Tag Archives: Alex Smith

Patriots Curbstomped by the Chiefs 42-27 in NFL Opener

Steve Balestrieri
September 8, 2017 at 6:47 am ET

 

You can nod your head if you’ve seen this one before. The Kansas City Chiefs physically dominated the Patriots at the point of attack on both sides of the ball and used a suffocating defense and an opportunistic and explosive offense to send the Pats to the locker room with plenty to digest on the wrong end of a 42-27 pasting at home.

The 42 points and 537 yards allowed were the most ever by a Bill Belichick coached Patriots team.

The turning point in this game was at the end of the first half. Leading 17-7, the Patriots got the ball at their 40-yard line with a little over three minutes to go and a chance to open up a big lead at intermission. After a nice gain by Dion Lewis on first down, Brady missed on his next two throws forcing a three and out. Worse, the incompletions took no time off the clock and the Chiefs got the ball back with plenty of time to go down the field. And they did just that, as they carved up the Patriots defense for a 92-yard scoring drive just before the half that cut the lead to 17-14 and you could feel this one turn.

Brady and the offense had the chance to put some distance between themselves and an opponent at halftime but couldn’t capitalize. Instead, the Chiefs outscored them 35-10 from that point on.

The Patriots defense showed that they have a lot of work to do and it can begin with the game plan. With Dont’a Hightower playing on the edge, the team played a lot of dime coverage which forced Kyle Van Noy into the middle and wearing the green dot. While he may find more comfort in that down the road, on Thursday night he looked uncomfortable and out of sorts. Speaking of out of sorts, in the dime look, the team went back to having Jordan Richards play a linebacker role in the Pat Chung kind of look. David Harris barely saw the field and the Chiefs took advantage.

But as we pointed out in our pre-game matchups, when the team ran this look in the preseason, opponents ran right at it and were very effective. Richards looked as lost as in preseason. He’s too slow to cover effectively and isn’t physical enough in the running game. Kansas City ran right at this group and did it extremely effectively rushing 27 times for 185 yards with two touchdowns, averaging a hefty 6.9 yards per pop.

Impressive rookie running back Kareem Hunt had a fantastic night, rushing 17 times for 148 yards and catching five passes out of the backfield for 98 more and a pair of scores. With Hightower out after getting his knee rolled up, the team put newcomer Cassius Marsh out on the edge and the Chiefs went after him in coverage and Hunt caught a short Alex Smith pass and took it to the house.


Hightower and the Patriots defense had a tough night.

Smith positively carved up the Patriots much ballyhooed secondary to the tune of 28-35 for 368 yards with four touchdown passes and zero interceptions. Including long scoring passes to Tyreek Hill (75 yards) and Kareem Hunt (78 yards), it wasn’t a banner night (pardon the pun) for the secondary. We spent the summer talking up the speed of the Patriots offense, well on Thursday night, the Chiefs put on an absolute clinic with team speed with their offensive weapons. The Chiefs scored just one touchdown drive of 90 yards or more in 2016, on Thursday night they had three.

On the offensive side of the ball, the Patriots are now dangerously thin at wide receiver. After losing Julian Edelman to IR in the preseason, just hours before the game, they placed 2nd year pro Malcolm Mitchell on IR with the hopes that he can return later this season. Then Danny Amendola, who was having a very good night with 6 catches for 100 yards suffered a concussion, leaving the team with Chris Hogan, Brandin Cooks, and newcomer Phillip Dorsett. But credit the Kansas City secondary. They played extremely well all night long and were sticking to their receivers like glue. Quarterback Tom Brady had all kinds of time to throw, except that there was no one to throw to. The windows were very tight and the Chiefs contested every throw. Brady’s numbers were uncharacteristically poor 16-36 for 267 yards with no touchdowns and no interceptions. Chris Hogan, shadowed by Marcus Peters much of the night had one catch for eight yards. Rob Gronkowski was blanketed by All-Pro SS Eric Berry all game and had just two catches for 33 yards. We expected to see the backs utilized much more than the team did in this one. James White caught just three passes for 30 yards and Rex Burkhead caught one for eight yards.

The running game was flat out not good enough. And the Patriots came into this one with the mindset that they were going to run the ball. They ran the ball 30 times for just 107 yards, good for only a 3.6-yard average. What was worse is that three times needing 2 yards or less, including two, fourth and one plays, the Chiefs stuffed them. That’s called dominating the point of attack and that is what Belichick’s teams normally do to the opposition. The Patriots had six red zone opportunities and came away with just three touchdowns. That isn’t going to be good enough. Normally at home when you score 27 points, you should be coming home with a win, however, this wasn’t a normal game by any stretch of the imagination.

One bright spot in the running game was newcomer Mike Gillislee who scored all three Patriots touchdowns in the goal line situations.

So there remains a lot of work to do, especially on defense because the Patriots have nine days to fix some issues before they face Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints offense. If Hightower and Amendola aren’t available, it is going to put even more strain on the respective units. Bill Belichick will have his work cut out for him but if there is one thing we’ve seen before, don’t bet against him, he and the coaching staff can figure this one out.

If there is a silver lining to this one, we can now put the silly 19-0 talk to bed. That and those even sillier blue towels that were barely seen on television last night. Looked like NBC was trying to limit how much those were visible on the screen. But make no mistake, this one wasn’t a fluke. The Chiefs (as we tried to point out) were a 12-win team a year ago and they dominated this one. Just like they did against the Patriots in a nationally televised game three years ago.

We’re on to New Orleans….

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Patriots – Chiefs Key Matchups, Who Has the Razor’s Edge?

Steve Balestrieri
September 6, 2017 at 11:19 am ET

The New England Patriots begin the 2017 season trying to become the first team since the 2003-2004 Pats to repeat as Super Bowl Champions. They have a great first game of the season on tap as they face the Kansas City Chiefs who were the #2 seed in the AFC a year ago. 

The game will be televised by NBC with their top announcing crew of Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth handling the play-by-play and analysis duties. The game will also be on the Patriots flagship radio station 98.5 The SportsHub with Bob Socci and Scott Zolak on the call.

The Patriots (14-2) won the AFC East a year ago and were the top seed in the AFC They beat the Texans and Steelers at home before going to the Super Bowl LI and coming from 25 points down to wind up defeating the Atlanta Falcons in the first overtime game in Super Bowl history.

The Chiefs (12-4) won the AFC West before losing to the Steelers 18-16 in the Divisional Round of the playoffs.

We here at PatsFans.com are continuing our “Razor’s Edge” column in 2017 to give a quick break down on some of the key matchups of the game and what you can look for in how the game plays out.

Series History:

The Patriots and Chiefs have met 34 times with Kansas City holding an all-time 17-14 edge (three ties). The series has been dominated by the home teams, with KC owning an 11-3-1 lead at home and the Patriots enjoy an 11-6-2 mark at home. The last time the teams met was in January 2016 when the Patriots defeated KC 27-20 in the Divisional Playoff Game.

Here is a look at some of the key matchups and who holds the Razor’s Edge.

First up is the Patriots offense:

Patriots RBs vs Chiefs Front Seven – Razor’s Edge Kansas City

The Patriots running game is really a new entity in 2017 With Mike Gillisllee and Rex Burkhead coming on board this spring, Dion Lewis is waiting in the wings as well with James White. They have plenty of weapons and they will be able to run the ball very well this season. But in Week 1? They haven’t worked together much on the field and although the unit is solid, they’ll need to get things sorted.

KC was uncharacteristically soft in their run defense in 2016 giving up 121 yards per game. Dontari Poe was let go as they felt he couldn’t handle the double teams anymore and the team brought in Bennie Logan. Justin Houston and Derrick Johnson return as well and this unit should be much tougher to run against than a year ago.

Patriots WRs vs Chiefs Secondary – Razor’s Edge New England

The Patriots passing game was outstanding for the 2016 season and they’ve added Brandin Cooks this spring. However, the loss of Julian Edelman is a huge blow to the offense, especially on third down. But with Cooks, Chris Hogan, Danny Amendola, tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Dwayne Allen with RBs White, Lewis and Burkhead coming out of the backfield, QB Tom Brady has a plethora of targets to use.

The Chiefs have an outstanding pass defense. With CB Marcus Peters and SS Eric Berry, they have two of the best players at their position in the league. With Houston back and healthy after two seasons of knee injuries and Dee Ford as their pass rushers, they can get after the QB. They suffered a big blow with CB Steven Nelson going on IR. Terrance Mitchell will fill in and will be tested.

Next up the Kansas City offense:

Chiefs RBs vs NE Front Seven – Razor’s Edge Kansas City

The Chiefs lost their starter Spencer Ware during the preseason and he was expected to be the lead back in Andy Reid’s offense. That was a big loss for them, but rookie Kareem Hunt from Toledo is an intriguing player with a lot of upside. Many of the pundits had him as one of the top RBs in this year’s draft class. Charcandrick West and C.J. Spiller back him up. Tyreek Hill is the X-factor in the running game as is Alex Smith who can scramble. The KC Offensive line is very good.

The Patriots are set up very well to stop the run in 2017 with Alan Branch returning, Malcom Brown inside along with Lawrence Guy and linebackers Dont’a Hightower and David Harris. This preseason, opponents were running right at the center of the defense, albeit with many backups in the game. It will be interesting to see if this trend continues into the regular season.

Chiefs WRs vs NE Secondary- Razor’s Edge New England

Alex Smith had a stellar 2016 completing 67 percent of his passes. He rarely makes mistakes, and while he’s not an “elite” QB, he’s plenty good enough to take them deep into the playoffs if he gets help around him. Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce are his top two targets and they are each difficult to account for in their own way. With releasing Jeremy Maclin this spring, KC needs a third WR to step up.

The Patriots added CB Stephon Gillmore this spring to an already solid secondary. Malcolm Butler, Eric Rowe (slot), along with Devin McCourty and Pat Chung give the Pats an (on paper), outstanding secondary. But the question this season will be is the pass rush going to be good enough? They get their first test on Thursday night against a good OL and a QB that can run.

Special Teams- Razor’s Edge Kansas City

The Patriots special teams get the slight edge in the kicking game, where Stephen Gostkowski is among the best in the league at the pooch kickoffs stranding teams deep and he’s seeming back on track after a solid summer. He gives them the edge over Cairo Santos. Dustin Colquitt and Ryan Allen are both outstanding punters that excel in directional punting and hitting punts inside the 20  But in the return game, the Chiefs have a clear advantage. Hill is a dynamic returner who averaged 15.2 yards per return. With Cyrus Jones and Julian Edelman on IR, the Patriots return game is starting from scratch.

Next up, who wins and why…

Prediction:

This game and the first game of every season are always among the most difficult to predict because there are so many unknowns out there with no regular season film to watch. The Patriots should get a huge boost from the home crowd especially with dropping Super Bowl banner #5 just prior to the game. But I worry about them coming out flat after all the emotion of the pregame celebrations.

I keep reading all over social media that the Pats are going to romp in this one. I couldn’t disagree more. This Chiefs team won 12 games a year ago and have a few of their key pieces back that was missing. I think this is going to be a tough, hard-fought one with almost a playoff atmosphere to it.

A couple of the key matchups to watch is Eric Rowe, who I think will draw Kelce on defense and if he can stand up to the physicality of him. Malcolm Butler will draw Hill with safety help. The Chiefs aren’t an air-it-out team but you can expect them to try a few times. I look for them to try to get Hill the ball in space. Look for shallow crosses or rub routes. When he gets the ball, he can fly.

On offense, look for Tom Brady to spread out the Chiefs defense and try to find the mismatches. With everyone talking about Cooks and newcomer Phillip Dorsett, who may not even play, they’re forgetting the main man for Brady and that is Gronkowski who is healthy now and wants to put on a show in primetime…much like Hill. With Brady stretching the seams and forcing some of the Chiefs excellent LBs into coverage, they should be able to find some space. This will be a tough, exciting matchup. I like the Patriots to hold serve at home.

Patriots 28-20

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Patriots 2017 Opponents, Five First Impressions of the Chiefs

Steve Balestrieri
September 5, 2017 at 9:36 am ET

The Patriots, as well as the 2017 NFL season, kicks off with a Thursday night prime time matchup against the Kansas City Chiefs. The game will be televised nationally by NBC with Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth on the call and Michelle Tafoya handling sideline duties. Kickoff is slated for 8:30 p.m.

The Patriots begin their quest to defend their Super Bowl LI title and are the last team to successfully win back-to-back titles in 2003-2004. The team will unfurl their fifth Super Bowl banner prior to the game and have asked that fans be seated by 8:00 p.m. for the festivities planned.

The Chiefs (12-4) won the AFC West and were the AFC’s #2 seed heading into the playoffs. But they lost a home playoff tilt to Pittsburgh 18-16 or they would have met the Patriots in Foxboro for the AFC Championship. In a salary cap move, the team jettisoned former #1 wide receiver Jeremy Maclin in the offseason, feeling that 2nd-year player Tyreek Hill is more than ready to assume the mantle as their top receiver. Tight End Travis Kelce had 85 catches for 1125 yards and four TDs.

Tyreek Hill is the Chiefs “X-Factor” on Offense: When the two teams meet on Thursday night, all eyes will be on the Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill. He’s the new #1 wide receiver in just his second year and can do it all. In his press conference on Monday, Patriots coach Bill Belichick said the Patriots have to be ready for everything.

“I’m sure they have a lot of different ways to use him and he’s a very versatile player,” Belichick said. “He can run, he can catch … I’m sure they use him a decoy. He’s a very explosive player.”

“I don’t know exactly where he’ll be, but you certainly have to be conscious of him whenever he’s on the field,” Belichick added.

Hill loves playing in prime-time games and relishes his chance to shine in them.  He shined last season on a Sunday night at Denver, when he became the first rookie since Gale Sayers to score a touchdown by rushing, receiving and kick return. In another prime-time game against the Raiders, he caught a 36-yard touchdown pass and had a 78-yard punt return for a score.

Then Christmas night against the Broncos, Hill gashed their division rivals for a 70-yard touchdown run.

“I’m always trying to make the big play under the lights because everyone’s watching,” Hill said. And everyone will be watching him on Thursday.

The Chiefs Have Invested Heavily in Their  Defense: Kansas City the past several years has pumped a lot of money into their defense. In fact, their salary cap money tied to the defense is nearly 2-1 in favor of the defensive side of the ball. And it shows.

Justin Houston, the Chiefs linebacker has struggled with knee injuries the past two years but is reportedly healthy finally and looking to recapture the form where in 2014, he led the NFL with 22 sacks. He and Derrick Johnson, and Dee Ford gives the Chiefs the pressure they’ll need to compete again in a very tough division.

The team thought enough of Bennie Logan, that they allowed Dontari Poe to walk in free agency this spring. And with the Chiefs defense, they have one of the top corners in the NFL with Marcus Peters. Safety Eric Berry returns this season as well.

Since the 2013 season, the Chiefs defense is second only to the Seahawks allowing just 18.5 points per game.

There is No QB Controversy With KC, Alex Smith is the Man: When the Chiefs drafted Patrick Mahomes this spring, many predicted that the writing was on the wall for the steady, but unspectacular Alex Smith. And while Mahomes dazzled in the preseason, Andy Reid and the Chiefs coaching staff are sticking with Smith, at least for this season as the best chance to getting KC a deep playoff run.

Many Chiefs insiders have stated that despite the hype, Smith is still ahead of Mahomes by a wide margin. “Alex is so far advanced from the mental side,” GM Brett Veach said, “in regards to his ability to read coverages, to shift to better plays and really play the chess game. He’s so far ahead of what Pat is.”

Chiefs fans will have to be patient and let the rookie develop. In the meantime, Smith trudges along, and for the most part underappreciated. But rather than sulk about his successor being drafted, Smith relished his role. He has been a big help for the rookie and has doubled down on his own efforts at improving. It speaks volumes to his professionalism and to Reid’s staff.

Spencer Ware’s Injury Opens the Door for Kareem Hunt: The Chiefs, like the Patriots suffered an injury to a key member of their offense. The KC running game was supposed to funnel mainly thru Spencer Ware in 2017.  But after the talented back tore his PCL/LCL this summer, he was lost for the season. But also like the Patriots and their loss of Julian Edelman, the injury at least happened early enough for the team to be able to adjust accordingly. The next man up for the Chiefs is Kareem Hunt.

Hunt is a rookie from Toledo that had a terrific summer for Reid and the Chiefs. He brings a nice blend of power, speed and elusiveness to the backfield and behind a good offensive line should be primed to have a good season in KC. He’s a patient runner that reads the play and flow well and is a very good blocker in the passing game.

He’ll be backed up by veterans Charcandrick West and C.J. Spiller in the backfield. Teams ran at the Patriots middle this summer. It will be interesting to see how the Chiefs use Hunt on Thursday night.

Steven Nelson’s Injury Opens Up Questions at Corner: We already mentioned that the Chiefs have one of the NFL’s best corners in Peters. They lost a very talented youngster in Steven Nelson to IR, but hope that he’ll be able to return later this season.

But that doesn’t help them in the meantime and specifically on Thursday night. Who will the Chiefs play opposite Peters when facing Brady and the Patriots offense?  KC will probably opt for veteran Phillip Gaines who they drafted in the 3rd round 2014. He was a starter early in 2015 but suffered an ACL injury and was lost for much of the season. He came back late in the year but struggled, which isn’t rare since it takes a good 12-18 months to regain one’s strength and mobility. Now he’s back and seemingly fully back to where he was.

The other option would be to use veteran Terrance Mitchell. Mitchell was a player who bounced around a bit and found a home in Kansas City. The Chiefs used him as the nickel/slot corner and he played extremely well for them down the stretch and into the playoffs. Odds are, Reid leaves him right where he’s at, but they could do some mixing and matching depending on the matchups. Of course, nothing helps the secondary and cornerback play like a pass rush and with Houston back, the Chiefs will be looking to bring the pressure.

Check back with us later tomorrow as we’ll have a breakdown of the matchups between the Chiefs and the Patriots on what promises to be a very good kickoff to the NFL season.  

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Sunday Observations: Patriots Three Horsemen Lead to Win Over KC

Steve Balestrieri
January 17, 2016 at 7:04 am ET

Brady,Edelman, Gronkowski in mid-season form as Pats move on

The Patriots are heading back to the AFC Championship Game for the fifth year in a row due in no small part to the play of their big three on offense. Tom Brady, Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski all played huge roles in the Pats 27-20 win over the Kansas City Chiefs in the Divisional Round of the AFC playoffs.

Tom Brady was back on top of his game on Saturday as he was able to stand and deliver the ball with authority. The return of Edelman gave him that short passing game that the Patriots have been able to use in lieu of a running game.

Brady was sharp, completing 28 of 42 passes for 302 yards and two touchdowns on the day. His numbers would have been even better had not the Patriots suffered a case of the drops especially in the first half.  But most importantly, Brady wasn’t sacked nor turned the ball over.

The Patriots offensive line bolstered by the return of Sebastian Vollmer did a much better job of protecting Brady than they have in the last month, allowing zero sacks and pretty much giving him a clean pocket in which to work in.

The Chiefs defense has been very opportunistic during their 11-game winning streak, with a plus 20 turnover differential. It was one of our keys to the game that the Patriots had to keep from turning the ball over in order to move on…and they did just that.

Brady moved well in the pocket and felt the pressure when he had to was able to slide in the pocket while keeping his focus downfield. He even took off on a scramble down to the one-yard line where he appeared to score. But took it over himself from the one-yard line to put the Patriots up 14-3. That drive covered 98 yards in 11 plays and was a huge boost in momentum.

Brady’s scramble to the one ignited the crowd, and drew this post-game quip from Edelman. “When the Clydesdale gets running, the crowd goes wild.”

Edelman Gronkowski Step Up: Leading into the game, a lot of the talk centered around the return of Julian Edelman and if he’d be able to present the same level of production as well as cut and plant with his foot as we’ve been accustomed to. Also, rumors swirled around Rob Gronkowski as to his health with knee and back issues and he was listed as questionable as well as Edelman coming into the game.

In our Players to Watch pre-game piece, we answered those questions, Gronkowski was in Florida during the bye week relaxing and not at the facility getting treatment and as for Edelman and the “rust” factor, look at the Pittsburgh game in Week 1 after Edelman sat out the entire preseason. He caught 11 passes for 97 yards in that one.

Edelman looked to be the exact player he was when he went down in the Patriots ninth game of the season. He caught 10 passes for 100 yards and was the most dynamic player on the field on Saturday. He was involved from the first snap and was instrumental in setting the tone from the outset as the Patriots took the opening kickoff and marched 80 yards in 12 plays to go up 7-0.

Gronkowski didn’t look like a guy who was suffering from knee and back woes and was his normal nightmarish self when it came to matchups. With Edelman and Amendola back in the lineup and healthy, the Patriots went 3-4 wide receivers often, spreading out the KC defense which frequently left Gronkowski in one-on-one matchups.

The big man caught seven passes for 83 yards and two huge touchdowns on the day. His second was a beautiful fake that he and Brady worked to perfection. At the snap Edelman ran a cross and Brady glanced that way, pulling the interior defense with him leaving Gronk alone with safety Eric Berry.

Brady executed a great pump fake and Gronkowski stopped as if on a comeback route. Berry bit hard, charging up to challenge and Gronkowski rolled around him to catch Brady’s pass for a 16-yard touchdown to make the score 21-6.

Of Brady’s 42 passes on the day, 24 of them (57%), were targeted to Edelman and Gronkowski…think #12 was happy to see them back in action?

Jones Makes Key Play Then Leaves Via Injury: With all of the hoopla surrounding Chandler Jones this week, there were questions surrounding him as well and many thought he may lose playing time as a result.

Well that didn’t happen as Bill Belichick, sent Jones out with the normal starting unit of the Patriots defense and Jones had two impact plays. He logged the only sack of the game for either team when he took down Alex Smith who proved to be very elusive all game long.

But the big play was a key turning point of the game. The Chiefs took the second half kickoff and were driving; down 14-6, a field goal or a touchdown puts the Chiefs right back in the game. Knile Davis appeared to pick-up a first down at the Patriots 31-yard line but in bringing him down, Jones stripped him of the ball. The Patriots recovered and went on a 69-yard drive to go up 21-6 in another big shift in momentum.

It was a huge play not only for the Patriots but for Jones as well as quickly made fans forget about his troubles earlier in the week. He later suffered a knee injury and didn’t return. But the good sign was he remained on the bench for the remainder of the game and his status will have to be monitored during the week.

Defense Steps Up in RZ, Back on 3rd Down: It was a mixed bag for the Patriots defense on Saturday. On one hand, they held Alex Smith to just a 58 percent completion percentage as he went 29 for 50 for 246 yards. His 4.9 yards per pass play was very good as well. They also were very good in the Red Zone, holding the Chiefs to a pair of field goals and really only one meaningful touchdown.

The second score was a long-drawn out drive where the Chiefs used horrible clock management (Andy Reid specialty). When they finally did score, the game was essentially over and forced them into trying an on-sides kick with just over a minute to go.

But the defense really struggled on third down all game long, credit Smith with making plays with his feet and being able to extend them and find receivers or scramble to keep the chains moving. KC was 12 of 20 on third down, at one point in the fourth quarter being 10 of 15. Those kind of numbers won’t cut it next week, and Bill Belichick stated in his post-game comments that the team, just couldn’t get the off the field on third down.

Welcome to the Milk Carton Mr. Kelce: Coming into this game, the Patriots knew that KC wide receiver Jeremy Maclin was either going to be either very limited or out. So they decided to put their main focus on taking Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce out of the equation, and did a fantastic job of doing just that.

Kelce aka “Baby Gronk” had torched the Texans the week before with eight catches for 128 yards but no one is better than Bill Belichick at taking away what you like to do best. While all teams do that, what makes Belichick’s method so effective is the manner in which they do that. They rolled different looks of linebackers and safeties on Kelce mixing it up but the onus of their coverage fell on Pat Chung.

Chung did an outstanding job of shadowing Kelce, with help all over the field. Sans Maclin, the Patriots were trying to force Smith and the Chiefs to beat them with Albert Wilson and Chris Conley. Kelce was invisible for the vast majority of the game and he finished with six catches for just 23 yards….Mission accomplished.

Injuries Rear Up…Again: With an injury list too long coming into the game, the last thing the Patriots needed was to lose any more players during the game, but that is exactly what happened.

We mentioned earlier that Jones went down with a knee injury and didn’t return. Jamie Collins left in the third quarter with a back injury and was out for the remainder of the contest and Jerod Mayo also went down with a shoulder injury. He went to the locker room and didn’t return.

Bryan Stork left briefly during the first half with an ankle injury, but after having it re-taped, he returned to the field and played the rest of the game.

With all eyes on the Denver – Pittsburgh game on Sunday to see who the Pats next opponent will be, We’re on the AFC Championship Game…

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcast on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Patriots, Chiefs: Three Players to Watch AFC Divisional Playoff

Steve Balestrieri
January 16, 2016 at 11:07 am ET

The Patriots take on the Kansas City Chiefs in the Divisional Round of the 2015 NFL Playoffs at Foxboro today at 4:30 p.m. The winner will move on the AFC Championship Game next week; the loser goes home. There’s no more playing it safe with injuries and guys banged up. It’s all hands on deck and if you can get out there and contribute, you’re playing.

The Patriots injury list is as long as it has ever been after coming OFF of a bye week and there are still plenty of questions to be answered on who plays and who doesn’t. The injury list from Friday contains 12 questionable players include Julian Edelman, Rob Gronkowski, Sebastian Vollmer, Dont’a Hightower, Chandler Jones, Rob Ninkovich, Danny Amendola, Jonathan Freeny, Nate Ebner, Scott Chandler, La Adrian Waddle and Justin Coleman.

The Chiefs come in with injury concerns of their own with Justin Houston, Tamba Hali, Jeremy Maclin, Spencer Ware and Albert Wilson listed as questionable. KC has run off 11 straight wins heading into this week in stark contrast to the Patriots having lost their last two and four of their last six.

Matchups are always a prime concern regardless of the opponent and this week’s will ultimately decide whether the Patriots move on next week. And all of our Patriots players are on the questionable list. Which is telling in itself.

Here are our three players to watch from a Patriots perspective this week.

Julian Edelman: The Patriots and Tom Brady’s most trusted wide receiver hasn’t played since early in Week 9 against the Giants when he suffered a broken bone in his foot. Not surprisingly with Edelman in the lineup, the Patriots were 9-0; without him they were 3-4 and their third down conversions went from 50 percent to around 33 down the stretch.

He and a healthy Amendola keeps the Patriots short passing game going and the chains moving. Edelman is particularly effective at getting open at the line of scrimmage and allowing Brady to get the ball out quickly which helps an offensive line that is battered, bruised and has been leaky down the stretch.

Edelman is going against a secondary that is very good but tends to give a cushion and then breaks on the ball. That would not be a recipe for success against he and Brady. How effective he is today will go a long way in deciding this one.

No one is tougher than Edelman. He’s battle tested, his Super Bowl heroics in the 4th quarter were instrumental in getting New England, ring #4. As to his being rusty? Some food for thought. Edelman didn’t play at all in the preseason and was off from the SB until the opener against Pittsburgh. His totals against the Steelers in Week 1? Very Edelman-like numbers with 11 catches for 97 yards. Anything resembling that today is a great sign for New England.

Dont’a Hightower/Jamie Collins: The Patriots linebackers haven’t been on the field much together down the stretch but they really need them today. Hightower is a beast inside in the running game and when he’s healthy, he flies up in the gaps and stuffs runners at or behind the line of scrimmage.

Kansas City has a potent running game with Charcandrick West, Spencer Ware and QB Alex Smith. They operate nearly a 50/50 balance in offense between running and passing and average 127.8 yards per game on the ground. They need the running game effective to make their own short passing game effective.

If Hightower is close to his normal self, he’ll be a big factor in filling in those gaps. A look at the rush defense when he isn’t in there shows that teams have been able to run at the front seven, particularly between the tackles and if KC does that today they’ll be in good shape for an upset.

Collins will probably be tasked with spying on Smith today. He’s adept at making big plays with his feet and bust a long run from the pocket or roll out and hit one of his receivers on the fly. Collins is the Pats most athletic linebacker and with Maclin either out or limited, Smith will be forced to take on a bigger role with the offense. How effective he is will depend on the day Collins has trying to keep him contained.

Rob Gronkowski: What a week it was in Foxboro; between the on-going saga of Chandler Jones and the black eye of Belichick and the possible return of Edelman, the Patriots couldn’t afford any more distractions right? Well Gronkowski missed the last two practices with what was listed as “knee/back” issues.

Adam Schefter of ESPN reported he went to the hospital for injections in his knee while Ian Rapopport of NFL Network said that it wasn’t the case. Jeff Howe reported on Friday that “if” Gronk plays he’ll be far less than 100 percent.

We’ll see, the Patriots need Gronkowski threatening the middle of the field and stretching the seams, something they haven’t been able to do in recent weeks. That opens up some real estate underneath for guys like Edelman, Amendola and LaFell to operate in with Brady.

The feeling here is not only will Gronk play but play well. Normally when a player is hurt the team keeps them around the facility for treatment. Gronkowski was spotted last week in Florida relaxing poolside which unless he reinjured it this week, tells me that his knee isn’t as bad as some are making it out to be. We’ll know for sure at 4:30 p.m.

Stay tuned to PatsFans.com as we’ll have the latest on breaking news for the Patriots as well as a complete breakdown of the game from Saturday.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcast on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com

Patriots – Chiefs, Key Matchups; Who Has the Razor’s Edge?

Steve Balestrieri
January 15, 2016 at 6:00 am ET

The New England Patriots open their 2015 playoff season with a home game in the Divisional Round against the Kansas City Chiefs. The game will be televised by CBS with their announcing crew of Ian Eagle, Dan Fouts and Evan Washburn. The game can also be listened to on the Patriots flagship station 98.5 FM the Sports Hub with Bob Socci and Scott Zolak on the call.

New England (12-4), had a rough ending to the season after starting on a 10-game winning streak. Injuries decimated the lineup as the team dropped four of their last six games to drop into the AFC’s #2 seed in the playoffs.

Kansas City (11-5), won ten games in a row to finish the season and secure the #5 seed in the playoffs. Given up for dead at 1-5, Andy Reid rallied his troops and reeled off game after game down the stretch as the Chiefs played inspired football. The team ran their streak to 11 games with a 30-0 demolishing of the Houston Texans in the Wild Card playoff game last week.

We here at PatsFans.com are continuing our “Razor’s Edge” column in 2015 to give a quick break down on some of the key matchups of the game and what you can look for in how the game plays out.

Series History: The Patriots and Chiefs will meet for the 34th time on Saturday in a matchup of old rivals from the earliest days of the AFL. Since the merger, they’ve met rather infrequently and the rivalry between the two teams has cooled.

The matchup in recent years has been dominated by the home teams. New England has won the last three in Foxboro while the Chiefs have won seven of the last eight at Arrowhead including last year’s 41-14 blowout Monday Night Football win. The teams surprisingly have never met in the post-season.

Here is a look at some of the key match-ups and who holds the Razor’s Edge.

First up is the Patriots offense:

Patriots 2015 Playoff Opponents, 5 First Impressions of the Chiefs

Steve Balestrieri
January 11, 2016 at 6:00 am ET

The Patriots season in essence begins on Saturday as they take their first step in attempting to repeat as Super Bowl champions. Their opponent in the Divisional Round of the Playoffs are the Kansas City Chiefs. The game is scheduled for 4:35 p.m. at Gillette Stadium.

The game will be televised by CBS with their announcing crew of Ian Eagle, Dan Fouts and Evan Washburn on the call. The game can also be heard on the Patriots flagship radio station of 98.5 the Sports Hub with the voice of the Pats Bob Socci on the call with Scott Zolak.

The Patriots (12-4), as the AFC’s #2 seed faces the highest remaining seed which are the Chiefs while Denver faces the lowest remaining seed, the Pittsburgh Steelers in Denver.

Kansas City (11-5), is the NFL’s hottest team having run off 11 wins in a row and on Saturday thrashed the Houston Texans on the road 30-0. They haven’t dropped a game since a road loss to the Vikings left them for dead at 1-5. The two teams have never met in the postseason but the Chiefs curb-stomped the Patriots in Arrowhead last year 41-14 on MNF.

Here are our Five First Impressions of the Chiefs:

Defense is Excellent Across the Board: When looking at the Chiefs defense, they play the classic 3-4 with three big down linemen and have an outstanding linebacking core. During the 11-game winning streak, they allowed an average of 11.6 points per game.

The Chiefs have outstanding bookend pass rushers in Tamba Hali and Justin Houston although both are a bit dinged up right now. But the Chiefs registered 47 sacks on the season and most came from the (pardon the wrestling pun), the Triple H’s; with Houston (7.5 sacks), Hali (6.5 sacks) and Howard with 5.5. The pass rush against Houston was particularly effective up the middle with Dontari Powe and Jaye Howard pushing the pocket back in Brian Hoyer’s face.

Powe and Howard are outstanding at the point of attack; they can take on double-teams and stuff the run or allow inside line backers Josh Mauga and Derrick Johnson to make plays. Their active and are good laterally as well.

The Chiefs secondary is outstanding with corners Sean Smith and rookie Marcus Peters who had eight picks this season. Opposing QBs targeting Peters had a 67.7 passer rating this season. Safety Eric Berry is recovered from his cancer treatment and plays down in the box and is very active. Many Patriots fans will remember S Hussain Abdulla from the pick-six he returned against Tom Brady a year ago.

Maclin’s Absence Could be Key: Chiefs top wide receiver Jeremy Maclin suffered an injury during the Texans game and it was initially thought to be an ACL injury but he’s been cleared for that. He did suffer a high ankle sprain which may keep him out of this weekend’s game.

Even if he does play, an ankle sprain may limit his effectiveness and Maclin has been their most productive WR by far in 2015.  He’s caught 87 passes for 1088 yards with eight touchdowns for KC this season. The next most productive wide receiver is Albert Wilson with 35 catches for 451 yards and two touchdowns.

If Maclin can’t go it would put more pressure on QB Alex Smith to find their excellent tight end Travis Kelce in the passing game as their best option. Maclin’s either limited status or absence will probably put Kelce on the Patriots radar as the player they most have to take away.

Smith Leads a Varied Offense: The Chiefs offense may be one of the most balanced that the Patriots see this season. They’re almost 50/50 with runs and passes with 473 passes attempted and 436 runs.  Last season their offensive line dominated up front and the KC rushing attack gashed the Patriots for 207 rushing yards.

With the dangerous Jamaal Charles on IR, the Chiefs turned to Charcandrick West, who averaged 4.0 yards per carry while racking up 634 yards and four scores as well as Spencer Ware who averaged an impressive 5.6 yards per carry while gaining 402 yards as well on the ground. They use some three tight end packages as well. But Andy Reid will mix it up; you’re as likely to see a run from the 3-4 WR spread as you are a pass from the 3-TE sets.

Smith is a very mobile quarterback who can hurt you with his legs as he was the Chiefs 2nd leading rusher this season with 498 yards. Knile Davis had only 28 carries this season but gashed New England for 102 yards on 16 carries last year.

Smith won’t throw the ball deep much or try to take many chances with low percentage throws, he’s careful with protecting it and had only seven interceptions this season. Besides Maclin, their biggest target is Kelce who is used in much the same manner that the Patriots use Rob Gronkowski.

Kelce will line up in-line, in the slot or split wide. He’s very good at generating yards after catch and will attack the seams. He had an impressive day against Houston with eight catches for 128 yards. On the season he caught 72 passes for 875 yards and five touchdowns. Kelce will undoubtedly draw the lion’s share of attention from the Patriots defense and he’ll be a handful, much like Gronkowski is.

They like to use secondary wide receiver Wilson in the running game, they’ll put him in motion and run the Jet Sweep and try to catch the defense over-committing. Rookie WR Chris Conley chipped in with 17 catches for 199 yards and a touchdown. West was effective out of the backfield with 20 catches and a 10.7 yard average per reception.

Turnover Battle Will Be Tough to Win: The Chiefs are outstanding at forcing turnovers. During the current 11-game winning streak, they’ve generated 28 turnovers and have a +20 turnover differential during that time.

They’re remarkably solid at not turning the ball over via fumble or interception and have been outstanding at generating them. With an offense that doesn’t generate a ton of big plays in the passing game, they feast on opponents’ mistakes and making them pay.

The Patriots are also one of the stingier teams in the league in regards to turnovers as they once again led the league with the least amount of fumbles in 2015. Tom Brady also threw only seven interceptions on the season as well. So one wouldn’t expect a lot of turnovers in this game and any generated by either team would be big.

Special Teams Will Bear Watching: As we witnessed on Saturday afternoon, the Chiefs special teams units can strike quickly. Knile Davis took the opening kickoff back 106 yards for a touchdown which quickly took the crowd out of the game and put the Texans firmly on the hot seat.

The Patriots special teams have had their issues in the second half of the season and the last thing they need is to give up a quick score to turn momentum or give the Chiefs a short field. With the injuries to Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola, the Patriots punt return unit hasn’t been as effective as they’ve been in the past. The Chiefs punt coverage unit has been solid, allowing only six and half yards per return.

Half of Dustin Colquitt’s 75 punts have been downed inside the 20-yard line this season and he had only five touchbacks. Cairo Santos missed seven field goal attempts this season and was only 4 of 8 from 50 yards and beyond.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcast on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.