Schwartz’s Week 6 Trench Report: Who Do You Fade in Chiefs-Patriots?
USA Today Sports. Pictured: Tom Brady, Patrick Mahomes
- Former NFL lineman Geoff Schwartz breaks down the Chiefs-Patriots matchup and offers his best betting angle for Sunday Night Football.
- His perspective on the battle in the trenches offers vital insight to the showdown between Patrick Mahomes and Tom Brady.
Trench report is back and better than ever. I’m honing in on the biggest NFL matchup of Week 6: The Kansas City Chiefs at New England Patriots on Sunday Night Football.
While the primary focus of this article will still be on the battle in the trenches, I’ve expanded the reach of this column to go deep on the entire game.
>> All odds as of 1 p.m. ET on Thursday. Download The Action Network App to get real-time odds and track your bets.
Kansas City Chiefs at New England Patriots
- Spread: Patriots -3.5
- Over/Under: 59.5
- Time: 8:20 p.m. ET
- TV channel: NBC
Tom Brady is in his 18th season as a starter for the New England Patriots, and for 17 of those, he remarkably played with only two left tackles: Matt Light and Nate Solder. With Solder leaving for the Giants in free agency and no one else up for the task, the Patriots traded for Trent Brown and put the big fella at left tackle. Brown has exceeded expectations while stabilizing the unit.
The entire line is playing well. The unit is sixth in adjusted rushing yards and is near the top in pass protection as well, allowing sacks on only 4.8% of pass snaps.
This isn’t Earth-shattering analysis, but the Chiefs have to get pressure on Brady. He’s pressured on only 27% of pass reps, according to Pro Football Focus. But he’s completing only 47% of passes when under pressure compared to 74% when he’s not.
While the Chiefs’ pass rush wasn’t effective over the first three weeks, it has shown up big time in Weeks 4 and 5. The Chiefs combined for 38 pressures and nine sacks against the Broncos and Jaguars — more than they had combined for in Weeks 1-3.
A big reason for this success is Dee Ford, who is finally healthy, and leads NFL edge-rushers with 30 pressures this season, according to PFF.
While getting pressure on Brady is ideal, it’s actually not what the Chiefs need to focus on in order to win this game.
The Chiefs need to find ways to stop the run. They’ve been absolutely brutal at it so far. Opponents are averaging a mind-blowing 5.8 yards per rush attempt against the Chiefs, which is the worst in the league through five weeks.
One thing (and there are many) that I admire about Bill Belichick and the Patriots is the way that they adapt their offense and defense to fit the weekly game plan.
When I was with the Giants in 2015, we prepared for three different base defensive fronts against the Patriots, which is abnormal. (Most teams have one base defense.) It’s the same thing offensively. One week they might throw the ball 50 times and rush it 15 times, then throw and run it 32 times each the next week. Their flexibility is something that should be admired.
The key for the Patriots is establishing the run, which I think they can (and should) do. Beyond getting quality yards, that will allow for two things: First, and maybe most importantly, establishing the run should limit the amount of opportunities the Chiefs have to put the ball in Patrick Mahomes’ hands, which is important considering their offense is second in points per offensive drive. Second, it will allow the Patriots to set up their favorite play-action pass to Rob Gronkowski.
In my opinion, the Patriots are the best in the NFL at the power play. Fake power, then hit the tight end over the middle of the field.
While the Patriots offense has an advantage over the Chiefs defense, the Chiefs offense has a clear advantage over the Patriots defense.
Even with the loss of right guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif (leg) to Injured Reserve, Kansas City’s offensive line is an above-average pass protection unit. Mahomes has been pressured on only 63.4% of dropback passes, the 10th-lowest in the league. (Shout out to my bother Mitch Schwartz, who has allowed only two hits and four hurries through five games.)
The Chiefs are playing a Patriots pass rush that is non-existent. New England is 30th in sacks with only seven. And while that’s not the whole story, the Patriots are only middle of the road in hits, hurries and pressures.
What makes matters worse for the Patriots’ front is that it isn’t good against the run, either. The defensive line is allowing 4.49 yards per rush, so the Chiefs will be able to give Mahomes time to throw — which, we as know, is super helpful for a young quarterback.
When Mahomes isn’t pressured, he’s completing 73% of passes. He’s also thrown for a league-high 14 touchdowns. However, his 44.8% completion percentage when under pressure is only 30th in the league. One positive for Mahomes under pressure is that he’s using his legs effectively; he’s taken the fewest sacks in that situation.
When Mahomes throws the ball in under 2.5 seconds, he’s completing 75% of passes. But the 42.9% of passes he’s completing when he throws the ball after more than 2.5 seconds is the second-worst in the NFL.
There are two schools of thought on how teams should attack a prolific offense such as Kansas City’s. The first is simple: You sit back in coverage, hope you get pressure and force the young quarterback to “panic” after 2.5 seconds and throw intercept-able passes. The second is pressuring the young quarterback early and often to try to force him into making mistakes.
Teams have tried both approaches against the Chiefs with varying degrees of success. The Broncos confused Mahomes throughout their Week 4 matchup, and it was the worst performance from start to finish for the 2018 Chiefs offense.
If I were the Patriots, I would attempt the same game plan.
I’d try my best to disguise pressure, then jam up Travis Kelce at the line. The tight end is Mahomes’ favorite target over the middle of the field and a reliable outlet when pressure is coming. If you bring the pressure and jam up the receivers, it would force Mahomes to hold onto the ball longer while dealing with people around him in the pocket. Both of those approaches could lead to poorly thrown balls.
While the over seems enticing at 59.5, that’s a lot of points for any NFL game, so I’d advise laying off it. When a game is forecasted to be a high-scoring affair, and everything leads to both offenses being unstoppable, I have to take the points here and pick the Chiefs +3.5.
While the Chiefs defense isn’t good, it has been able to do just enough to keep offenses off balance, including being good on third down and not allowing quarterbacks to complete a high percentage of passes. The pass rush has improved enough recently that I trust the Chiefs can make Brady move a bit more in the pocket than he’d like.
I do worry that the Chiefs have no one to guard Gronk without Eric Berry in the lineup, but the Patriots can’t stop Kelce, either. So give me the points and the visiting team.
The Bet: Chiefs +3.5