Well, the day we have all been waiting for is almost here. Opening night for the NFL, and specifically, the Patriots is right around the corner. After one of the highest-spending offseasons in Bill Belichick’s tenure with the Patriots, this team is yet again poised to be among the best teams in football. Despite the loss of stud wideout and fan-favorite Julian Edelman.
With that being said everyone is waiting to see a number of things. Among them are: Will the Patriots show any cracks? Are the Chiefs for real? How will this Patriots offense look without Edelman in the first game? Will the Chiefs be able to score enough without Spencer Ware and the release of Jeremy Maclin?
Without further adieu, here are the key players for the Patriots as they take on the Chiefs.
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(Note: players are in no particular order)
Stephon Gilmore/Malcolm Butler
First, up is the Patriots starting cornerback duo. One of whom will be tasked with covering Tyreke Hill, the Chiefs lone playmaker at the wideout position. Hill is an explosive receiver with elite speed, ability to make defenders miss, and a knack for the big play. However, he also happens to be Kansas City’s only real threat on the outside. If the Patriots can contain Hill and limit how many times he touches the ball in open space the Chiefs will have trouble creating offense on the outside.
The bet here is that Malcolm Butler will be on Hill for most of the night considering he fares better against receivers who are smaller than bigger more physical ones. He will most likely have help over the top from Duron Harmon or Devin McCourty anyway, which will negate Hill’s speed advantage.
As important as covering Tyreke Hill is, making sure there is a good scheme in place against Justin Houston is a top priority. Houston has the potential to wreck any game plan with just a few plays. Especially considering his elite pass rush skill and power at the point of attack. Houston’s main opponent will be Marcus Cannon with Houston primarily lining up on the left side. Some of the night Houston will face chips, doubles, and cut blocks, but for the most part, Cannon will be one on one. If Cannon can play as well as he did last year one on one when he was a top-rated tackle according to PFF, then the Chiefs best defensive player will be neutralized and their pass rush will struggle to get to Brady. Allowing the Pats offense to score at will.
One player people may not think about when it comes to importance in the Chiefs match up is Chung. Chung is primarily an in the box safety and covers a lot of the opposing tight ends. Which is why he is so important in this game. The Chiefs main source of offense over the middle of the field is tight end Travis Kelce, who is one of the better tight ends in the league. He is a physical mismatch against most players, including Chung. However, Chung will most likely have some help, most likely in the form of bracketing him.
Chung also is important on the edge to help set a hard edge against the run and keep runs from breaking outside. On defense, this looks like a match-up Chung may have the most on his plate of any defensive player on the team, and if Chung is up to the challenge Alex Smith will struggle to even reach 180 passing yards. However, if Chung struggles, Smith could have an easy time hitting Kelce over the middle and negating the excellent coverage the Patriots figure to have on the outside.
Last on the list is the lone offensive skill player, but one that is going to have a lot of eyes on him. Hogan has been highlighted by numerous analysts and writers as someone who is the favorite to spend the majority time of the slot without Edelman. Hogan is not as solid as Edelman and does not have the same connection with Brady, but he brings a different dimension to the offense as a bigger bodied receiver with very good speed. With Hogan taking over Edelman’s role he will be Brady’s security blanket for a large portion of plays. Also with Cooks on the outside, Hogan will never see double coverage, giving him a clear match up win and the potential for a big play every single pass play.