. Jim Nantz will handle play-by-play duties with Tony Romo as the color analyst. Tracy Wolfson will work from the sidelines.
On the radio, Sunday’s game will be broadcast to a national audience on ESPN Radio. Marc Kestecher will call the game with former Chicago Bears nose tackle Dusty Dvoracek providing analysis. Jeff Darlington will work from the sidelines.
Locally, the game will be broadcast on 98.5 The Sports Hub is the flagship station for the Patriots Radio Network and all of the network’s 38 stations carry the game live. Play-by-play broadcaster Bob Socci is back to call the action along with former Patriots quarterback Scott Zolak, who provides his own unique color analysis.
Each week the game comes down to the match-ups. These are the top match-ups on offense that will determine if the Patriots are the team which emerges victorious.
Patriots’ C James Ferentz vs Chiefs’ DT Chris Jones:
The Kansas City Chiefs are hurting to get after the quarterback. Emmanuel Ogbah (5.5 sacks in ten games) is on injured reserve with a torn pectoral. Alex Okafor (ankle injury) has missed a handful of games and is still getting to full strength. Frank Clark (five sacks) has battled illness all week and is a game-time decision (all statistics from Pro-Football-Reference.com unless otherwise noted).
The one consistent pass rusher has again been defensive tackle Chris Jones. Jones has blossomed into a pass rushing threat and exploded with 15.5 sacks in 2018 after tallying just 8.5 combined sacks in his first two seasons. Jones had just two sacks in his first five games before missing three games with a groin injury.
Since returning from injury, Jones has been back on track with four sacks in four games. Bill Belichick and the Patriots have a healthy respect for the young pass rusher. In the regular season match-up last year he had a sack and a forced fumble. In the AFC Championship game he saw a lot of double-teams and was held without a sack or tackle.
David Andrews and his fellow guards (Joe Thuney and Shaq Mason) played well against Jones but now the Patriots are down to their third option at center. Andrews went on injured reserve prior to the season starting due to blood clots. His replacement, Ted Karras, injured his knee last week against the Texans.
James Ferentz has stepped in as the third center and will make his first start at center in the NFL on Sunday. Across from him will be one of the best interior pass rushers in the league. This is not an easy matchup for any interior offensive lineman and Jones will put the “next man up” philosophy to the test on Sunday.
The Patriots’ offensive line has a tough match-up inside against Chris Jones. They may catch a break with Fred Clark out or less than 100 percent. The fearsome pass rush of old is long gone with Justin Houston, Dee Ford and Tamba Hali all long since having left Kansas City. If the interior offensive line can win up front against Chris Jones and keep quarterback Tom Brady upright, the Patriots should be able to attack the Houston secondary.
Patriots’ RB Sony Michel vs Chiefs’ LBs Damien Wilson & Anthony Hitchens:
New England came out running on the first drive against Houston before it was abandoned inside the red zone and the Patriots settled for a field goal. After that first drive, the Patriots passed the ball to the tune of a two-to-one ratio versus running the ball despite success early on.
Sony Michel averaged 4.5 yards per rush, but after getting six carries on the first drive of the game he had just four carries the rest of the way. New England looked in sync with Michel moving the ball on the ground but for whatever reason offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels abandoned the running game in the first half.
Michel has benefited greatly from the return of left tackle Isaiah Wynn. Having Wynn’s strong run blocking on the left side gives Michel more options than running behind guard Shaq Mason as he gets used to having Brandon Bolden or linebacker Elandon Roberts as his fullback. The running game has improved, but McDaniels has been reluctant to unleash it consistently.
Kansas City has tried everything to fix its run game. Right now, former Cowboys linebackers Damien Wilson and Anthony Hitchens are in the middle of the defense trying to plug the leak. Former Bills linebacker Reggie Ragland and former Jets linebacker Darron Lee are relegated to backup roles. Chris Jones, Alex Okafor and Frank Clark are pass-rush first, run stuff second defensive linemen. That leaves Derrick Nnadi as the one pure run-stopper in the front seven.
Last year the Patriots pounded the Chiefs on the ground and wore down the defense until they ran out of gas in overtime of the AFC Championship game. Look for New England to get back to what they do best as the calendar flips to December and cold weather remains on the horizon.
The Chiefs are still abysmal on defense trying to stop the run. Despite a number of moves in the offseason to fix the defense, the Chiefs are still dependent on quarterback Patrick Mahomes to outscore their opposition. If the Patriots can refrain from falling into an early hole like they did versus Houston, they should be able to run the ball effectively and run their entire offense and keep the dangerous Kansas City offense on the sidelines.
Patriots’ WR Julian Edelman vs Chiefs’ CB Kendall Fuller:
Julian Edelman has had a frustrating 2019 season. At age 33, he has fought through injuries the entire season. A thumb injury in training camp, a chest/rib injury in week three that knocked him out of the game and visibly impeded him for weeks, and then a shoulder injury recently that had him clearly in pain while staying out on the field.
With no Rob Gronkowski, the whole Antonio Brown saga, whatever really went down with Josh Gordon, a revolving door of veteran receivers in training camp and injuries to Phllip Dorsett and Mohamed Sanu in recent weeks, Edelman has gutted out game-after-game and leads the Patriots through a dozen games with 123 targets, 82 receptions, 915 yards receiving and five touchdowns. As always, when in doubt Brady looks to Edelman (or James White).
Edelman was double-teamed much of the game by Houston last week causing visible frustration for quarterback Tom Brady as his other targets struggled to get open. With Sanu and Dorsett back and first round draft pick N’Keal Harry healthy, the Patriots should be in a better position in the passing game so as not to rely solely on Edelman and White.
The Chiefs have struggled to find consistency in the secondary at cornerback. Former Redskins cornerback Kendall Fuller is healthy again and should draw Edelman in coverage. He had seemingly been replaced at times in 2019 by veteran Morris Claiborne and rookie Rashad Fenton who both outperformed him.
Fenton and Claiborne are both out injured this week and that leaves Fuller as having to take on a larger role. On the outside, second-year player Charvarius Ward has the potential to become a solid starter in the NFL but is still learning on the job. Across from Ward is another former Redskins cornerback in Bashaud Breeland. Breeland washed out in Green Bay last year after Washington let him walk and has been fighting a hamstring injury but should play.
New England should be able to move the ball at will through the air against the Chiefs’ average to below-average secondary. Julian Edelman should be effective inside and if Mohamed Sanu can get on the field for more than a handful of plays this week, he could be a match-up problem. Look for the Patriots to come out running to set-up the play-action passing attack over the middle of the field and dare the Chiefs to sell out to get after Brady.
The New England offense faces a defense whose reputation from last season does not match their play in 2019. The Texans lack play-makers at linebacker and the pass rush has been non-existent. The Patriots should be able to hold-up on the offensive line and give quarterback Tom Brady time to pick apart the depleted secondary. Unless the Texans can suddenly force some turnovers, it will be a long day for the Houston defense against a potentially rejuvenated New England offense.
NEW ENGLAND EXPECTED POINTS SCORED: 24
-Hal Bent is a Staff Writer for Full Press Coverage Sports Media and covers the New England Patriots. Follow him on Twitter @halbent01