The Patriots travel to Kansas City to battle the Chiefs in a big game between two teams sitting at 6-4 and hoping to make a playoff run. With a victory on Sunday, the Patriots will have won three games in a row and be in control of their playoff destiny but it won't be easy, playing in one of the toughest stadiums in the NFL. Here are some of the things the Patriots need to do in order to walk out of Arrowhead Stadium with a victory.
1. Stop Larry Johnson
Since replacing Priest Holmes in the starting lineup, Johnson has rushed for 452 yards and four touchdowns in three games. In his last two games against Buffalo and Houston, Johnson has gone over 100 yards rushing in the first half. Stopping Johnson is important for the Patriots because the Chiefs are 6-1 when he goes over the century mark. The Chiefs like to run the football as much as any team in the NFL, especially this season. Their passing game hasn't been as productive as it has been in the past, so the team has a hard time winning when they can't move the ball on the ground. The Patriots have defended the run much better in recent weeks, holding both the Dolphins and Saints under 100 yards rushing as a team. Tedy Bruschi is looking more and more like his old self and the return of Richard Seymour has been a big boast as well. The Patriots have been swarming to the ball and tacking much better since their loss to the Colts. They haven't had much success stopping some of the league's elite backs but if they can control Johnson and prevent him from breaking big runs, the Patriots have a good chance of winning this game.
2. Get to Trent GreenEven with Seymour back in the lineup, the Patriots still haven't been able to pressure opposing quarterbacks consistently. Aaron Brooks was under a little duress at times last week but his mobility allowed him to move around in the pocket and find open receivers. Green doesn't have that kind of mobility to keep plays alive. It's hard to say the Patriots can stop anyone through the air since the last three quarterbacks they've faced have topped 300 yards passing and two of them were Brooks and Gus Frerotte. A ray of hope for New England is the one position the Chiefs are weak at on offense is receiver. Other than Eddie Kennison and Tony Gonzalez, the Chiefs don't really have any receivers that scare opposing defenses. Plus, with Willie Roaf injured for most of the season, Gonzalez has been asked to block more than he has in the past. If the Patriots can pressure Green early, Gonzalez may become less of a factor in the passing game. Right now it's hard to say the Patriots can stop any team's passing attack but if they can get to Green early and prevent Gonzalez from having a big day, this could be the Patriots best game defending the pass in a long time.
3. Exploit the Chiefs secondaryThe Patriots secondary has had their share of problems this year but so has the Chiefs defensive backfield. Even with the additions of Patrick Surtain and Sammy Knight, the Chiefs have struggled stopping the pass, ranking 29th in the NFL in pass defense. After 10 games, Kansas City is giving up over 241 passing yards a game. While the Patriots have started to get the running game going of late, the Chiefs haven't given up a 100-yard rusher in 17 straight games. This is the kind of game that will tell if the team misses someone like Charlie Weis. Weis never really cared how many times he ran or threw the football; he just exploited the weaknesses in the defense. The weakness in Kansas City is clearly the secondary. Other than the Jets and Texans, they haven't stopped anyone through the air. The Patriots don't want Tom Brady throwing the ball 50 times but putting the ball in the air early and trying to strike quickly would be a good idea. Not only to give the Patriots an early lead but also to take Johnson out of the game and put more pressure on Green to make plays in the passing game. The Patriots don't want to ditch the run but in the past, this is the kind of game they would use the pass to score early, build a lead and then milk the clock with the run. It will be interesting to see if they use that approach in this game.
4. Don't let Dante Hall change the game
Once a team weakness earlier in the year, the Patriots kick coverage has been much improved over the last month. However, this is a dangerous game. Even when the Chiefs are struggling on offense, Hall can change the entire complexion of a game by breaking a big return. The Patriots have held some of the NFL's best return men in check but Hall is the premier kick and punt returner in the league. The Patriots aren't going to blow teams out this year so giving up a big kick return in a close game could be the difference in winning and losing. Josh Miller has been excellent all season punting the football. He will have to continue getting a lot of hang time on his punts so the coverage can get down the field and surround Hall. On kickoffs, the Patriots have to be careful not to over-pursue because if Hall finds a crack, it only takes him a split second to cut back. Once he gets in the open field, it's all over. When Hall returns a kick for a touchdown, the Chiefs usually come out on the winning end, so Larry Izzo, Don Davis and the boys will have a big challenge on their hands trying to contain the explosive Hall.
5. Find the short passing gameWith David Givens out of the lineup, the Patriots haven't been able to peck their way down the field with short passes like they have in the past. Since the Chiefs are strong against the run, this would be a good time to get the short passing game cranking again. A lot of the Patriots play calling in recent weeks has been due to the personnel they've had on the field. Andre' Davis and Tim Dwight aren't exactly possession receivers but Ben Watson has been coming on and Daniel Graham appears to be healthy again, so the tight ends could be a factor in this game. Even though they've run the ball well the past two weeks, there is a good chance the Patriots will struggle on the ground in Kansas City and even a poor secondary can defend the pass if a team is throwing bombs on every other play. The short passing attack has been a staple of the Patriots offense throughout the years. When New England hasn't been able to run the ball this year, Brady has gotten killed because he's been standing in the pocket too long. The Chiefs have guys who can rush the passer, like Jared Allen, and a bunch of athletic linebackers. If the run isn't working, quick, short passes is a way the team can move the ball down the field without getting Brady killed. Losing Givens has really hurt this area of the Patriots offense.
Brady had a career high 410 passing yards and Troy Brown set a franchise record with 16 receptions in a 41-38 overtime win over the Chiefs on Sept. 22 2002…Chiefs third-string quarterback Damon Huard was with the Patriots from 2001-2003…Backup quarterback Todd Collins was named the 1989 New England High School Player of the Year by the Boston Globe as a senior at Walpole High School in Walpole, Mass…Chiefs defensive line coach Bob Karmelowicz was the offensive line coach at the University of Massachusetts in 1980.