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Brown: High-scoring Chiefs have holes and Patriots can expose them

  • Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15) throws a pass during the first half of an NFL football game against the Jacksonville Jaguars in Kansas City, Mo., Sunday, Oct. 7, 2018. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel) Charlie Riedel

  • New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick faces reporters before a practice on Wednesday in Foxborough, Mass. AP



For the Monitor
Thursday, October 11, 2018

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Among the most noteworthy developments early in the 2018 NFL season has been the success of the Kansas City Chiefs’ high-scoring offense. However, as the Patriots prepare to host the unbeaten Chiefs (5-0) and their 35-points-per-game attack on Sunday night, Kansas City’s struggling defense resides on the other end of the noteworthy spectrum.

While second-year quarterback Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs offense have accumulated the fifth-most yards per game (413) and second-most points per game, the defense has been dangerously leaky with the exception of last Sunday’s 30-14 victory over Jacksonville in which Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles had a characteristic meltdown with four interceptions.

Despite producing five turnovers against the Jaguars, the Chiefs have surrendered the most yards in the league (461.8 per game) and are ranked 20th in points allowed (25.8 per game). Despite his terrible day, Bortles threw for 430 yards against this defense.

Patriots head coach Bill Belichick was diplomatic in discussing Kansas City’s defense this week, pointing out that they are, “the best team in the league on third down.” While that’s technically close to true – the Chiefs are second-best in third-down conversion rate, allowing only 29.3 percent of conversions – it’s also slightly misleading. Only six teams have faced fewer third downs than the Chiefs, and Kansas City has allowed the most first downs in the league. So teams are converting plenty on first and second down. Also on fourth, where the Chiefs have allowed 10 of 13 conversions (26th worst in the league).

“They don’t give up a lot of points,” Belichick said. “I mean, they’ve been ahead. They’ve given up on some yards in garbage time, but they’re 5-0.”

Belichick is right that a good number of yards have come in garbage time. And it’s absolutely true that playing from in front can make a defense look statistically worse. When leading by multiple scores in the fourth quarter, teams are happy to let their opponents chew clock and work their way downfield for a scoring opportunity. This can pad yards and points in a way that isn’t meaningful in assessing a defense’s ability.

However, Football Outsiders also has the Chiefs ranked 28th in defensive efficiency overall with the least-efficient run defense in the league. This suggests Kansas City’s defensive troubles are not stat-sheet illusions.

Certainly the Chiefs have suffered injuries, notably to safety Eric Berry, who missed most of last season after an Achilles injury in the Week 1 opener against the Patriots. While a healthy unit would likely perform better, that is not what New England will see on Sunday as Berry and linebackers Justin Houston and Tanoh Kpassagnon are among the Chiefs who have not yet practiced this week.

Though the Colts were seriously banged up last Thursday, it still seems the Chiefs are the worst defense the Patriots will see to this point in the season, which should make for an interesting counter to the New England defense trying to slow down the Kansas City offense.

“As an offense, we always want to go out there and we always want to put up points,” Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski said. “That’s our mission every week and however the game goes, we’re just trying to put up as many points as we possibly can and we’ll see how it plays out Sunday.”

(Dave Brown is a freelance correspondent who covers the Patriots for the Monitor. You can follow him on Twitter @ThatDaveBrown)