New England Patriots Gameplan: Week 4 at Kansas City Chiefs

The Patriots conclude the first quarter of their season on Monday Night Football against the Chiefs in Arrowhead, in what should be a good test for a Patriots team that seems to be going in two different directions on either side of the ball.

Last season the Chiefs were one of the teams that scared me. Their controlled short passing game is just the kind that has given the Patriots defense fits in recent years, but the Pats defense is starting to look reborn after a strong start against three admittedly less-than-formidable offenses.

Offensively the talk all week has been focused on the offensive line, leading many to wonder if there will be some changes upfront for the Pats. Once New England gets their blocking solidified, we should expect to see a much-improved squad. But there’s no guarantee that the blocking is easily fixed, they’ll have to prove it on the field and all eyes will be on them in the hostile environment known as Arrowhead.

Offensive Strategy

The one constant through the first three games on offense has been Julian Edelman and he should once again be the go-to target to keep the chains moving. With star Chiefs safety Eric Berry nursing a high ankle sprain, the Pats should be tempted to attack the deep part of the field, something they’ve been less-than-effective with early in the season.

Their best deep threat Aaron Dobson was back on the bench last week after seeing his first action in Week 2. If ever there was a time to push the Dobson deep plan, this could be the week.

But the bigger question is whether or not Tom Brady will have the time. Even the most perfect gameplans are easily destroyed when the pass rush gets to Tom Brady and the Chiefs have two of the best edge rushers in the game in Tamba Hali and Justin Houston. They will test Sebastian Vollmer and Nate Solder, the Patriots bookend tackles. Solder especially had one of the worst outings of his career against the Raiders and he will need to bounce back in a big way or Brady could be on his ass a lot.

Dontari Poe is a big space-eating defensive tackle who should test the Patriots interior line as well, whoever they roll out there.

Defensive Strategy

With Sealver Siliga unlikely to play, Vince Wilfork and the edges of the defense will have their work cut out for them. Electric running back Jamaal Charles is expected to play, while fellow Chiefs running back Kniles Davis brings a physical element. 

The Chiefs like to hit the edges of the defense hard, so there will be pressure on Rob Ninkovich, Chandler Jones and Dont’a Hightower to keep containment. 

The Pats run defense has been much better since the travesty that was Week 1 against the Dolphins, but this should be their toughest test since then. Joe Vellano held up far better against double teams vs. the Raiders than Chris Jones did, so Vellano could start next to Wilfork.

Donnie Avery and Dwayne Bowe should provide a good test for the Patriots pass defense but tight end Travis Kelce might be the most dangerous of them all. Patrick Chung has been effective in coverage thus far against tight ends and seems like the favorite to draw coverage on Kelce. If he’s ineffective, Jamie Collins could be called to action.

Five Points of Emphasis

1. Block! - If you’ve read just about any intelligent analysis about the Patriots this week, you know that the offensive line is their biggest team issue right now. What’s frustrating is that the guys who have done it in the past - especially Solder and Vollmer - are not doing it now. They need to be the leaders. Regardless of what kind of personnel changes are made, the offensive line must communicate better and simply play at a higher level —  a level they are capable of. They have a great opportunity to right the ship in a tough place to play. That can make a statement.

2. Bombs Away - The Patriots have needed a vertical element to their passing game for going on five seasons. There’s no question the offense is built around Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski and they will move the ball with those two as the primary receivers. But for the offense to truly hit the next level, they need attack the perimeter of the defense. The chance is there this week, but only if the offensive line gives Brady the time to get off accurate throws. It’s all connected, but a couple shots down the field is just what this team needs.

3. First Down Execution - Part of the problems this year have been slow starts especially at the start of the game and the start of the second half. The play calling was over-thought and put the Patriots in yardage holes early. They need to start better in every sense of the word. On first down and early in each half, they need to set themselves up for success later in the game and on the set of downs.

4. Physicality on Defense - The Dolphins often overwhelmed the Chiefs in Week 3 with pure physicality and the Patriots have the personnel to do the same. Dont’a Hightower and Chandler Jones have had superb starts to their third seasons in the NFL and they’ll have to show that to a national audience on Monday night. The defense has shown that they are not the same old Patriots defense we became accustomed to from 2010-2013, and they must continue to build on the success that they have had against a legitimate NFL offense and probably the best quarterback they’ve seen yet this season.

5. Win: As always, what matters most is getting the win. We’re closing out the first quarter of the season, so the time for experimentation and wondering what the Patriots are good and bad at is coming to a close. This game will tell us a lot about the kind of team the 2014 Pats are, especially after a week where a win felt more like a loss. The entire NFL world will be watching to see if there really are any cracks in the Patriots empire. A convincing win on the road in Kansas City would answer that with a resounding “No”.

New England Patriots Gameplan: Week 3 vs. Oakland Raiders

The Patriots finally have their home opener Sunday against the 0-2 Raiders! While on paper this might look to be a Pats’ blowout, we’ve seen far too many ugly early-season losses to write in a “W” just yet. Let’s remember this is a Patriots team that lost to the Cardinals at home in 2012. The Cardinals wouldn’t win another road game all year. Figure that one out.

The Pats have been saying all the right things this week — what a legend Charles Woodson is, how good Oakland’s pass defense is, that Derek Carr can make every throw. You know the drill.

But who the opponent is doesn’t really matter, it’s all about focusing on the Patriots and improving. The team has shown glimpses on both sides of the ball, but the consistency has been lacking especially on offense. 

Here’s my strategy and points of emphasis that will hopefully get the Pats to 2-1.

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New England Patriots Gameplan: Week 2 at Minnesota Vikings

We’re finally on to Week 2, putting the ugly season-opening loss to Miami behind us! The Minnesota Vikings provide just the right kind of tough challenges the Patriots need to face to prove they’re not the team that laid a major egg on the road in Miami last week.

Here’s our game plan!

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New England Patriots Gameplan: Week 1 at Miami

The New England Patriots open their 2014 season on the road in Miami against the Dolphins, and as all divisional matchups in Week 1 go, this one will be down to the wire.

Season openers are always filled with mistakes, turnovers and general sloppiness. Teams don’t know exactly what to expect, they haven’t been tackling much, and with gameplans that have been in incubation since April, there are always some surprises.

Offensive Strategy: Picking a method of attack is even tougher this season because the Patriots have a great “inventory” (as Brady puts it) of offensive firepower… at least here in Week 1 it looks that way. 

I’m going with what I think will be the bread-and-butter of 2014, 11 personnel as the primary package. Edelman is a constant but the surprise could be a combination of using both LaFell and Dobson on the outside, with Vereen in the backfield. Hooman should be the primary tight end until the red zone, when Gronk (assuming he plays) enters the game.

The key — attacking their undersized corners with the Pats’ big weapons, including Wright. Their linebackers are fast and need to be worn down using the third tackle-as-tight end package.

I’m not worried about pushing the pace of the offense at this point in the season, though I’m sure they’ll hurry up at select moments. But it’s more about execution, especially being on the road and in physically-demanding conditions. 

Defensive Strategy: Expecting a hybrid 34/43 with Wilfork/Vellano in the middle and Ninkovich/Chandler on the edges. Collins/Hightower are the OLBs and should be tasked with Charles Clay, Collins especially. With Mayo in the middle he’ll have an eye on Tannehill.

Man-to-man defense is the easiest coverage to run when there might be some unexpected wrinkles from the Dolphins offense, so let’s put Revis on Wallace, Dennard on Hartline and Arrington on Gibson. Though they’ll rotate, I’d bet Harmon plays more snaps than Chung.

Miami will definitely push the pace so it will be important to keep substitutions to a minimum. Easing Siliga/Easley will be an important rotation on the DL, as will Buchanan/Moore at DE.

Rotating players to stay fresh in the heat might be challenging.

If Revis can neutralize Wallace, the Pats have a numbers advantage against Hartline, Gibson and Clay. That’s what Revis Island brings to the party.

The Dolphins should test the Patriots run defense. I would. No more Brandon Spikes, Hightower likely on the edge and Wilfork coming off an injury should tempt the Dolphins to  really attack the middle of the defense with their ground game. 

Keep Brady off the field. Chew clock. Hang on to the ball. It’s a good game plan vs. 12 if you can do it the entire game. 

Points of Emphasis

1. Clean Football - In a tight game, the mistakes often make the difference and a season opener in tough conditions is prime territory for a sloppy game. We all know the Patriots’ reliance on winning the turnover battle — with a better defense that could change this year — but this week it doesn’t. Playing safe with the ball and being aware of the situation are paramount in a game like this.

2. Attack the Middle of the OL - The Pats finally have the makings of a team whose pass rush must be respected and this is their debut. Expect a rotating number of faces lining up and down the defensive line to attack the interior of the Phins’ OL. Dominique Easley is expected to play and could have an impressive debut even in limited action.

3. Keep Their Heads Spinning on Defense - Tom Brady has a number of unique weapons at his disposal and it will be important to never let Miami get a bead on what they’re trying to do. This will be done by a constantly rotating set of personnel at receiver, tight end and running back. Imagine the difficulty of covering Edelman one snap, Tim Wright the next, then Kenbrell Thompkins the next.

4. Hold the (middle of the) Fort - Nate Solder and Sebastian Vollmer will have to be at their best against Miami’s talented edge rushers, but they should be up to the task. There have been plenty of questions surrounding the interior of the Pats’ line this offseason and there are even more now after Logan Mankins was dealt. Now is the time for Josh Kline, Ryan Wendell and Dan Connolly (and whoever else) to answer those questions.

And can the defense get back to stopping the run like they did before last year? Mayo moving back to middle linebacker is something to watch. 

5. Win - Getting the W is all that matters, no matter how ugly, you’ll take them however you can get them at this time of year. This could be the toughest divisional game of the season and if the Pats can come out of it 1-0 it would a great (and record-tying) start to the season.

Good stuff from Alen Dumonjic, looking back at BB’s game plan against the K-gun in 1991. Very curious to see if there are any defensive twists this weekend against Manning. Most wouldn’t be surprised if BB did the same thing he did the first time around, especially with a better-run stopper in the middle.

Patriots defensive gameplan vs. Broncos

Good tweet from Matt Chatham showing how the Pats sold out against the pass and let the Broncos take what they could on the ground. Forcing continued execution and not allowing any big plays is “bend, don’t break” at its finest.

Wish we had Dennard for this very purpose…

The Colts contained the Broncos by employing some type of press coverage on around 40 plays. Only once did they use a zone coverage. With the corners jamming Manning’s receivers, he was forced to throw deep, where he’s 21-of-51 this season on passes that travel 20 or more yards through the air. He was 5-of-13 on such passes against the Colts. Injuries in the Colts’ secondary late in the game nearly ended Indianapolis’ hope of upsetting the Broncos as Manning furiously fought back. But even with the late letdown, they showed Denver could be contained. Now the question is whether or not the Patriots defense will be healthy enough to take some elements of Indianapolis’ blueprint and do the same. If Dennard were playing, the answer would likely be yes.

A very smart general manager once told me that he wished his team played the Patriots early in the season, then he’d know exactly where his team’s holes were because no one is better at targeting weaknesses than Bill Belichick. We all know the Panthers’ front seven is terrific, and that their secondary has issues. This feels like a game in which the Patriots will spread the field and, coming off their bye week, run the fast version of their no-huddle offense. The Panthers had trouble with that rapid pace in their Week 2 loss to the Bills; the Patriots are much better in this regard. Belichick knows that the Panthers’ defensive line has an advantage with their power against New England’s scuffling offensive line. Carolina has one of the heavier lines in the league across the board, so why not run the no-huddle to take some of the power out of their legs? The Patriots run most effectively out of their hurry-up offense as well. So I like the Patriots’ offense in this matchup, even though Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis are the best cover linebackers in the game and can slow down tight end Rob Gronkowski.

Detroit Lions’ defense the key to capturing NFC North crown | The MMQB with Peter King

When my game plan thoughts line up with Bedard’s it makes me feel like I might kinda know what I’m talking about. At least this one time…

Football Gameplan’s 2013 NFL Week 11 Preview - Patriots vs Panthers (by FootballGameplan)