If the New England Patriots can’t get their run game rolling against the Kansas City Chiefs, they might be out of chances this season to figure it all out.
The clock is ticking for the New England Patriots to solve the riddle that has been their run game this season.
It’s not uncommon for the Patriots to lean on their passing game offensively – after all, they have the luxury of starting the Greatest Quarterback of All Time each and every year. That said, Tom Brady has been visibly and verbally frustrated for most of 2019 because of shoddy offensive line play, inept receivers, virtually no tight end presence whatsoever, and an overall lack of consistency or efficiency in the run game.
To be fair, Brady himself hasn’t been all that great, either.
Without a dynamic and explosive passing game to fall back on, the Pats should try – perhaps one last time – to see if their run game can’t be resuscitated and brought back to the level it occupied during their winter playoff push last year.
All season long, the New England ground game has been mediocre at best and downright disastrous at worst. Part of the blame falls on the backs themselves, part of it falls on the run-blocking, and a part of it also should fall at the feet of the coaching staff.
Currently, the Patriots have the 21st-best run game in the NFL. That’s a nicer way of saying they have the 12th-worst run game in the NFL. Among the projected playoff seeds as of this week, only the Steelers and the Chiefs average less rush yards per game than the Patriots. For contrast, seven of the top-eight teams in rushing yards per game are currently in line to make the postseason.
If there was ever a time for Bill Belichick (HC), Josh McDaniels (OC), Dante Scarnecchia (OLC), and Ivan Fears (RBC) to iron out all the kinks and get the run game going once again, that time is decidedly now.
Not only are the Patriots in danger of losing out on home-field advantage in the playoffs (the Ravens now have the No. 1 seed after Week 13’s results), they also could potentially slip out of their first-round bye, too, if they drop difficult upcoming games to the Chiefs and the Bills. Even worse, Buffalo could actually steal the AFC East out from under the Patriots if New England isn’t careful.
After Sunday night’s loss to the Texans in primetime, the perfect game to regroup and recalibrate would’ve been New England’s Week 15 opponent: the 1-11 Cincinnati Bengals. Unfortunately for the Patriots, they instead draw the always-dangerous Chiefs, who just blew the doors off the Raiders at home last weekend.
The last couple games between these AFC heavyweights came down to the wire, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see a similar result happen this year. Many fans and analysts are expecting a shootout… but if that ends up happening, it will decidedly favor Patrick Mahomes, Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins, and the Chiefs’ high-powered offense, over Tom Brady, Julian Edelman, and not a whole lot else on the Patriots’ milquetoast offense.
The better hope if you’re a Patriots fan is that New England manages to do something this week they’ve been trying to do all year: replicate the formula from the 2018 postseason.
At 141.3 rushing yards per game, the Chiefs have the third-worst run defense in the NFL this year – only the Dolphins and Bengals have allowed more yards per game. It’s no secret that the Chiefs’ Achilles heel this year – just like last year – is their run defense. It’s now up to the Patriots to prove that they can actually exploit that weakness.
If Sony Michel, James White, and Rex Burkhead can peel off big gains on the ground, it significantly lessens the pressure put on Brady, Edelman, and the Patriots passing game overall. More importantly, it allows New England to control the time of possession and keeps Mahomes and the Chiefs offense safely on the sideline, where they are unable to inflict any damage on the scoreboard.
The Patriots defense this season is certainly up to the challenge of slowing down the Kansas City offense, but they also need some help from the offense at some point. Especially against the more premier quarterbacks in the league – Lamar Jackson and Deshaun Watson being two of them – this defense has shown cracks at times when they were asked to do too much.
If the Patriots once again field a faulty offense and lay all their chips on Stephon Gilmore & Company to neutralize the Chiefs offense and win this game entirely on their own, it may be too great an ask… even of a defense that’s this dominant and historic.
Assuming most (if not all) of the Patriots who were ill with the flu last week will have had some time to recover and get back to normal, there’s really no excuse for New England not to have a better effort on the ground this week than they’ve had all season long.
Marcus Cannon has been the sickest for the longest, so hopefully he’s almost back to 100% at this point. Isaiah Wynn was ill, but he played well enough against the Texans and should benefit from having two full games under his belt now since his return from IR. Joe Thuney and Shaq Mason have been fairly healthy and effective all season long at the guard positions.
The real question is who now steps in for Ted Karras, who was himself filling in this season for David Andrews at center? The expectation is that fourth-year man James Ferentz will be able to fill the void capably until Karras works his way back from a reported MCL sprain. Hopefully a full week of practice as the starter will be enough for Ferentz to integrate with the other four linemen.
Finally, this is Sony Michel’s moment. He’s been disappointing, to say the least, for all 12 games of action up to this point in his sophomore season – a surprise, given the hope around the league and in Patriots Nation that he could be the engine of this offense in 2019. If Michel can’t finally break out for a big game against this Chiefs defense, then perhaps his rookie season was more a flash in the pan than anyone would care to admit.