The New England Patriots are set to take on the Kansas City Chiefs on Monday Night Football in week 4. The Patriots are looking to get their offense on track and Monday Night Football might be just the medicine Tom Brady and the passing game need. Brady has thrown 42 touchdowns on Monday Night Football, which ties him with Steve Young and puts him behind Dan Marino (74) and Brett Favre (69). Unlike Marino and Favre, though, who each played in 38 Monday night games, Brady’s only taken the field on Monday night 18 times. Needless to say, when he has appeared on Monday Night Football, he’s been productive and the Patriots offense will be looking for more of the same against the Chiefs. Let’s take a look at the key questions for the Patriots as they look to try and knock off the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium.
1. Can the offensive line get its act together?
If you’re a living and breathing Patriots fan you’ve probably heard that the Patriots offensive line is not exactly playing championship caliber football. Behind the poor play of this unit, the Patriots offense has struggled both in the passing game and in running the football. The Patriots come into this one with the 27th ranked passing offense in the league and 22nd at running the football, averaging 196 and 105 yard per game respectively in those phases. Much of the blame for the slow start rests with the offensive line, as it has struggled to consistently protect Brady and open up holes in the running game. You’ve probably heard by now the positive reviews of center Bryan Stork’s relief of a benched Jordan Devey late against Oakland, but let’s temper expectations that the rookie can somehow save this unit. We don’t need Nate Silver to tell us that sixteen snaps doesn’t make a significant sample. If this unit is going to start playing better, it’s not going to be because of the emergence of a rookie, but because of improved play from veterans. Nate Solder, Sebastian Vollmer, Dan Connolly and Ryan Wendell are all veteran players that have had success in this league. Quite simply, if the line’s going to get on track they need to start playing like it.
2. Will the Patriots look to pick up the tempo on offense?
Tom Brady has not escaped criticism as the team’s offense has limped out of the gate. While it’s fair to criticize Brady like it is any player on the roster, when you’ve been hurried as many times as he has it shouldn’t come as a huge surprise that he’s not comfortable in the pocket as a result. One area that Brady’s come under criticism for is his release time, as he’s historically been among one of the best quarterbacks in the league at getting ready of the football quickly. Of course, that requires being on the same page with your receivers, which is certainly an open question with this offense. This could, however, be a point of emphasis for the Patriots on Monday night. Look for offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels to try and pick up the pace on offense, relying on a combination of quick release passes and a hurry up scheme to try and take some pressure off his offensive line. Some rhythm on offense could help build some confidence in the line and Brady and keeping the offense moving and the defense on its heals might do the trick.
3. Can the Patriots contain Kansas City’s running game?
The Patriots enter the game with the leagues’ top passing defense, while the Chiefs are 26th in passing offense. That would seem to be a mismatch in favor of New England, albeit acknowledging that it’s only week 4 and you have to take some of these statistics with a grain of salt at this point. That being said, we can certainly expect the Chiefs to focus their energy trying to run the ball early and often in this one. The Chiefs will likely see the return of one of the most explosive running backs in the league in Jamaal Charles. Even without Charles, though, the Chiefs have averaged 125 yards on the ground as Knile Davis has performed well in his absence. The Patriots’ run defense has seemingly improved since they were steamrolled by Knowshon Moreno in week one and they will need another good performance against the Chiefs in Arrowhead. If the Patriots can stop the run and force Alex Smith to beat them through the air, defensive coordinator Matt Patricia will be smiling as his top rated pass defense should be up for the task.
4. Will another offensive skill player emerge?
The Patriots offense needs some diversity in the passing game and Tom Brady will likely be looking to get some of this other skill players involved. Danny Amendola has been kept off the stat sheet altogether thus far, although a number of big plays involving him have been called back on penalties. Amendola, tight end Tim Wright, and receiver Aaron Dobson, should he manage to be activated for this game, all can be important weapons for this offense. Tom Brady and Josh McDaniels would be wise to get them involved soon so this offense can start to build a much needed identity.
5. Can the Patriots minimize penalties?
The Patriots have been the most penalized team in the league thus far and that is undoubtedly an area that Bill Belichick has emphasized improving on this week in practice. The Patriots are averaging more than 100 penalty yards per game and it’s absolutely killing them on both sides of the football. They will have to clean it up if they want any chance of success at Arrowhead Stadium, which is one of the loudest and most difficult places for an opposing team to play. They certainly don’t need to be giving away yardage to a team as well coached as the Kansas City Chiefs.