By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — There’s reason for concern again regarding the local football team, but this time, it has nothing to do with the Patriots themselves. It has everything to do with their opponent.
Just when the Patriots appear to have solved some of the issues that led to their 1-2 start, they’re going to have to welcome the most dominant team in the NFL to Gillette Stadium on Sunday night.
From a Patriots perspective, the timing isn’t ideal.
Nevertheless, the Week 6 meeting will go on as scheduled. And though the Patriots will have the benefit of some extra rest after playing on Thursday, the task ahead of them this week is immense. Here’s an idea of how big of a challenge they’ll be facing.
–The Chiefs are 5-0. They’re one of two teams in the NFL that’s still unbeaten, and they’re the only undefeated team in the AFC.
–The Chiefs boast the No. 1 scoring offense in the NFL at 35 points per game. They rank fifth in total yards, but they’ve been piling up the points like nobody else.
–Quarterback Patrick Mahomes leads the NFL with 16 touchdown passes. He’s thrown just two interceptions, both of which came on Sunday vs. Jacksonville. His 8.6 yards per attempt have him ranked fourth in the NFL. He also has two rushing touchdowns.
–Running back Kareem Hunt ranks fourth in the NFL in rushing yards (376). He’s tied for sixth in the NFL with four rushing touchdowns.
–Travis Kelce ranks second among NFL tight ends with 407 receiving yards and three touchdowns. He’s averaging 14.5 yards per reception, which ranks second-best among tight ends with at least 20 receptions.
–Wide receiver Tyreek Hill has caught nine passes for 20 or more yards, which has him tied for second in the NFL. Overall, he’s caught 27 passes for 425 yards and three touchdowns.
The Patriots and Chiefs have thus far shared one common opponent: the Jacksonville Jaguars. Granted, the Chiefs were at home for their meeting with the Jags, which is an advantage the Patriots did not have. But the two teams fared very, very differently against Jacksonville.
The Jaguars beat the Patriots 31-20. The Jaguars gained 480 yards against the Patriots’ defense. Tom Brady’s offense mustered just 302 yards against Jacksonville, while allowing two sacks. The Patriots ran for just 82 yards on 24 carries (3.4 yards per rush). The Patriots did not record a single sack on Blake Bortles, who posted a 111.0 passer rating on the day.
The Chiefs beat the Jaguars 30-14. The Jaguars did gain 502 yards against the Chiefs’ defense, but turned the ball over five times. The Chiefs managed to gain 424 yards vs. the Jags’ defense, with Mahomes taking just one sack. The Chiefs rushed for 126 yards on 30 carries (4.2 yards per rush). The Chiefs recorded five sacks on Bortles, who posted a 54.7 passer rating on the day.
Of course, there’s no such thing as the transitive property in sports, but the fact that the Chiefs dominated a team that dominated the Patriots at least shows that the Patriots are going to have to be at the top of their game this Sunday in Foxboro.
That much would probably have been known even if this meeting were taking place in Week 1, just as it did last year. On that memorable night at Gillette, Hunt ran for 148 yards and a touchdown, and he also caught five passes for 98 yards two more touchdowns. Hill caught seven passes for 133 yards and a touchdown. The Chiefs turned a 27-21 fourth-quarter deficit into a 42-27 blowout victory in the blink of an eye — and that was with Alex Smith at quarterback. He’s been replaced by a much better downfield thrower in Mahomes, and the threat of the Chiefs’ offense has been well known in New England for a full calendar year now.
All of that being established, this need not be considered a lost week for the Patriots. The outlook is not exactly hopeless, as there are numerous reasons for the Patriots to have a chance on Sunday. (The Patriots are three-point favorites, after all.)
First and foremost is this: The Chiefs’ defense is very, very bad. They rank dead last in the NFL, allowing 461.8 yards per game. In terms of scoring, they rank 20th at 25.8 points per game. Against a Brady-led offense that’s scored 38 points in consecutive weeks, that figures to be a troubling matter for Kansas City.
It doesn’t help matters for Kansas City that two defensive starters — linebacker Justin Houston and safety Eric Murray — left Sunday’s game due to injury.
On the other side of the ball, starting guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif broke his fibula, and he’ll be replaced by rookie Kahlil McKenzie.
While the Chiefs do have their defensive woes, they can now be considered opportunistic, after they forced five Jacksonville turnovers on Sunday. Prior to that, though, the Chiefs forced just three total turnovers in their first four games.
And as we’ve seen in the past two weeks, the Patriots are pretty good at exploiting bad defenses. Brady has completed 72.2 percent of his passes over the past two weeks, for 615 total yards and 7.8 yards per attempt. He’s thrown six touchdowns in that span. (He has thrown four interceptions, though one of those came on a pass that hit Chris Hogan’s arm, and the other was basically caught by Rob Gronkowski.) The offense clearly looks dangerous now, with Julian Edelman returning at full speed and Josh Gordon looking capable of being a real weapon.
For a Kansas City defense that allows 343 passing yards per game and allowed Ben Roethlisberger to throw for 452 yards and three touchdowns, Brady could be set up to have his best game of the year. (Interestingly, Brady had one of his worst games of 2017 against the Chiefs, though Eric Berry had a lot to do with that. He’s been dealing with a heel injury this season and is unlikely to play Sunday.)
The same might be true for Gronkowski, who’s yet to really have a dominant performance this season. That’s because the Chiefs have had some issues covering tight ends this season. Jesse James caught five passes for 138 yards and a touchdown against Kansas City. George Kittle caught five passes for 79 yards — more than double the production of any other 49er receiver — for the 49ers in Week 3. Jeff Heuerman led Broncos receivers with four catches for 57 yards in Week 4.
It should be a third consecutive big day for rookie Sony Michel, too, as the Chiefs allow 5.8 yards per rush. That ranks — you guessed it — dead last in the NFL, and it’s a full half-yard worse than the second-worst team (Detroit, 5.3). The Chiefs have allowed six rushing touchdowns, which is tied for third-most in the league, and they’re giving up 118.8 rushing yards per game. That number is a bit deceiving though, as the Steelers rushed for just 33 yards in the Week 2 shootout in Pittsburgh. Removing that game from the equation, the Chiefs gave up 140 rushing yards per game and 6.2 yards per rush in their other four games.
Defending against the run was a particular problem for Kansas City on the road in Denver last Monday night, when the duo of Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman combined to rush for 136 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries — an average of 6.8 yards per carry. Certainly, the Patriots’ duo of Michel and James White should have the opportunity to feast.
But of course, that highly potent Chiefs offense will be ready to counter any and all offensive strikes from the Patriots. It may resemble a basketball game by the fourth quarter, where the team that has the ball last will end up winning the game.
The Patriots’ defense was effective until garbage time vs. the Colts last week, and was downright suffocating a week earlier against the Dolphins. This upcoming week, though, will present the stiffest challenge of the entire season.