Chiefs at Patriots Review: Pats Advance To AFC Title Game

The Patriots punched their ticket to the 10th AFC Championship game of the Brady/Belichick era with a 27-20 win over the Kansas City Chiefs on Saturday.

The win ties Belichick for the most conference championship appearances by a head coach with Cowboys legend Tom Landry, and adds to Brady’s NFL record (2nd place: Joe Montana with 7).

The discussion in the days leading up to the game was whether or not the Patriots could flip a switch offensively when Julian Edelman returned to the lineup?

That question was answered and can be simply explained by statistics:

patssplit

The Patriots were outgained (378 vs 340), got destroyed in time of possession (KC +15 min), and were out-rushed by nearly 100 yards (135 vs 38).

Despite all of that, they never trailed in the game, as this serves as a reminder that in football quality beats quantity.

Let’s take a look at where the Patriots were able to get an advantage to advance to the next round:

On Offense

Gameplan Reboots Offense: The players deserve most of the credit, but gameplan was a big part of the reason why the Patriots won on Saturday. There seemed to be a few themes of Josh McDaniel’s approach against this stingy Chiefs defense. First, spread the Chiefs out and move the ball with the short to intermediate passing game. Spreading KC’s defensive backs out worked to perfection for McDaniels and this offense. Although KC has two good starting CBs (Sean Smith, Marcus Peters) and an all-pro safety in Eric Berry, they don’t have great depth in the secondary. The five receiver sets and empty backfield allowed Brady to find favorable matchups that they could win between the numbers . Second, get the ball out quickly against this Chiefs pass rush. The quick passes were a staple of the offense prior to Edelman’s injury, and returned at the perfect time against what’s a good Chiefs front. Brady’s average time of release was 2.16 seconds on his 42 pass attempts, that’s much faster than the 2.55 seconds in the last 6 weeks without Edelman.

Red Zone/Offensive Efficiency: Despite being dominated in time of possession and total plays ran, the Patriots offense was far more efficient than KC’s. The Pats averaged 6.1 yards per play to KC’s 4.6, were 3-4 in the red zone to KC’s 2-4, and won the turnover battle. The Chiefs were able to control the pace and keep the ball, but had to grind for every yard against the Patriots defense. On the Patriots side of the ball, the Pats were able to move the ball up and down the field pretty easily, and took advantage of mismatches in the red zone. We all know what kind of red zone threat Rob Gronkowski is, and the Pats ability to get him in single coverage inside the 20 led to two easy scores. Sean Smith actually had great coverage on Gronk’s first TD, but a great display of passing accuracy and timing with Brady led to the nice back shoulder grab. On Gronk’s second TD, Brady noticed Chiefs safety Eric Berry playing 5-7 yards off the line on Gronk. He moved Gronk outside and called for the double move that led to the TD. The Patriots won this game because they made more out of their chances on offense.

The Edelman Effect: The stats do the talking in regards to what Julian Edelman brings to the table. 16 targets, 10 catches, 100 yards, 7 first downs. A monster performance for a player two months removed from foot surgery. Having said that, what Edelman really brought back to this offense was rhythm, timing, and a clear return to Brady’s comfort zone. The throw that seemed to be missing from this Patriots offense the last six games is one of Brady’s favorites. Edelman starts in the slot on this play and runs a quick slant to the middle of the field. Brady moves the LB with his eyes and throws a strike to Edelman. That’s easy pickings for Brady, and a throw that not only picks up a first down, but also gets the quarterback/offense in rhythm and feeling good:

https://vine.co/v/ieW02TTbDDF

On Defense

Props to Alex Smith: Overall, I was impressed with Alex Smith’s performance on Saturday. Smith made some big throws into tight windows downfield, and obviously was very dangerous with his legs as well. The Patriots coverage downfield was very good for most of the game, and they got beat by some good throws by Smith, and some spectacular catches by his receivers. The Patriots were well aware of Smith’s ability as a runner, as they used Jamie Collins as a spy in a number of situations and tried to avoid rushing too far up field. Smith deserves credit for making plays with his feet as the Patriots strategy wasn’t always successful. It was a grind on offense for the Chiefs. As they averaged nearly 10 plays per drive and faced 20 third downs. If the Chiefs were going to beat the Pats they needed Alex Smith to play well, and he did his part.

Defense on Travis Kelce: With Jeremy Maclin limited, the Patriots clearly keyed on Travis Kelce in the secondary. Kelce saw a number of different coverages and had a lot of Patriots defenders around him most of the time. Patrick Chung tracked Kelce most of the time, and was involved in some capacity on most of Kelce’s movements. Kelce had a few chances at a TD, but the closest he came was early on when he was targeted in the end zone by Smith. Chung bumps Kelce at the line, and then he’s bracketed by three Patriots DBs on his way downfield. It was a bit of an overthrow by Smith, but dropping the ball in a bucket between three Pats defenders is asking a lot. It was clear that the Patriots weren’t going to allow Kelce to beat them, and the strategy worked.

3rd Down: One area that the Patriots will need to work on while preparing for Denver is third down defense. The Chiefs converted 12-20 (60%) of their third down opportunities, which led to the distinct advantage they had in time of possession and offensive plays. Alex Smith was able to extend drives a few times with his feet, something they won’t need to worry about with Peyton Manning, but Smith was also 8-14 for 105 yards on third down. The Chiefs stayed in the game by extending drives and keeping Brady off the field. A better effort on third down defensively would have led to more scoring opportunities for the offense, and a bigger margin on the scoreboard.

Justin Coleman, 3rd CB: It seems like a small thing in the grand scheme of things big having a healthy Justin Coleman played huge dividends for the Patriots secondary. Smith was 3-7 for 26 yards when targeting Coleman, who had a pass breakup and was called for one defensive holding penalty. Coleman’s return brings stability to the Patriots secondary, as they clearly like their top two CBs (Butler, Ryan) and their three safeties (McCourty, Chung, Harmon). Coleman is an upgrade over both Leonard Johnson and Rashaan Melvin, and we saw a secondary without a weak link on Saturday with his return.