Patriots QB Tom Brady hopes to get the offense on track in a hostile environment Monday night. (USA TODAY Images)
The New England Patriots go on the road this week to face the Kansas City Chiefs on Monday Night Football.¬†This is the Patriots third road game in four weeks, coming off a 16-9 victory against the Oakland Raiders.
The last time these two teams played was Nov. 21, 2011, when the Patriots defeated the visiting Chiefs 34-3 on (coincidentally) Monday Night Football. New England has not traveled to Kansas City since the 2005 season.
The¬†Chiefs are coming off a dominating 34-15 performance against the Miami Dolphins. Kansas City is off to a 1-2 start this season and have lost the last four straight home games dating back to last year. Patriots QB Tom Brady is 4-1 all-time against the Chiefs, 1-1 at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City.
First Impressions:¬†The Chiefs have some talent, but look incomplete at some areas on the roster. When head coach Andy Reid took over the team at the beginning of last year, they started 9-0, but have been a combined 3-7 to this point during the regular season.
Star tailback Jamaal Charles’ health situation, is obviously a big factor to monitor, but there’s no question the Chiefs are a run-oriented offense. Defensively, they are suspect in the middle of their defense, especially after losing linebacker Derrick Johnson to injury earlier this season. They do have an outstanding pass rush, though, which is a big concern since New England has struggled along the offensive line.
Chiefs Pass Rush Trio:¬†Kansas City has a solid defense, which is highlighted by three terrific players in the front seven. Pass rush duo Tamba Hali and Justin Houston on the edge, with penetrating lineman Dontari Poe in the middle. All three could have an impact Monday night and will have to be accounted for throughout the contest. Given New England’s offensive line troubles, this will be a huge challenge. All three players had a sack last week in the team’s win against Miami.
Communication will also be key for the Patriots. Arrowhead stadium is one of the most hostile¬†environments in the NFL, the loudest documented with Seattle a close second. One of the hot-button topics throughout the week for New England was who will start at center?
Dan Connolly has struggled and Ryan Wendell has been removed from the injury report. Would the team consider rookie Bryan Stork? A tough spot for his first career start, but players and coaches have praised the Florida State product for his communication since his arrival. The offensive line will be under a microscope throughout the game.
Defending the Run a Priority:¬†Jamaal Charles may be hobbled with an ankle injury, but that didn’t slow down the Chiefs rushing attack in week three. Knile Davis stepped in for 132 yards on 32 attempts and a touchdown. Kansas City had 174 yards on the ground as a team.
Whether it’s Charles, Davis or another Chiefs’ taliback, New England has to focus on taking that element away and making them one-dimensional. The Patriots currently rank 11th in the league in run defense, with opponents averaging 104 yards on the ground through three games.New England has not let up a run bigger than 15 yards and allowed only one running touchdown.
Captain Jerod Mayo and the front seven will have their work cut out for them in this contest and fellow linebacker Jamie Collins’ availability could be huge facing so much speed in Kansas City’s backfield.
Third Down Battles:¬†On both sides of the ball, the Chiefs play well on third-down. In fact, both units are currently ranked 7th; 48% offense and 36% defense. Obviously the Patriots will have to covert on third-down to find success offensively and also get off the field defensively in order to win this game.
Opposite Ends of Turnover Spectrum:¬†Turnovers are huge in a football game and both teams this week are on opposite ends of the spectrum to start the season. The Patriots are first¬†(tied with the Cincinnati Bengals) at plus-six. On the flip side, the Chiefs are dead last at minus-five. Kansas City has yet to force a turnover this season, which is surprising considering they were second in the NFL a season ago.
Players To Watch:
Patriots Center –¬†Sounds weird, but a big focus of this contest will be New England’s offensive line. How will they handle the loud environment in Kansas City and the Chiefs strong front seven. Who starts at center? Will there be a change made along the offensive line? Can they effectively communicate with Brady and the other lineman? We’ll see.
Tom Brady¬†–¬† There’s been a lot of criticism on the Patriots offense and Brady. Fair or not, there’s no doubt Brady has heard fans and analysts all week. What better time to silence the critics than on Monday Night Football? He is 216 passing yards shy of eclipsing 50,000 for his career and has thrown the third most touchdowns in MNF history (42). Look for the Patriots offense to adjust and Brady to have a big game this week.
Chandler Jones¬†–¬†After losing Brandon Albert in free agency, Kansas City moved 2013 no.1 overall pick Eric Fisher to the left side during the offseason. Chandler Jones has played pretty well and Fisher has struggled so far this season. Jones needs to win this match-up and pressure Chiefs QB Alex Smith.
Key Matchup:¬†Tamba Hali vs Nate Solder –
This will be one of the most exciting and pivotal match-ups of the game. Hali brings an incredible amount of power and tenacity in his game. Patriots left tackle, Nate Solder, has struggled so far this season. Hali has 29 career forced fumbles and the Chiefs have had four sacks in two of their three games this year.
Prediction:¬†Patriots 23, Chiefs, 16
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