NE PASSING OFFENSE vs KC PASS DEFENSE
The New England Patriots piled up almost 500 yards of total offense in the AFC Divisional round with quarterback Tom Brady throwing for 343 yards. The Chargers pass defense was ninth in the NFL in passing yards allowed and 11th in net yards per attempt coming into that game.
They boasted a secondary loaded with stars, including All-Pro safety Derwin James, Second Team All-Pro safety Adrian Phillip, safety Jahleel Addae, two-time Pro Bowl cornerback Casey Hayward, underrated cornerback Michael Davis, and All-Pro slot cornerback Desmond King. Los Angeles also has premier pass rushers Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram.
New England’s passing offense finished eighth in the NFL in yards gained and sixth in net yards per attempt in 2018, and had no problem blasting through the Chargers’ Cover-3 zone defense. This weekend, they play a Kansas City team that gave up 340 yards to Tom Brady in Week 6, and finished 31st in passing yards allowed during the regular season.
The Chiefs are more of man-coverage secondary that will show a number of different looks. Defensive coordinator Bob Sutton will switch from man coverage to Cover-1, to Cover-2, to Cover-3… all on the very same series.
While the Patriots lit-up the Chiefs’ secondary in their last meeting, that secondary has changed since then. Kansas City only had their best secondary player, Pro Bowl safety Eric Berry, for two games, but he looks primed to return on Sunday. Berry was not active for the game earlier this season against the Patriots. Another safety who missed the game was Daniel Sorensen, who had a strong game last week against Indianapolis.
At cornerback, young talent Charvarius Ward has replaced the ineffective Orlando Scandrick, and rising safety Jordan Lucas has taken playing time from the recently released Ron Parker, who started 14 games for Kansas City. Since those changes, the pass defense has improved–especially at home, where the crowd noise helps the defensive line get at the quarterback.
The Patriots will need to get Julian Edelman free and running wild like he did last week against the Chargers. This week he will get a heavy dose of cornerback Kendall Fuller. Fuller struggled much of 2018, but he and the Kansas City defense were shutdown against the Colts last week. New England will hope for contributions from Cordarrelle Patterson, Phillip Dorsett, and Chris Hogan if their offense is going to keep up with the Chiefs.
New England will also need tight end Rob Gronkowski to step-up in the passing game. Gronkowski had only three receptions against Kansas City earlier in the season, but those receptions added up for 97 yards. They also were extremely timely, and included 42 and 39-yard catches inside of the final four minutes of the game that set up the last two scores and allowed New England to win 43-40.
Last week against the Colts, the Chiefs played much of the game in a nickel or dime defense with extra secondary players replacing the linebackers. Add in their speedy and aggressive pass rush with Dee Ford, Justin Houston, and Chris Jones, and it could be a long night for the New England offensive line.
The pressure will fall on New England tackles Trent Brown on the left side and Marcus Cannon on the right side. Both held up well last week against Bosa and Ingram, but Brady will have to get the ball out quickly once again as Ford (13 sacks) and Houston (nine sacks in 12 games) bring speed and power off the edge. The interior of the line must deal with Jones and his 15.5 sacks.