What a crazy weekend for the New England Patriots. First, quarterback Cam Newton tests positive for Covid-19 and the big match-up Sunday afternoon against Patrick Mahomes and the NFL Champion Kansas City Chiefs gets postponed.
As there has been no additional outbreaks (Kansas CIty had their practice squad quarterback test positive), the game is on for Monday night now. Both teams are working with the NFL and NFLPA to follow post-Covid exposure protocols.
Of course, New England will be without Newton for the match-up. They were seven point underdogs WITH Newton, and now have to turn to back-up quarterback Brian Hoyer with Jarrett Stidham as the back-up.
What looked like a tough match-up for the Patriots already now has the potential to be a blowout.
The New England Patriots won their home opener against the Miami Dolphins 21 to 11 in week one but fell on the road 35 to 30 against the Seattle Seahawks. A bounce-back 36 to 21 win last week over the Las Vegas Raiders leave the Patriots with a 2-1 record heading into Monday night.
The Patriots ran away with the game last week against Las Vegas. Literally, they rushed for 250 yards and two touchdowns. Sony Michel was dominant with 117 yards rushing on just nine carries. Rex Burkhead added 49 yards and had both rushing touchdowns (and added another through the air). J.J. Taylor was a spark in the first half and had 43 yards rushing (all statistics from Pro-Football-Reference.com unless otherwise noted).
Surprisingly, it was the New England defense which continues to struggle to find its way in 2020. Granted, they turned over most of the front seven, but the pass defense has continued to struggle. Derek Carr passed for 261 yards and two touchdowns last week despite a lack of weapons.
That secondary will face plenty of fast, athletic and explosive weapons this week in Kansas City.
The defending champion Chiefs are 3-0 and look like a juggernaut. The offense is averaging 30.3 points per game and the defense is allowing an average of just 20.0 points per game. Head coach Andy Reid is an offensive wizard and his latest protegee offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy (someone explain to me how no one has hired this offensive mastermind as a head coach?) has done wonders maximizing the offense.
Rookie running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire has breathed fresh life into the offense with 240 yards on the ground through three games. He also has 11 receptions. Tight end Travis Kelce continues to dominate with 21 receptions for 227 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Tyreek Hill remains the most dangerous player in the NFL with the ball in his hands and when he gets a step past a cornerback down the field. He has 15 catches for 222 yards and three touchdowns. Surprisingly, Sammy Watkins has been off to a great start with 15 receptions through three games.
On defense, defensive coordinator Steve Spanuolo righted the ship after a week ten loss to the Titans. The defense was strengthened down the stretch (remember them sacking Tom Brady three times with relentless pressure, intercepting him and holding him to 169 yards passing in the December 23-16 win?) and was a huge part of getting the franchise over the Super Bowl hump.
On defense, it all starts with Chris Jones up front. A run-stuffer, a pocket-collapser inside, the Chiefs are moving him around on passing downs and he is a disruptive force. He has 3.5 sacks through three games and the extra day of rest no doubt benefits him as he has been dealing with a groin injury.
The linebacker group is solid but not spectacular. Spagnuolo puts them in the right place and Anthony Hitchens is the key of the group. Damien Wilson (and Ben Niemann) are solid and don’t make many mistakes. On the edge, Frank Clark is still a premier pass rusher and Tanoh Kpassagnon has been a stopgap, but getting Alex Okafor back Monday night would give the defense a boost.
The secondary is built around the safeties with veteran Daniel Sorenson and second-year Jaun Thornhill allowing Tyrann Mathieu to play at slot cornerback or move around the defense and play multiple roles on defense to highlight his skills. That is important since Bashaud Breeland is suspended this season.
Cornerbacks Rashad Fenton (two career starts) and Charvarius Ward (playing one handed as he is still recovering from hand surgery) are not big names, but they should get the job done. Rookie fourth-round pick J’Larius Sneed looked good being pushed into action and was leading the league in interceptions but broke his collarbone against Baltimore and is on injured reserve.
This week’s game will be broadcast at 7:05 p.m. by CBS and can be seen locally on WBZ-TV Channel 4 in the greater Boston area and WPRI-12 in the great Providence area. CBS obviously brings their top team as Jim Nantz will handle play-by-play duties with Tony Romo as the color analyst. Tracy Wolfson will be the sideline reporter.
On radio, the game will be broadcast as always on 98.5 The Sports Hub.The flagship station for the Patriots Radio Network, it will also be found on the network’s 38 stations that carry each and every Patriots game live across New England and even into the Rochester region in upstate New York. Play-by-play broadcaster Bob Socci is back to call the action along with the ever-entertaining and always entertaining former Patriots quarterback Scott Zolak.
Each week the game comes down to the match-ups. These are the top match-ups on offense and defense that will determine if the Patriots are able to emerge victorious on Monday night.
Patriots Offensive Strategy and Key Matchups:
Patriots’ WRs vs Chiefs’ CBs:
Julian Edelman, Damiere Byrd and N’Keal Harry are going to be a tough match-up for the Kansas City secondary. Expect Edelman to see a lot of Mathieu, but if James White is back on third down, the Chiefs have to consider who to match with the shifty running back. Establishing the run and getting Mathieu caught looking in the backfield could give Edelman an advantage getting into this route.
Fenton will likely see the smaller, speedier Byrd while Ward, as the longer cornerback, gets the match-up with Harry. Harry will have the advantage of Byrd playing with one hand and should have the advantage. Harry needs to use his size and strength to out-muscle Ward and have an advantage getting into his breaks.
Patriots’ RBs vs Chiefs’ LBs:
The Patriots had a great game on the ground against Miami in week one and against the Raiders in week three. Kansas City is coming off a win against Baltimore in which they allowed 158 yards rushing, but flooded the running lanes and held the Ravens running backs to just 12 carries and 75 yards.
Part of that was the Chiefs’ offense put them up 27-10 at halftime. The other part was the Chiefs putting the Ravens in tough situations on third down, as Baltimore was just three of nine on third down, with two of those conversions on the first drive of the game.
Baltimore fell behind early and got out of their plan to run the ball. That happens a lot against the Chiefs. New England will have the advantage on the ground just like the Ravens did, but need to have their defense keep them in the game to take advantage of it. Too often, the Kansas City offense stops the run.
Patriots’ OTs vs Chiefs’ Edge/DEs:
Sliding Joe Thuney to center (making him earn every penny of that Franchise Tag guaranteed salary) and inserting rookie guard Mike Onwenu in his spot at left guard was a genius move last week. The offensive line dominated the Raiders–particularly in the second half–and gave up only a coverage sack and only one “real” sack.
Of course, that was with Cam Newton at quarterback. Monday night sees Brian Hoyer making the start against a ferocious pass rush. Frank Clark, Chris Jones and possibly the return of Alex Okafor make for a tough go of it for an offensive line with a rookie (albeit one who has been fantastic) and Jermaine Eluemunor at right tackle.
The New England offense faces a defense which shut down the Texans, Chargers and Ravens so far this season. While Los Angeles moved the ball effectively through the air against the Chiefs in a tight game, Baltimore was stymied.
New England must focus on running the ball, finishing drives with touchdowns, and staying away from negative plays on early downs and, as always, no turnovers. It may be another “boring” offensive game plan for fans who got to see the exciting passing attack on offense with Cam Newton, but with Brian Hoyer, the offense has to play from ahead to have a chance.
NEW ENGLAND EXPECTED POINTS SCORED: 20
Patriots Defensive Strategy and Key Matchups:
Chiefs’ WRs/TEs vs Patriots’ CBs/Ss:
An exciting match-up this week to see just how much attention Travis Kelce receives from the New England secondary. Last week, Las Vegas tight end Darren Waller was stymied by a New England defense that rotated coverages and kept him covered up most of the game.
Of course, the Chiefs also have Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins, Mecole Hardman and Demarcus Robineson for teams to worry about in the passing game. That gives Kelce a big advantage versus Waller in being game-planned. With those weapons, teams must often have to leave Kelce in single coverage.
Hill will draw double-coverage as usual, but he moves around the formation so much that it can be hard to account for him. Hardman’s straight-line speed pressures defenses and forces another safety deep. Watkins has feasted in 2020 with so much attention on Hill and Hardman. As if not fair, when needed, Demarcus Robinson is almost unfair to have as the fourth receiver as he is capable of winning one-on-one on third downs.
Expect the Patriots to come in with a game plan for Kelce, but definitely not the attention Waller got. Stephon Gilmore, J.C. Jackson, and Joejuan Williams will all likely get matched-up with Kelce at some point. Blanketing Kelce with the long, athletic Williams could make for an intriguing chess match on Sunday. Hill is going to be a headache–he always is. After the way that Las Vegas and Seattle attacked this secondary, there is a lot of work to do still in 2020 to get back to the dominating unit it was last year.
Chiefs’ RBs vs Patriots’ LBs:
The Chiefs went out and while every other team sat on their hands, scooped up electrifying first round draft pick Clyde Edwards-Helaire at running back.The upgrade from Damien Williams, Darrell Williams and Darwin Thompson has given the offense–already the most electric in the NFL–a big boost.
The Patriots struggled to contain Chris Carson and Josh Jacobs in back-to-back weeks. Edwards-Helaire is more of a threat as he is also an excellent receiver. The New England linebackers just do not have the speed and agility to keep up with him in the passing game. If the Patriots need to move Adrian Phillips or rookie Kyle Dugger to linebacker to cover Edwards-Helaire in the passing game, the Chiefs suddenly have a huge advantage running the ball against a light front.
Chiefs’ OL vs Patriots’ DL:
I ask again, where is the New England pass rush? With just five sacks in three games, there has been a distinct lack of pressure created. Yes, Derek Rivers has been good on third down and Shilique Calhoun has a motor that does not stop. John Simon has been invisible and Chase Winovich has bursts of pressure, but still lacks consistency.
All those deep completions the past two weeks? Pressure not getting to Russell Wilson and Derek Carr. Now, the Patriots defense faces Patrick Mahomes, the most dangerous and efficient passer in the NFL.
The Kansas City offensive line is a strength of the team. Eric Fisher (when he’s not catching touchdowns at the goal line) and Mitchell Schwartz are one of the best tackle duos in the league. The interior had turnover, but veteran Kelechi Osemele is healthy and has seamlessly stepped in at guard opposite newcomer and former Panthers and Vikings guard Mike Remmers. Young center Austin Reiter is a model of consistency.
New England first has to keep Mahomes in the pocket and not extending plays and getting receivers behind the secondary. Then, they still have to get some kind of pressure to get the ball out of his hands out of rhythm. This pass rush just does not seem to have the ability to win one-on-one and do that this week.
The Patriots know that they can call and execute a defense perfectly, and Patrick Mahomes will somehow make an amazing play and gain chunk yards. That can discourage a defense over sixty minutes. The Chiefs have so many weapons and are one mistake on defense away from a touchdown at all times.
NEW ENGLAND EXPECTED POINTS ALLOWED: 34
Expected Final Score: New England 20 – Kansas City 34
I had just about convinced myself that maybe, just maybe, Cam Newton could keep the Patriots close enough to have a chance to steal a win against Kansas City. Once he was out due to the Covid-19 diagnosis, that went out the window.
The New England defense misses 2019 starters/key contributors Danny Shelton, Duron Harmon, Patrick Chung, Dont’a Hightower, Elandon Roberts, Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins. With a full preseason and offseason program, maybe the defense would be playing better, but the New England defense is far from the smothering unit it was in 2019.
Brian Hoyer is a capable back-up, but not the answer to match touchdown to touchdown with Patrick Mahomes. The Patriots will fight. They’ll win a few battles. But they’ll lose the war on Monday night.
-Hal Bent is a Staff Writer for Full Press Coverage Sports Media and covers the New England Patriots. Follow him on Twitter @halbent01 and @FPC_Patriots for live tweeting and instant analysis during the Patriots games.