Film Study: A Look at the Blueprint Used by the Patriots to Slow Down the Chiefs Offense

On October 5, the New England Patriots entered a heavyweight bout against the defending World Champion Kansas City Chiefs, a team that many feel has the best offense in the NFL. Fortunately for New England, the defense came to play. The Patriots held the Super Bowl MVP Patrick Mahomes and his track-meet offense to 19 points. On the other side of the ball, despite a brilliant defensive performance, the Patriots’ offense never really gave New England a shot to win the game. The offense threw a pick-six accounting for 7 more Kansas City points and the Chiefs came away with a 26-10 victory.

Even with a poor offensive performance, there’s still a ton of takeaways that can be had from revisiting the Week 4 matchup, particularly the defense’s banner night. Those takeaways may become all the more intriguing if the Patriots were to meet the Chiefs again later this season.

The New England defense confused, befuddled, perplexed, and harassed Mahomes all night. He very well should have thrown three interceptions. Additionally, both of his touchdown “passes” came on touch passes “thrown” behind the line of scrimmage to guys coming across the formation in motion. We haven’t seen a defense look that good against the Chiefs offense in a very long time. So how did they do it? In our newest film study, we’ll show you the blueprint used by Bill Belichick and the Patriots defense to slow down the high-powered Chiefs.

Dropping An Extra Man Into Coverage

Belichick and his defensive staff engineered a defensive gameplan that allowed the Patriots to protect against BOTH the deep balls and the short throws. This was accomplished by dropping a defensive lineman into underneath coverage and forcing Mahomes to hold the ball an extra second. This resulted in Mahomes frequently attempting to improvise.

The Patriots began to drop linemen into coverage early and often. Here, the Patriots show heavy pressure, but everyone aside from Adam Butler, Chase Winovich, and Deatrich Wise bailout. Note that Shilique Calhoun, who is typically an edge rusher but is lined up at linebacker, drops directly into Mahomes’ throwing lane to Travis Kelce. Calhoun lays a devastating chip on Kelce and completely removes him from the play. Meanwhile, everyone else is covered and there is nowhere for Mahomes to go with the football. The tight coverage forces him to push the ball downfield to Tyreek Hill, who is locked up by Jonathan Jones.

Here’s another look at how the eight-man coverage forces Mahomes out of rhythm. It’s third down and 15 to go. Mahomes gets to the top of his drop and looks up to see nobody open beyond the line of scrimmage. In a traditional four-man pass rush, Calhoun would be engaged with an offensive lineman and Clyde Edwards-Helaire would be all alone for the dump-off underneath, but that’s not the case here. Calhoun is blanketing Edwards-Helaire and everyone else is covered downfield. Derek Rivers creates pressure off the right side and Mahomes has no choice but to take off.

Even on plays that the Chiefs schemed up perfectly against what the Patriots would typically do, they were wrong. The clip above is a perfect example. Kansas City gets the exact look they’re looking for. They run twin stacks outside and anticipate the Patriots are in their typical cover 1. At the bottom of the screen, you’ll see Hill run a drag route from the outside with Sammy Watkins running a hook route. The play is designed to “pick” J.C. Jackson by forcing Jackson to fight over the top of Watkins route. On the other side, Kansas City runs Demarcus Robinson the opposite way.

If everything goes according to plan, Hill should be WIDE open with a catch and run opportunity on third down. The play works as designed. Except there’s one problem. Calhoun drops into coverage and he’s in a perfect position to disrupt the passing lane to Hill.

Let’s watch it again, but this time from the end zone view. Jackson gets caught up trying to get over the top of the “pick” by Watkins. Hill would be wide open if it were a traditional four-man rush. But it’s not, and as previously mentioned, Calhoun drops underneath and Hill runs directly into his zone. To make matters worse for the Chiefs, Winovich gets a one on one against Eric Fisher. He gets this matchup as a direct result of the disguised rush. Winovich barrels down on Mahomes and notches the sack. This should have been a turnover and maybe even a score but the zebras got in the way.

Causing Confusion

The three-man rush confused Mahomes all night. Here the Chiefs motion Watkins into the backfield and orbit him out. The play is intended to get eyes on Watkins and leave Edwards-Helaire WIDE open backside. That plan gets derailed when Winovich, who initially engaged with Kelce at the LOS, peels off his rush and covers Edwards-Helaire. Mahomes appears to not expect Winovich to be in coverage, and it once again forces him to hold the ball and improvise on his own.

The end zone look reinforces Mahomes’ surprise. He pumps to Watkins and turns back to hit Edwards-Helaire who should be open. Winovich plays it perfectly.

Strong Pass Rush

A common theme from the night was how often Mahomes was pressured. The Patriots’ three-man pass rush was able to confuse the Chiefs’ offensive line protection plan.

Throughout the game, the Patriots interior defensive line (mostly Adam Butler but sometimes Byron Cowart) was met with a triple-teams from the Chiefs’ interior offensive line. This resulted in the offensive tackles being left one on one with New England’s edge rushers. The right side was fine, Mitchell Schwartz is an elite right tackle after-all, but Fisher REALLY struggled against Winovich. Winovich was able to pressure Mahomes from the left side all night long.

The pass rush scheme caused so much confusion that there were plays where Mahomes was pressured and some of the offensive linemen didn’t block a single soul. For example, on this play from snap to whistle Fisher (#72) never makes contact with a defensive lineman. Meanwhile, Mahomes is running for his life. That’s the kind of issue that arises when the defense throws a wrench in your protection plan.

Final Thoughts

Even in a loss, this was about as good as a defense can perform against such a high-level offense. They were able to hold Mahomes and the Chiefs to 19 points on offense while pressuring the quarterback on 44% of his dropbacks with a three-man rush. That’s in addition to the suffocating coverage on the backend.

Belichick and the defensive coaches also deserve a ton of credit. The Patriots knew that confusing Mahomes was the only way to slow down the all-world quarterback and they came up with a great plan of attack. While it’s a shame that the offense couldn’t get it together, the defense offered a glimpse of what could be in store if these teams meet again. If last Monday night was any indication, the Chiefs will need to find a new way to move the football against this Patriots defense.

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