8:30 PM EST, ESPN – Line: New England -3.0
A pair of Playoff teams from 2013 that simply haven’t played up to par thus far meet tonight at Arrowhead Field, as the Kansas City Chiefs host the New England Patriots on Monday Night Football. The visiting Patriots may be 2-1, but one could make the argument that they could easily see that record reversed, for apart from issuing a 30-7 beatdown to the Vikings in Week Two, they have looked far from the team that we’ve come to know over the past fourteen years. In the Opener at Miami, Bill Belichick’s charges squandered a 20-10 halftime lead, as the Dolphins went on to outscore them 23-0 in the second half, and in last weekend’s 16-9 near defeat at the hands of woeful Oakland, they were relegated to a trio of field goals apart from a Rob Gronkowski touchdown. Seriously, that was their Home Opener and it was against the Raiders folks, the Raiders. If not for a fortunate holding penalty on a would-be game-tying touchdown run, the contest would have likely gone to overtime or worse. Of course, Nose Tackle Vincent Wilfork promptly came up with an improbable interception on the very next play, securing the victory, but the bottom line is that three middling performances over the likes of the Jets, Vikings, and Raiders, whom own a collective record of 2-10, doesn’t exactly inspire confidence.
So what in the name of Troy Brown and Teddy Bruschi is going on in New England? Well, and this may sound strange, but the offense has been downright bad. Through three games, the Patriots uncharacteristically rank fifteenth in points scored (22.0), 26th in total offense (315.7), 27th in passing offense (210.7), and 22nd in rushing offense (105.0). Think about that for a second; this is the team that ranked no worse than third in points scored and eighth in total offense over the last four years, leading the league in scoring in both 2010 and 2012. Two-time MVP Quarterback Tom Brady still reigns supreme under center, but has gotten off to arguably the slowest start of his career thus far, posting career-lows in completion percentage (58.8%), yards per attempt (5.5), yards per completion (9.4), and passer rating (82.9). He was clearly frustrated against the Dolphins, who held him to 29-of-56 passing for 249 yards and a touchdown with an average yards per attempt of 4.45. Last year it was an inexperienced group of receivers that he had to develop a rapport with, and this year it’s a makeshift Offensive Line that has rarely afforded him the luxury of a clean pocket. If there’s one guy in the league that has rarely had to dodge a pass rush it’s Brady, but thus far he’s been sacked seven times, and knocked down a plethora of others. Remember, Management offloaded Pro Bowl Guard Logan Mankins shortly before the season began, leaving the 37-year old Brady without steady protection for the first time in his fifteen-year career. As a result, he’s had to resort to dinking and dunking on the regular; New England’s once-vaunted passing attack now ranks next-to-last in net yards per attempt, averaging just 4.9 yards per pass.
However, in a bizarre twist of irony, it has been the Patriots’ defense that has kept them afloat. The unit that was the backbone of their 2001, 2003, and 2004 Super Bowl Champion teams had eroded over the last five years, but has finally looked as if it is ready to lead them back to the promised land. Belichick has long been regarded as one of the greatest defensive minds that the game has ever seen, making it quite perplexing as to how poor they’ve played on that particularly side of the ball in recent years. Outside of developing a penchant for forcing turnovers, they have been shredded in the passing game, and oftentimes trampled on the ground, proving to be the direct reason as to why they have failed to hoist the Lombardi Trophy once more despite the offense’s prolific nature. Some smart drafting coupled with some huge offseason acquisitions have evolved the Pats into one of the better defenses in the league; thus far they have allowed 16.3 points (4th overall), on 272.7 yards (3rd overall), including just 168.7 versus the pass (1st overall) and another 104.0 versus the rush (12th overall). They’ve been particularly staunch against the pass, where the addition of a healthy Darrelle Revis has already paid dividends; in addition to ranking first in pass defense, they also lead the league in net yards per attempt allowed (4.6) and interceptions (six). Revis has already hauled in one interception, benefiting from a pass-rush that has generated seven sacks, with Linebackers Chandler Jones and Dont’a Hightower posting two apiece.
Meanwhile, Year Two of the Andy Reid Administration has gotten off to a very different start than the year before as the Chiefs (1-2) have stumbled early out of the gate. You may remember their blistering 9-0 start in 2013, but the reality is that they have struggled ever since, going 3-8 since there Bye Week last year, including a stunning 44-45 loss at Indianapolis in the Wild Card round of the Playoffs. Kansas City opened the season at home where they were surprisingly humbled by the Tennessee Titans in a 26-10 defeat, followed by a 24-17 loss at Denver, where they simply didn’t have the requisite firepower to go toe-to-toe with Peyton Manning and Co. However, they were finally able to find their rhythm at Miami, where they pummeled the Dolphins in a 34-15 victory, rushing for a healthy 174 yards. A mass exodus in the offseason left them without three starters on the Offensive Line, including both Guards, and a number of starters on a solid defense, including Defensive End Tyson Jackson and Cornerback Brandon Flowers. A two-game suspension for leading Receiver Dwayne Bowe didn’t help matters either, leaving what had been a conservative passing attack without it’s main weapon. Oh, and did we mention star Tailback Jamaal Charles has been playing through a high ankle sprain?
That’s a lot of moving pieces for an offense led by Alex Smith, whom found a new lease on life after being jettisoned from NFC Champion San Francisco back in 2013. When Reid came to town, he wasted not time in acquiring the former No. One Overall Pick, envisioning him as the perfect man to pilot his controlled passing attack. For all intents and purposes, Smith had the season of his life, completing 60.6% of his passes for a career-high 3,313 yards, 23 touchdowns and just seven interceptions. However, through three outings thus far he has regressed, thanks in large part to an ever-changing cast of characters; behind a completely rebuilt Offensive Line, he has already been sacked eleven times, after being brought down 39 times in sixteen games last season. He’s also thrown three interceptions already, four off of the total he posted a year prior. The 30-year old was dreadful in the Opener against Tennessee, who harassed him all day, relegating him to 19-of-35 passing for 202 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions. However, give him his weapons back and he reverts back to normal; with Bowe back in the starting lineup and Charles a bit healthier, Smith picked Miami apart last week, going 19-for-25 with 186 yards, and most importantly three touchdowns and no interceptions. It’s no surprise, but this guy is a bonafide Game Manager, and if you ask him to do so in that capacity he is capable of winning a lot of games.
Stellar defense had every bit to due with their success last season, and if they are to replicate that then you can bet they will play a sizable hand in the coming weeks. In 2013, Reid’s defense allowed just 19.1 points (5th overall) despite ranking 24th in yards allowed at 367.8 yards per game. After a great start, the pass defense began to become exposed largely because of their aggressive, gambling nature. Kansas City racked up a staggering 47.0 sacks last season, leading to 36 turnovers, the second-highest total in the league. Outside Linebackers Tamba Hali and Justin Houston racked up eleven sacks apiece, while as eleven players registered an interception. However, injuries have plagued this unit early thus far, with both Pro Bowl Linebacker Derrick Johnson and valuable Defensive Lineman Mike DeVito each lost for the season with a torn Achilles. As mentioned earlier, Jackson left for Atlanta in Free Agency, while Flowers was curiously cut shortly before the campaign began, suddenly leaving this group without a number of key contributors. And if that wasn’t enough, Pro Bowl Safety Eric Berry has already been pronounced out for tonight’s contest due to an ailing ankle. With all that said, the Chiefs have remained respectable on this side of the ball; Kansas City ranks twelfth thus far in points allowed (21.7), nineteenth in yards allowed (354.0), tenth against the pass (223.7), and 23rd against the rush (130.3), and even held Denver’s explosive offense to 325 yards two weeks ago. The pass-rush has managed to accumulate nine sacks thus far, and we could see that total rise against New England’s struggling Offensive Line. However, they must find a way to force some turnovers, for the Chiefs are the only team that has yet to do so this season.
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