By: Steve Balestrieri
Bill Belichick had one of his better coaching performances last week as an injury depleted Pats team on a two game losing streak went into the Meadowlands and beat the Jets. The Chiefs although with a losing record right now are still in the hunt for the AFC West title.
This originally was supposed to be a homecoming of sorts for Matt Cassel as he quarterbacked the Patriots during Tom Brady injury lost season of 2008. But Cassel is himself sidelined with a hand injury and the MNF stage will be the coming out party for the much traveled Tyler Palko, who bounced around with a few teams as well as the CFL and the UFL.
Patriots Running Game:
The Patriots thought they’d be able to run on the Jets last week, but they were stopped cold in NY. BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Kevin Faulk and Stevan Ridley were all ineffective. Danny Woodhead got some yardage but mainly after Tom Brady started to gash the Jets through the air. I wonder however, how much that turf-toe injury is bothering Green-Ellis.
This week they face a weak run defense in the Chiefs that is allowing 134 rushing yards per game. Look for the Patriots to double big NT Kelly Gregg at the point of attack and try to run a lot up the middle of the Kansas City defense. Last week the Broncos rushed the ball 55 times, I don’t imagine we’ll see it that much but the Patriots should find much more room to run this week.
Patriots Passing Game:
The Chiefs have decent numbers against the pass, but part of that is due to teams running on them so much. If the Patriots can run the ball effectively as I think here, then the passing game especially through play action should be extremely effective.
Kansas City has two decent corners in Brandon Flowers and Kendrick Lewis. But safety Jon McGraw is bothered by a bad shoulder as is nickel back Jaiver Arenas with an ankle injury. Combine this with a poor pass rush, (KC has only 9 sacks all season) adds up to a big night for Tom Brady. Tamba Hali is the Chiefs big pass rusher, with 6 of the team’s 9 sacks. Matt Light will have the responsibility of blocking him, if needed a RB (Faulk or Woodhead) will help out.
Kansas City with their injuries at safety and nickelback, will have a rough time dealing with Wes Welker in the slot and Rob Gronkowski at TE. Nobody has been able to cover him thus far and with the array of receivers the Patriots can throw at KC, this should be a huge mismatch for the Patriots. I expect the Pats to spread out KC with slightly more three WR sets this week. With that, Chad Ochocinco and Deion Branch will get some more looks in the offense.
Tom Brady was asked in an interview with ESPN Boston about the success of the hurry offense and how much it had a role in defeating the Jets. “We tried to run it against Dallas and didn’t score a lot of points and we tried to run it in Pittsburgh and didn’t score a lot of points,” said Brady. “To me, it’s more about the execution and the tempo of the game. I think if we execute well, whether we huddle or we don’t huddle, we’re going to be able to score points. Sometimes when you go out there, try no-huddle and it doesn’t work, you say, ‘We’re not doing that any more. Let’s go back to huddling.’ And you guys think, ‘Oh, you didn’t do much no-huddle this game,’ and you’re saying, ‘There’s a reason, because it wasn’t working.’ If it works, you stay with it; If it doesn’t work, you move on.”
Chiefs Running Game:
The Chiefs superb running game catapulted them to a 13 win season last year and the AFC West title. This year, they lost Jamaal Charles to a season ending injury early (torn ACL) and their running game has sputtered somewhat.
They’ve been relying on Jackie Battle for the most part, but for this game, we might see more of Dexter McCluster and Thomas Jones. The Patriots run game has been good this season. Right now its missing both Brandon Spikes and Dane Fletcher in the middle and the Jets took advantage of that a bit last week, but they never imposed their will on that game.
Andre Carter and Shaun Ellis have been solid at setting the edge in base 4-3 sets and Vince Wilfork, Kyle Love and Gerard Warren have stepped up in the interior of the line. I don’t see the Chiefs doing much damage with the running game this week.
Chiefs Passing Game:
Tyler Palko gets the start this week at QB for KC as Matt Cassel has injured his hand and may be lost for the season. The Chiefs have had trouble moving the ball through the air but have good WRs in the dangerous Dwayne Bowe, Jonathan Baldwin as well as good slot receiver Stevie Breaston.
But the Chiefs passing game is averaging only 182 yards per game. Part of the problem has been sacks, Cassel has been sacked 22 times this season. The Patriots will try to bring the pressure on Palko and force him into making mistakes.
With a patchwork secondary last week, the Pats did a good job, I look for the Chiefs to roll out Palko and let him try to make plays to McCluster out of the backfield or Breaston and take the occasional shot downfield to Bowe. I think we’ll see more of Gary Guyton this week as the Patriots will put him on McCluster.
The Patriots special teams coverage units had a very solid game against the Jets, their best in quite a while. They will need to be again as both Jaiver Arenas on punt returns and McCluster on kick returns are dangerous.
Ryan Succop in the kicking department and Dustin Colquitt have been solid for the Chiefs. Their numbers are actually nearly identical to the Pats Stephen Gostkowski and Zoltan Mesko, so the kicking matchup is basically a wash. But the Patriots return units have been nothing special this season and with a good KC coverage unit, I don’t see this changing this week.
It will be interesting to see Romeo Crennel and his schemes to stop his old team this week. The Patriots after playing poorly for a few games stepped it up against the rival Jets last week. They feel much better about themselves on both sides of the ball and are returning home where they very rarely lose.
The Chiefs with a chance to stay with in first place, lost to Denver and now have lost Cassel and that has to be a blow. But with no one giving them a chance on MNF, how will they respond this week? We could see a loose, nothing-to-lose team or a team that is starting to let doubt creep in. If that’s the case it will be a long ride home.
This week the Patriots should be able to assert their will on offense. The Chiefs have struggled to stop the run, so with the Patriots being able to run effectively with Green-Ellis and Woodhead, it will open play action with Brady being able to find players open.
The Patriots have a lot of weapons on offense and the Chiefs secondary is banged up. Couple that with a weak pass rush and Brady has all day to throw. If the Chiefs resort to the blitz, no one is better at reading it and defeating it than Brady. Rob Gronkowski remains a matchup nightmare for defenses and this one will be no different.
On defense the Patriots have a lot of holes in the secondary and in the middle at linebacker but if the offense starts to click, it will put a lot of undue pressure on Palko and the last thing the Chiefs need is to get into a shootout situation with the Patriots.
Brady and the offense have a big night as Welker will have another huge game and the defense should be able to keep the Chiefs offense under wraps. Patriots 31-14
Thursday Night Football Prediction:
Both my friend Steve the Cat, who does my weekly NFL Picks column with me and I like the Jets tonight.
She says Jets 31-27, I say Jets 27-6 Stay tuned.