The Patriots host the Chiefs to kickoff the 2017 NFL season on Thursday night at Gillette, and it will pit two respectful coaching friends in Bill Belichick and Andy Reid.
Since Reid became coach of the Chiefs in 2013, the Patriots and Chiefs have faced off twice: the 2014 meeting where the Patriots bottomed out 41-14 at Arrowhead Stadium, and in the 2015 playoffs. The Patriots won 27-20 in a game that wasn’t nearly that close.
Including Reid’s stint with the Eagles (1999-2012), Reid and Belichick have met eight times and the Patriots have won five of them.
Reid’s teams are traditionally good with time to prepare for an opponent. They’ve always been one of the better teams coming off bye weeks, and since the 2007 season Reid’s teams are 7-2 in season openers, and have won two straight.
How will all that impact the season opener on the road against the Patriots? Tough to tell, because the Patriots are certainly no slouches in any of those areas as well.
What can the Patriots expect out of the Chiefs on Thursday night? BSJ studied the film (what there is piecing together last season and the preseason) and talked to two AFC pro scouts to get a handle on the Chiefs going into the game:
Matt Nagy is in his first season as offensive coordinator, but it’s Reid’s offense and he calls the plays. Nagy was co-coordinator last season with Brad Childress after Doug Pederson was hired by the Eagles. The Chiefs’ offense is out of a traditional West Coast offensive shell, but it’s been dressed up over the years with a lot of read-option elements. Reid loves screens, misdirections, gadget plays and run/pass options to get the ball into the hands of his playmakers. In the preseason, the Chiefs showed more power in their running game than past years, and will trap and pull (usually with backfield motion as part of it).
TE Travis Kelce (6-5, 255, 4.65) is still the player the offense runs through. The first-team AP All-Pro last season is athletic, fluid and has good hands. Led the team with 85 catches (117 targets) for 1,125 yards last season but only had four touchdowns. Like nearly all the Chiefs’ receivers, he does not like to be pushed around and can succumb to physical play. The Chiefs would rather play in space free of contact. Kelce is no exception, which is probably why he’s not a dynamic red zone threat (plus, QB Alex Smith doesn’t like to throw into traffic and prefers throws to the boundary in the red zone). … WR Tyreek Hill (5-10, 185 pounds) busted out as a rookie with 11.1 yards rushing on 24 attempts with three touchdowns, and another 61 catches for 593 yards and six touchdowns. He has 4.31 speed and the Chiefs will try to get the ball in his hands in a variety of ways. The Patriots will have a plan for every scenario they’ve seen on film, but Reid will dial up a few new ones. … The Chiefs no longer have Jeremy Maclin, so they’ll be relying on some receivers that have ability but have yet to step forward, like Chris Conley (6-2, 213, 4.36), Albert Wilson (5-9, 202, 4.43) and De’Anthony Thomas (5-9, 247, 4.48). Conley is the best of the bunch and could be poised for a breakout. Fourth-round pick Jehu Hesson (6-2, 204, 4.49) had a good summer and could be a contributor as a possession receiver. … Backup TE Demetrius Harris (6-7, 230) is a basketball convert and, after a lot of drops last season, seems to be on the uptick.
LT Eric Fisher is solid if unspectacular. Can be beaten with power and tends to play light… LG Parker Ehinger is coming off ACL surgery and may not be ready, but Bryan Witzmann and Zach Fulton are both good players and athletic. They move well in the run game and block with power … C Mitch Morse is tall (6-5) for his position so if you can get under his pads, he can be moved around a little bit. … RG Laurent Duvernay-Tardif has continued to get better. He’s has quick feet and huge hands, which can be a problem for his opponents. … RT Mitchell Schwartz is one of the best right tackles in the game, but he’s not overly athletic.
Alex Smith (6-4, 217) is 79-56-1 in his career, including 41-20 with the Chiefs. He's one of the smartest players in the league, but that's often to his detriment because he thinks through too many plays. If a game comes down to which quarterback fits more balls into tight spaces, Smith will inevitably lose. You can win with him, but he won't win you many games. Hard-charging and big-armed rookie Patrick Mahomes is the backup and is gunning for Smith's job. Tyler Bray will likely be inactive.
A year ago, the Chiefs had a three-headed monster backfield of Jamaal Charles, Spencer Ware and Charcandrick West. Charles is in Denver, Ware was lost for the season in the preseason, and now it’s West and rookie third-round pick Kareem Hunt (5-10, 216, 4.61). Hunt, who played at Toledo, will likely be the starter. He has big-play ability but he’s very green, doesn’t see the field very well and doesn’t break many tackles. But if you give him a hole, look out. … West is another undersized back but probably the better receiver of the two. … Fullback Anthony Sherman (North Attleboro) is a good player and special teams standout.
Coordinator Bob Sutton is a coaching lifer who has seen just about every scheme there is, including the Patriots (he was DC for Eric Mangini with the Jets). But he learned the most from his time with Rex Ryan in New York and uses many of the same principles. Sutton doesn’t draw up as many designer blitzes (gameplan-specific pressures) as Ryan, but he’ll bring pressure from various points on the field.
This unit is almost completely revamped from years past. Star nose tackle Dontari Poe is now in Atlanta, and he’s been replaced by former Eagle Bennie Logan. DE Allen Bailey missed most of last season with a torn pectoral muscle but he’s healthy now and tough to block because of his strength. An underrated signing was DT Roy Miller. He was a tough block with the Jaguars but he’s coming back from a torn Achilles. … Second-round pick Tanoh Kpassagnon is an athletic freak (6-7, 280) but he’s attempting to go from Villanova to the NFL. … Chris Jones had a great second half to his rookie season and is expected to be more of a pass rusher this season. He’s long (6-6) and strong. … Jones and Rakeem Nunez-Roches are competing to start opposite Bailey. Nunez-Roches plays with more strength this season. … Veteran Jarvis Jenkins is a contributor.
The headliner, of course, is LOLB Justin Houston, who is one of the league’s best edge rushers when he’s healthy. And that hasn’t been often the past four seasons. Houston (6-3, 258, 4.68) played 16 games combined the previous two seasons. The linebacker had 22 sacks in 2014, and just 12.5 combined in ’15 and ’16. Still, this is the season opener so he’s at least healthy for this one. … ROLB Tamba Hali is still on the PUP list, so 2014 first-round pick Dee Ford (6-2, 252, 4.56) will be on the right side. He’s never lived up to his first-round status, but he did have 10 sacks last year. … Derrick Johnson is still the man at LILB, despite being nearly 35 years old. Looked fluid and spry in the preseason. … Obviously the Chiefs don’t like what they have at RILB, because they keep throwing capital (draft pick Ukeme Eligwe, and trades for Reggie Ragland and Kevin Pierre-Louis) to get better against the run. Not sure what’s so bad about Ramik Wilson, but he can certainly run and hit. …. Frank Zombo, a high-effort, low-talent veteran, will see some action in the pass rush.
In a rarity, the entire 10-man secondary is back from last season. All of them. The standouts are the two safeties, Eric Berry and Ron Parker, and left cornerback Marcus Peters (6-0, 197, 4.47). Berry (dealing with a heel injury) is one of the best in the league at coming up on plays, and he’s turned into more of a playmaker as his career has gone on. Parker is steady. … Peters is a press-man ballhawk, but he’s very boom or bust. Plays the ball in the air as well as anybody, but he’ll give up plays. …. Just about anybody could wind up opposite Peters, but it’s been Phillip Gaines (6-0, 193, 4.38), and then Steven Nelson (5-10, 197, 4.48) in the slot. Gaines gives up a lot of big plays, so Terrance Mitchell (5-11, 192) or Kenneth Acker (6-0, 195) could see some time. Nelson is small and lax in his technique. Can be taken advantage of. Chiefs will throw out three-safety looks to try to generate pressure.
Coordinator Dave Toub has been one of the league’s best coordinators for years. K Cairo Santos is solid but doesn’t have a big leg. He’s been dealing with a groin issue. P Dustin Colquitt is always among the league’s best. Tyreek Hill was the All-Pro punt returner (two TDs, 15.2 yards per return). De’Anthony Thomas is the primary kick returner and has an extra speed gear.
PATRIOTS OFFENSIVE GAMEPLAN POINTS
- Stop Houston: If there’s anyone that can blow up a gameplan on the Chiefs, it’s LOLB Justin Houston. Don’t think Marcus Cannon will need much help in that area, but sometimes it’s better to be safe than sorry.
- Stress the linebackers: The Chiefs have talent at linebacker, but none are overly athletic when it comes to covering a running back. Speed is more important in this game than power. Get the running backs (and the Patriots will use two often) on the edges and pick your best matchup. Chiefs can’t run with them.
- Go after the CB opposite Peters: The Chiefs may have continuity, but there aren’t a ton of playmakers at cornerback. If it’s Gaines against Brandin Cooks the left side, it’s go time with double moves and playaction.
PATRIOTS DEFENSIVE GAMEPLAN POINTS
- Keep Smith in the pocket: Smith loves to hold the ball as long as possible because he’s afraid to turn the ball over, and he’ll take any yardage the defense gives him on the ground. Keep him in the pocket. Make him dink and dunk it all over the yard. Just don’t give him free third down conversions with his feet. He won’t beat you if he has to do it constantly from the pocket.
- Hit Kelce and Hill: Kelce is soft if challenged, so expect the Patriots to bang the tight end all over the field. Same goes for Hill, but that’s a tough challenge because the Chiefs will motion him all over the formation to get coverage off of him. Reid’s one of the league’s best at scheming players open, so it will be important for the Patriots to tackle Hill well and hard.
- Get the eff back: The Chiefs will dial up some shot plays, especially off boot playaction. As long as the Patriots don’t overpursue, they’ll be fine. Smith will only throw deep on shot plays. He will not challenge down the field unless he knows it’s a safety boundary throw against man coverage. Make Smith throw a bunch of 5 yard passes to beat you. He can’t do it.