Finding A Crack In The Armour
The Kansas City Chiefs were clearly the best team in football until they decided to release running back Kareem Hunt late in the season for off-the-field issues. Once that happened, they fell into a bracket with roughly four other teams, one of them being New England.
In the AFC Championship Game, Bill Belichick recognized the Chiefs as an opponent with the league’s best offense, the probable NFL MVP at quarterback (Patrick Mahomes), the league’s fastest player at wide receiver (Tyreek Hill), and the one of the league’s most potent weapons at tight end (Travis Kelce).
He also saw that Kareem Hunt was gone and the Chiefs were sporting the league’s 31st ranked defense.
Belichick’s first move was to bottle Hill with a constant safety over the top. His second was to jam Kelce from the line and box him with zone coverage almost constantly. Thirdly, he gave the athletic Mahomes consistent pocket pressure from the interior of the Patriots defensive line, which kept him from prancing to easy first downs.
Tom Brady (and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels) designed and executed an adaptive game plan that often had the quarterback calling audible options throughout the game, depending on Brady’s unparalleled powers of surveillance.
The result? Hill and Kelce were held to 65 yards on four catches. The Kansas City running game had 41 yards on twelve carries.
Mahomes was brilliant, and single-handedly kept the Chiefs in the game, but his counterpart was better, as Brady and the Patriots held the ball for 44 minutes of the game, had 36 first downs, and 524 total yards.
Two weeks ago, New England crushed the San Diego Chargers with an expert plan. Against the Chiefs, it was near-genius.
Okay. So the Vikings don’t have geniuses. But when playing the Los Angeles Rams, are they recognizing the strength of their opponent when a linebacker is in coverage on a wide receiver? In two losses to Chicago, do they understand that Chicago relies on a young quarterback with a still-shaky control of his new offense?
Even when the Vikings got a chance to play these Patriots in New England in week 13, fans watched a tight first half where Vikings’ running back Dalvin Cook rolled over the Patriot defense with an eight-yard rush average, only to see him taken out of the game in quarters three and four.
In that game, Kirk Cousins threw two interceptions and had a 70.4 rating. Meanwhile, the Vikings “strength” going in, Adam Thielen, Stefon Diggs, Kyle Rudolph, contributed to a mere 201 passing yards.
This was a game in which they only saw offensive success running the ball–but only ran the ball 13 times!