By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) -- Monday night's game between the Ravens and Chiefs -- featuring reigning Super Bowl MVP Patrick Mahomes at quarterback squared off against reigning NFL MVP Lamar Jackson -- was billed as a slugfest. Once it started, though, only one team was doing the slugging.
The Chiefs scored touchdowns on four of their first five drives en route to opening up a 27-10 lead on the road. Those touchdown drives went an average of 75 yards; three were finished in seven plays or fewer.
A missed field goal before halftime and a lost fumble coming out of halftime slowed them down, but they still managed to rally together for another 75-yard touchdown drive in the fourth quarter to put the game away, capped off by a touchdown pass from Mahomes to left tackle Eric Fisher.
Not that it was any mystery before, but after Monday night, the Patriots know that they will have their hands full come Sunday at 4:25 p.m.
"We know we're going to have our work cut out for us in Kansas City," Belichick said Tuesday morning. "It's a championship football team and we're going to have to play our best game, and coach it."
What stood out on Monday and has stood out all season long has been that Andy Reid apparently spent his quarantine sitting in a basement figuring out new ways to redefine what we know about offensive football. His formations, his motions, his tricks -- it's all seemingly coming from an endless fountain of ideas within the best offensive mind in the game. The fact that he seemingly has perfect partners in offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy and Mahomes at QB to execute those plans.
While the Chiefs now have years of tape with Mahomes running the show, let's look at just a few plays from Monday night that show just what the Patriots' defense will be dealing with.
Start with the first play the Chiefs ran from scrimmage. The pre-snap look was pretty basic. Travis Kelce motioned right to left in a tight formation with a lone running back in the backfield. Kelce and the left guard blocked down to the right at the snap, faking a counter run, but then Kelce reversed course and ran left as a lead blocker for Tyreek Hill on an end-around.
That play went for an easy 22 yards.
The Chiefs also like to keep defenses on their heels by switching up their entire formation pre-snap.
It's hard to enough to stop the talent on the field, so mixing up defensive keys and principles in a matter of seconds before the snap feels borderline cruel.
And of course, if you get lost trying to account for all of the pass-catching threats on the field, Mahomes can just take care of things himself.
Elsewhere in Andy's bag o' tricks is the classic fake screen left/fake screen right/tight end middle screen, which is likewise an inconsiderate move.
This next play didn't end up working, but it was a quadruple-stack formation that doesn't look like anything that's been used on an NFL field before.
The Ravens handled that one, but Reid and Bieniemy and Mahomes will probably learn from that and make the necessary tweaks.
"Well I think Andy continually comes up with little wrinkles here and there. You expect that a couple of plays a game," Belichick said Tuesday morning when asked about that specific formation. "But that's not really the core of what they do. Those gadget plays and those formations that are a little out of the ordinary, that will pop up from time to time, but they really win with good fundamentals, good execution, and the core things that they do. But they obviously put things in there to mix it up and give the defense a little bit of a different look. So those are definitely coming in every game, different ones, ones that we haven't practiced. But we'll have to follow our rules in those situations when they come up."
This misdirection screen play didn't work because Calais Campbell is 15 feet tall. But if the pass is completed, it might go for a touchdown next time.
At this point, we ought to take a break to say this: All of these plays came in just the first quarter of the football game. The reservoir of masterful plays is not just deep; it's seemingly endless.
Back to the game: When you're playing the Chiefs, make sure to note that even if it's just a fullback who's lining up off the line just to block ... he's going to catch a touchdown on you if you let him.
How fun is that play? It's a hoot. Unless you're on defense. The words "not fair" get thrown around in sports too often, but in this case, the sentiment applies.
Tyreek Hill's presence in the backfield on that touchdown play no doubt affected the defense, and later in the quarter, Hill's motion in the backfield got the entire second level of the Ravens' defense to take one false step the wrong way, thus opening an avenue for Kelce to pick up an easy 29 yards.
The reason things are so perfect in Kansas City is that it's not merely scheme. The Chiefs simply have the talent to do things like this on a regular basis:
And then, just as the opponent fights and claws and scraps to make the game close in the second half ... Reid busts out the pass to his left tackle.
Think about it: You're running the opposing defense. You've got Mahomes. Hill. Kelce. Mecole Hardman. Sammy Watkins. Clyde Edwards-Helaire. Even the freaking fullback you've got to worry about. And you get down to the goal line, and now suddenly you have to account for Eric Fisher sneaking out and catching a touchdown.
There's only one possible response to that:
That it is.
Belichick said the way that the Chiefs spread the ball around is a significant problem for defenses.
"I mean, they have five good receivers out there on almost every play. So it's hard to match up with two, three, or four of them, but they've got five. And a great quarterback and a great offensive system," Belichick said. "So they maximize the amount of pressure they put on you, and they do a lot of different things. It's not just one route or one guy or a couple concepts; they have a multitude of ways to attack the defense, and they do them all every week. So sooner or later you're going to get tested, and you've just got to be able to handle it."
(It should probably be mentioned at some point that the Chiefs' defense held Lamar Jackson to just 97 passing yards. That is ... not a lot of passing yards. And it presents its own set of problems. But the Chiefs' defense was vulnerable to the run, which -- considering New England's proficiency on the ground -- could help the Patriots stay afloat on Sunday.
For the Patriots, there won't be any comfort this week in knowing their opponent will be coming off a Monday night game and will thus have a short week, because the Chiefs are functioning at a non-human level right now.
They rank fifth in yards per game, fourth in passing yards per game, ninth in rushing yards per game, and fourth in points per game. That may not exactly scream "deadly," but consider their opponents. Baltimore had allowed 305 yards, 11 points and 19 first downs per game prior to allowing 517 yards, 34 points and 29 first downs on Monday. Likewise the Chargers have allowed 299 yards, 17 points, and 16.5 first downs in their two games not against the Chiefs; against the Chiefs, they allowed 414 yards, 23 points, and 23 first downs.
Now might be a fitting time to note that the Patriots' passing defense is not exactly as stout as it was a year ago. They currently rank 11th in passing yards allowed after facing Russell Wilson, Derek Carr and Ryan Fitzpatrick. In terms of yards allowed per passing attempt, the Patriots rank sixth-worst in the NFL at 8.2 yards. They've also allowed seven touchdowns, which is tied for fifth-most in the NFL. (Not coincidentally, all three teams that have had the misfortune of facing Russell Wilson in September are at the top of that list.)
If the Patriots' passing defense does have anything working for it this week, it's that they've been able to limit big plays. The Patriots have allowed nine passes of 20 or more yards, which puts them in the middle of the pack, but they've allowed just one pass of over 40 yards. Of course, the Chiefs will likely add another one or two to that list, because they are too good not to, and they showed they've got plenty of red zone tricks up their sleeves if they need to inch their way up the field in a more methodical manner.
Really, in terms of stopping the Chiefs' offense this week ... the task is about as tall as it gets in the National Football League.
"Another impressive performance, like usual," Belichick said regarding Kansas Cit's overall performance vs. Baltimore. "They were really dominant in the first half, basically scored 31 points there in a half of football on the road against a good football team. So they're a very explosive group."
That they are. As far as tests for a defense go, they don't get any harder than this one.
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