It’s what the Kansas City Chiefs love and what the New England Patriots have to stop if they want to win on Sunday night.
While the past two games played by these two teams have been different, they were both largely the same result due to the same thing. The big play ability of Kansas City’s offensive skill players.
Kansas City has consistently put up long scoring drives against the Patriots defense, often thanks to the big play. Over the last two games against the Patriots, the average length of a Kansas City scoring drive is 68.25 yards and the Chiefs have recorded nine scoring drives of more than 70 yards. Four of those drives involved three or fewer plays.
This year’s team is equipped to do the same. Kansas City, ranked second in the league in scoring offense with 35 points per game, is unsurprisingly among the league leaders in big plays. In the passing game, the Chiefs are third in throws of 20+ yards and tied for fifth in passes of 40+ yards. Mahomes is one of the best in the league when it comes to completed air yards, according to the NFL’s Next Gen Stats. They’re also tied for fifth in runs of 20+ yards and are one of just a handful of teams to have a 40+ yard run.
That’s the bad news.
The good news is the Patriots defense is not the same unit it was in 2017. New England as a unit was 18th in giving up 20+ yard passing plays and 21st in 40+ yard passes surrendered. This season, New England has been much better against the big pass, currently tied for seventh in preventing 20+ yard throws, and has given up just a single 40+ yard passing play. They have also surrendered just two runs of 20 or more yards.
This game could go a long way in determining which team’s early-season success has been inflated by early-season schedules.
The combined win-loss record of Kansas City’s opponents is 11-13-1 as several teams on their early slate have underachieved. The Chargers, Steelers, 49ers, and Broncos rank 21st, 25th, 29th, and 23rd in scoring defense. They did beat Jacksonville, which is notable, scoring 23 points on offense.
New England has also had an easier time of it, with an opponents’ record of 11-14. New England’s relative success on defense has come against Houston, Jacksonville, Detroit, Miami, and Indianapolis, ranked 16th, 25th, 10th, 27th, and 12th, respectively, in scoring offense.
Personnel-wise, Kansas City has the most dynamic offensive group the Patriots have seen.
First-year starting quarterback Patrick Mahomes leads the league in touchdown passes (14), is second in touchdown percentage, is tied for fifth in interception percentage and yards per attempt, and ranks fifth in passer rating. Tyreek Hil and Sammy Watkins are fast, elusive receivers who can be used in a number of ways. Kareem Hunt is fourth in the NFL in rushing yards and tied for sixth with four touchdowns. Travis Kelce is second in the league in receiving yards and touchdowns by a tight end.
For their part, the Patriots are a mixed bag. They are tied for third in most passing touchdowns allowed and rank 21st in defensive touchdown percentage but are third in yards allowed per attempt, eighth in interception percentage, and 10th in opponents’ passer rating. Against Hill and Watkins will be Stephon Gilmore and Jason McCourty, who rank 10th and third, respectively, in Pro Football Focus’ positional rankings and, according to NESN’s Zach Cox, have combined to allow 10 catches on 24 targets for 99 yards and no touchdowns with five breakups in the last two games. The Patriots have allowed the ninth-most rushing yards to running backs this season, but have yielded just one rushing touchdown through five games. New England has allowed four touchdowns to tight ends, which is tied for the most in the league but has given up just 286 yards, which is middle of the road. Three of those touchdowns and 149 of those yards came against the Colts last week. Before that, the Patriots had allowed 137 yards and one touchdown to tight ends through four games. Which defense will show up against Kelce will be a big factor in this game.
(AP Photo/Steven Senne)