Monday, January 18, 2016

Chiefs Win Battles, Lose War Against AFC Title Game Bound Patriots

In order for the Kansas City Chiefs to win their Divisional round playoff game against the New England Patriots on Saturday night, they had to accomplish four things:

Win the time of possession battle to keep the Patriots' possessions to single digits, win the field position battle to make the Patriots drive the length of the field to score, keep the Patriots in third and long situations to limit their playbook and, most importantly, get to New England quarterback Tom Brady and punish him into making a mistake.

They did win the time of possession battle by nearly a ridiculous two to one ratio and kept the Patriots to just eight full possessions, They did win the field position battle when the game was still in question and they did have the Patriots in third-and-long situations seven times in those eight possessions.

What they couldn't do is get to Brady and force him into mistakes, but three out of four isn't bad, right? Well, in this case, for Kansas City it adds up to the axiom of "We won the battles, but we lost the war."

The closest that the fierce Kansas City pass rush could come to pulverizing Brady was on a frustration-induced late hit by Dezman Moss that gave the Patriots 15 yards via a roughing the passer penalty - and also on the occasions that Brady decided to take matters into his own hands on two consecutive carries at the end of the same late-first half drive...

...the first an epic, patented Brady sloth scramble for 11 yards to within inches of the goal line where he took a wicked combination punch by two Chiefs' defenders, then was driven into the ground by nose tackle Jaye Howard in the end zone after Brady scored on a quarterback sneak to make give New England a two-score lead.

The skirmish that ensued demonstrated the frustration from the Chiefs' defense, which proved to be their undoing in the second half, as they allowed three quick scoring drives in succession, which took all of six-and-a-half minutes in actual game time - in fact, the Patriots possessed the ball for just under nine minutes in the second half, 2:12 of which was spent killing the clock at the end of the game.

In all, the Patriots possessed the ball for only twenty-two minutes for the game, yet still managed to rack up 340 total yards of offense and score 27 points.

In contrast, the Chiefs possessed the ball for 38 minutes, and while they generated 380 yards of total offense, over 200 of those yards came after New England had built a 21-6 lead and went into their four-minute defense - what many would consider a prevent shell designed to limit the big play, the Patriots defense were happy to allow five and six yard gains in exchange for seconds ticking off the clock.

Kansas City coach Andy Reid's curious clock-management aside, the Patriots defense surrendered 225 yards to the Chiefs' offense after that point, but their conservative defensive game plan forced Kansas City to burn nearly 17 minutes off the clock to do so.

Granted, the Chiefs scored 14 points in that time frame, but by the time they had scored the second of the two touchdowns, the game was out of reach and the only purpose those otherwise empty points had was to make the game appear to be a closer contest than it actually was.

Brady was an efficient 28 of 42 for 302 yards, including two touchdown tosses to the not-as-injured-as-we-had-been-led-to-believe tight end Rob Gronkowski, and ten of his completions going to wayward son Julian Edelman, good for 100 yards in his first game back from missing seven weeks with a broken bone in his foot.

Edelman returned to fierce pressure from the fan base and the loathsome Boston media to prove himself to be the linchpin of the offense, and despite a couple of early drops, he did just that, and just as expected, the trickle down effect on the rest of the offense was both obvious and apparent.

But as opined in a previous blog post, the biggest effect on Edelman's return was on the Patriots' offensive line, who combined to shut out Kansas City's speedy sack artists.

In fact, for the evening, the Chiefs registered just nine "hurries" in 42 dropbacks against an offensive line that had given up 36 sacks, 47 quarterback hits and 147 hurries during the regular season, the majority of them in the second half of the season as attrition along the line and pass catching corps combined to cause a veritable perfect storm that found Brady either running for his life or being beaten like he stole something.

New England's pass rushers were similarly held in check, but only because of Chiefs' quarterback Alex Smith's snake-like elusiveness, slithering from the pocket time and again to deny the Patriots' front seven, and even rushing for 44 yards on nine carries while backs Charcandrick West and Knile Davis combined to pick up another 90 yards on 23 carries as part of the Chiefs' read option rushing attack.

That's a lot of yards to be given up, but better digested when taken in the context that after the half, New England gave up only 55 yards in 17 carries to a group that went for 80 in 15 carries in the opening half as they did a better job of  setting the edge, particularly on the right side where the Chiefs averaged seven yards per carry...

...which has been sort of the bitch-kitty for the Patriots' run defense and something that needs to be supplemented going forward to get more in line with what's happening up the gut and on the strong side, where Kansas City experienced far less success at 2.5 yards per carry.

How much of that had to do with Chandler Jones tweaking a knee or Jerod Mayo injuring his shoulder or Jamie Collins injuring his quad? Probably not that much, as the Patriots have been light on the weak side off and on all season, depending on the presence of linebacker Dont'a Hightower and safeties Devin McCourty and Pat Chung.

Against Kansas City, Chung shut down Smith's most dangerous target, tight end Travis Kelse, who caught six passes, but only for a combined 23 yards as the much smaller Chung pushed Kelse around the field like a schoolyard bully.

The opposite happened with cornerback Logan Ryan, who had a rough night on receiver Jason Avant, giving up 7 of 9 targets for almost 100 yards - also being called for a pass interference and giving up a touchdown. The rest of the coverage held their own, with Malcolm Butler and McCourty showing up positively in coverage and adding a physical element to the run support.

What all of this equals is a victory over a tough matchup for New England and the teams' 10th trip to the AFC Championship Game in the Belichick-Brady era, where they will once again take on the Broncos in Denver - only this time they have a healthy receiving corps, which as we've seen, makes everything better.

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