Now that the glitz and glam of notching a spot in the Superbowl has passed, I’ve finally had a chance to revisit the New England Patriots’ and Kansas City Chiefs’ matchup in the AFC Championship game.
Last week, we took a look at the Los Angeles Rams versus New Orleans Saints matchup in the NFC Championship. We discussed what the Rams’ plan was entering the game, the adjustments in-game, and the dominance of certain players.
Now, we’re going to take a look at what the numbers tell us about the Patriots, and what the film showed me after reviewing it.
Let’s get into it:
Patriots - Chiefs
After reviewing the film, I’ve come away with some interesting tidbits on the Patriots’ gameplan to try and stifle the potent Chiefs’ offense. Defensively, they used their top cornerback in Stephon Gilmore in a shadow role, though he didn’t follow who you’d probably expect, he actually followed the Chiefs’ #2 WR in Sammy Watkins. The Patriots used a backup CB in Jonathan Jones on WR Tyreek Hill, often sending safety help by shading Devin McCourty to the hash on the side of Hill or even doubling the prolific wide receiver. Maybe the most interesting part of their entire defensive philosophy was the idea that the Patriots actually used their #2 CB in J.C. Jackson to cover TE Travis Kelce.
This is prototypical of the Patriots, because they trust Gilmore the most of their cornerback group allowing him to “man-up” against a good WR and totally erase his presence. They then allowed a lesser corner and a safety to neutralize a dynamic receiver such as Hill. Lastly, using a cornerback on a great receiving tight end is something the Rams have actually also utilized as they allowed guys like Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib to cover TE’s like Jared Cook and Zach Ertz.
What does this mean for the Rams?
My assumption is they’ll deploy a similar strategy, matching up Jones and shading safety help his way against WR Brandin Cooks. They’ll once again allow Gilmore to follow a receiver all game, and my guess is that’ll be WR Robert Woods. Lastly, TE Gerald Everett has yet to prove he’s a dynamic threat like Travis Kelce, though with his skill set and body type, I’d once again expect a cornerback to draw the assignment of covering the tight end known as the “YAC King”.
The idea of gaining schematic advantages is great, but at the end of the day, the game will always come down to beating the man across from you. The Rams’ stable of weapons will need to prove they’re up the task once again (as they have been all season) and continue to beat man coverage across the board, rendering the matchups the Patriots play irrelevant.
The Patriots’ running game has been incredibly effective the past few weeks, and a lot of it has to do with power running concepts. They like to deploy a lot of under-center traditional running formations such as I-Form (fullback and a running back). A lot of the runs that the offense succeeded with in the AFC Championship game were power concepts, such as powers, counters, and trap type runs. The key giveaway here is a ton of pulling lineman and the use of a fullback, meaning the Rams’ duo at ILB (Cory Littleton and Mark Barron) will need to trust their eyes and key in on motions as best as possible.
The Patriots’ offense features a lot of motions, jet sweeps, fake sweeps, and the passing game is a timing one. Tom Brady routinely checked into runs on 3rd-and-shorts in shotgun formations, with RB James White routinely picking up the necessary yardage to extend drives.
(All numbers taken from TeamRankings)
Looking at the numbers, the Patriots are fourth in points per game (28.6), they’re 12th in converting redzone opportunities into touchdowns (62.32%), fourth in yards per game (406.5), and ninth in yards per play (5.9). They’re fifth in third down conversions per game (5.7), second in average time of possession (31:56), and ninth in third down conversion percentage (43.59%).
They’re clearly an effective and efficient offense. The Patriots have a strong rushing attack spearheaded by rookie RB Sony Michel, with the rest of the offense working off of it utilizing play action. Majority of the effectiveness from the Patriots comes with staying ahead of the chains, and allowing playmakers such as Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman, and James White to convert third down opportunities.
The Patriots defense ranks 10th in points per game (21.3), 17th in yards per game (353.9), 20th in yards per play (5.7), 24th in red zone touchdown scoring percentage (63.46%), 14th in third down conversions per game (4.7), 29th in sacks (2.0), and eighth in takeaways per game (1.7).
Defensively, the Patriots are average. The main number that matters is the points-per-game statistic which they’re good at, though the remaining numbers do show weaknesses and an ability to be scored on. Ironically, a lot of these numbers are eerily similar to what the New Orleans Saints’ were, and the Rams did have offensive success against them.