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New England Patriots vs. Kansas City Chiefs: Three Keys To a Patriot Victory

via USA Today
Three weeks ago, the New England Patriots were supposedly dead. A dreadful effort against the Detroit Lions had the Patriots sitting at 1-2 with everybody ready to write the obituary. They've since logged two impressive victories, albeit against unimpressive opponents, and have reclaimed their spot atop the AFC East. This Sunday, we'll get a good sense of whether or not New England has actually turned a corner, or if these past two weeks have been more about inferior competition.

The Kansas City Chiefs stroll into Gillette Stadium as the best team in the conference, and tied for the best record in the NFL. It'll be New England's toughest task of this young season, and here are three things they can do to walk away with a victory on Sunday night.

Play 60 Minutes
This has been the oft-repeated mantra of Bill Belichick and the Patriots since the early 2000's. The focus each and every week is on playing the game and doing your job for the full 60 minutes. Never overreacting to one thing, or allowing yourself to get too high or too low; just stay the course and play the game. It's this motto that has lead to many of the historic comebacks that we have grown accustomed to seeing from this team.

However, while that has been a strength for the Pats in the past, this season is a different story. The victory over the Miami Dolphins two weeks ago has been the only game you could point to as an example of a solid 60 minute effort. In other games, the team has played well in stretches, but have been unable to sustain it for the entirety of the game.

After a 21-point first half against the Houston Texans, New England mustered up just 6 second half points. Against the Indianapolis Colts last Thursday, they slept through the third quarter and allowed the Colts to turn a 21 point deficit to 7, before ultimately putting them away. In New England's two losses, they scored 6 points combined in the first half. In Jacksonville, the Pats didn't show up until after halftime -- and in Detroit, they barely showed up at all.

They will need a full 60-minute effort against the Chiefs on Sunday night. The Chiefs have raced out to double digit leads in all but one game this year, and have held leads of 20+ in three of five games. If New England isn't ready to go, the explosiveness of Kansas City's offense could have the Pats down double digits in the blink of an eye. Even if the Patriots do find themselves down early, it's important they stick to their 60 minute mantra, because the Chiefs have have had some lapses that have allowed teams to erase, or reduce some large deficits.

Kansas City blew a 21-point lead against Pittsburgh, and allowed San Francisco to trim a 28-point deficit to 11. Ultimately, the Chiefs won both of those games, but they have shown some flaws. It's important for the Pats to start strong, but it's equally as important to maintain that effort for a full 60 minutes.

Limit Big Plays
One thing the Patriots have emphasized over the years - and have done a very good job at - is limiting the big plays. Against the elite receivers with big play capability, you'll almost always see a safety providing help to the cornerback. Even against average offenses, and average receivers, Devin McCourty and Duron Harmon will be playing a centerfield-type position -- sometimes 12-15 yards off the line of scrimmage -- in order to keep every play and player in front of them. With their bend but don't break mentality, the Pats are content to let you move the ball in between the 20's, and then tighten up in the red zone and force field goal attempts.

Thinking back, very few occasions come to mind where the Pats have allowed themselves to get beat on those deep balls. A lot of the big plays they tend concede -- especially recently -- come on catch and run type plays and missed tackles. However, on Opening Night last year, that wasn't the case as the Chiefs connected on several deep balls and big plays.

In last year's meeting, the Patriots defense allowed 3 plays of 50 yards or more and 2 TD's of 75 yards or more. Kansas City recorded TD drives of 79, 90 and 75 yards. Those three drives lasted 6 plays combined. Patriot fans (at least I do) have vivid memories of Tyreek Hill and Kareem Hunt running wild and free against this defense last year. Kansas City didn't lose any significant weapons from last year's team, and have seemingly upgraded at quarterback. The numbers show it.

The Chiefs are 3rd in the NFL with 25 pass plays of 20 yards or more, and tied for 5th in pass plays of 40 yards or more. On the flip side, the Patriots have allowed the 4th fewest 20+ yard completions and just one completion of 40+ yards in five games. Something has got to give there.

Hill and Hunt are home run hitters, capable of a game-changing type of play. Yet, they aren't the only ones to worry about. Travis Kelce may not be able to outrun the defense like Hunt and Hill, but he's very capable of gaining 20-30 yards at a time. Then you have guys like Sammy Watkins and Demetrius Harris who also have big play potential. The Chiefs offense has a variety of weapons, and Andy Reid is one of the best at fully utilizing them. The Pats have to keep these guys in front of them and make open field tackles or it's going to be a long night.

Win Individual Defensive Matchups
With the slew of weapons Kansas City possesses, it's impossible to double cover everybody. You opt to double team Hill, that's one less guy who can cover Kelce and vice versa. I expect Stephon Gilmore line up opposite Hill most of the night, and he will likely have safety help more often than not. That means guys like Jason McCourty, Eric Rowe if he's available and Jonathan Jones are going to have to be able to win their individual matchups. Patrick Chung will probably have some plays where he is 1 on 1 with Kelce, he's going to need to win some of those battles.

The pass rushers are going to have to win their battles as well. Expect the Patriots to drop seven guys into coverage most of the night, leaving four defensive linemen to rush against five. Guys like Trey Flowers, Deatrich Wise and Adrian Clayborn have to find a way to get to Patrick Mahomes, wherein lies another problem. Mahomes is very mobile and has the ability to escape the pocket and make plays on the ground.

In the past against mobile quarterbacks, the Patriots have been content to hang out at the line of scrimmage and not get too far upfield -- thus keeping the quarterback contained. However, with the potency of the Chiefs offense, they need to find some sort of balance. You can't give Mahomes all the time in the world, and expect the coverage to last. At the same time, you can't be undisciplined and rush too far upfield allowing Mahomes to break contain. The Patriots are going to need some great, individual efforts defensively Sunday night all over the field.

The Chiefs started 5-0 last year as well, and then proceeded to lose six of their next seven games. Will this year be different? Only time will tell. Other than quarterback, the personnel is pretty much the same. We'll get to learn a lot about Mahomes on Sunday night. He's been great through five games, but this is the first time he'll be playing in the spotlight. Yes, he's played on Monday night, but against the Denver Broncos. This game is against the mighty Patriots, the rulers of the AFC for the past nearly two decades.

Sure, Kansas City possesses a high-powered offense, but a suspect defense leaves them vulnerable. Don't be surprised to see Brady and company hang 30 on this team. The Chiefs are dead last in the NFL in yards allowed per game and second to last in passing yards allowed per game. Kansas City's defense has also allowed the most completions of 20+ yards in the league.

Part of that is a result of game design, though. Kansas City has jumped out to some big leads early, which forces opponents to throw more, and rack up passing yardage. We've seen this happen with the Patriots in years past. Teams fall behind early and have to throw the rest of the game, so those numbers can be deceiving. However, the Patriots have always balanced that out with a respectable points allowed number. The Chiefs currently sit at 20th in the league in points allowed per game. So, they're allowing teams to rack up yards, and points as well. For a Patriots offense that appears to have turned a corner, these numbers should have them licking their chops. Though they come in to this one undefeated, the Chiefs are hardly unbeatable.

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