New England will try to extend its winning streak to three in a row by defeating Kansas City at home tonight on ESPN. The Patriots (2-1) have turned things around after dropping their season opener in Miami, but Bill Belichick’s team is still trying to figure out things offensively. The Chiefs (1-2) are coming off of an impressive win over those same Dolphins and hope to have their best offensive player back.
Even though he is off to a slow start statistically speaking, Tom Brady has enjoyed quite a bit of success on Monday night. Brady is13-5 in his career on this stage with a 42:15 touchdown-to-interception ratio and a passer rating of 101.5. Kansas City last played on “Monday Night Football” back in 2012 when the Chiefs lost to Pittsburgh on the road in overtime, 16-13.
New England Patriots at Kansas City Chiefs
Kickoff: 8:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: New England -3.5
Three Things to Watch
[inline_team_schedule team-id=4 date=20140904 sport=nfl upcoming=1 limit=4][/inline_team_schedule]
1. Kansas City’s Suddenly Crowded Backfield?
After missing last week’s game with a high ankle sprain sustained early in the Week 2 loss in Denver, Jamaal Charles is expected to return to the starting lineup. Charles actually practiced some just a few days after suffering the injury, but the team decided to err on the side of caution and held him out against Miami. Knile Davis has been much more than a mere fill-in during Charles’ absence, rushing for 79 yards and two scores against the Broncos and following that up with 132 on the ground and another score in the 34-15 win over the Dolphins last week. Still, Charles is an All-Pro running back who totaled 1,980 yards from scrimmage and 19 touchdowns last season. As productive as Davis has been, Charles’ return makes the Chiefs’ running game that much more dangerous, which is important considering the passing attack isn’t that explosive (197.7 ypg, 26th in the NFL). And Davis still figures to have some sort of role, considering Charles is coming back from the type of injury that has been known to linger or resurface. Besides, two backs may be better than one since New England has done a good job about the run (104 ypg, 12th) thus far.
[inline_team_schedule team-id=15 date=20140904 sport=nfl upcoming=1 limit=4][/inline_team_schedule]
2. The Other 10 Guys on New England’s Offense
When asked earlier about the Patriots’ offensive struggles, Tom Brady was pretty succinct saying there’s been “one guy” playing well. And he wasn’t referring to himself. Instead he was talking about wide receiver Julian Edelman, who is top 10 in the NFL in both receptions (22) and yards (260) entering Week 4. As a team, New England is 26th in the league in total offense (301.3 ypg), which puts them right behind Kansas City (322.3 ypg) in that category. And while the Chiefs’ passing offense (197.7 ypg, 4 TDs) may have a reputation for being pedestrian, it has been more productive than the Patriots’ (196.3, 3). Brady’s slow start (24th in passing yards, 30th in yards per attempt) can be attributed to both a lack of reliable options and a lack of time to throw to them. Outside of Edelman and tight end Rob Gronkowski (11-116-2), Brady has completed a total of 19 passes to his other wide receivers and tight ends. Gronkowski’s snap counts have been held down as he’s coming back from a serious knee injury and no one outside of Edelman has stepped up to pick up the slack. However, a bigger issue could be an offensive line that’s struggling to open up holes for the running backs (3.5 ypc) and give Brady enough time to look down field for an open target (7 sacks). The running game has had its moments, such as Stevan Ridley’s 101 yards in the Week 2 win at Minnesota, but it too has been characterized by inconsistency (165 yards rushing total in the other two games) and a lack of big plays (longest run by a RB so far is 16 yards). It seems the preseason trade of longtime, reliable left guard Logan Mankins to Tampa Bay has impacted this unit more than anyone with the team (looking at you Belichick) is willing to admit. Perhaps that’s why Brady was not happy with the move to begin with? Regardless, that’s in the past and what matters now is how the “new” line performs from here out. The same can be said for any other offensive player not named Edelman or Gronkowski.
3. The Defense Rests?
With offenses ranked in the bottom fourth of the NFL, it takes a solid defense to keep your team competitive. And that has certainly been the case for New England and Kansas City. The Patriots enter tonight’s game third in total defense (272.7 ypg) and fourth in scoring (16.3 ppg). Since allowing Miami to run for 191 yards in the season opener, this unit has allowed a total of 121 yards on the ground and has twice as many takeaways (8) as touchdowns allowed (4). The Chiefs meanwhile have held their own despite suffering a rash of injuries that have cost them their All-Pro linebacker (Derrick Johnson), a starting defensive end (Mike DeVito) and impacted several other key players, such as All-Pro safety Eric Berry (ankle). After struggling mightily against Tennessee in Week 1, Kansas City limited Denver at home to just 24 points and 324 total yards in a seven-point loss and held Miami to only 191 yards passing and one touchdown in its 34-15 road win last week. Neither offense has been that productive or explosive to this point, so both defenses will need to keep up their good work or run the risk of putting their team in a hole it may not be able to climb out of.
New England’s offense is struggling, but the defense has picked up the slack and then some. Kansas City usually plays well at home and will get a huge boost with the return of Jamaal Charles, but until the Chiefs develop more consistency and more explosiveness in their passing game, this offense will struggle against good defenses. Tom Brady’s production may be down to start the season, but his track record speaks for itself. The Patriots stick with the script that has worked them for so well these past two weeks, relying on their defense to bottle up Kansas City’s running game just enough to leave Arrowhead Stadium with a hard-fought road victory.