By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
There’s reason to be confident that the Patriots can hold their own against the Chiefs’ pass rushers. But while it’s up for debate whether this group is any tougher than what the Pats got against the Chargers, there’s no arguing that the challenge ahead is quite different from last Sunday.
Biggest change? This week’s major pass-rushing threat is on the interior in the form of Chris Jones. The Chiefs also have edge rusher Justin Houston, who missed Patriots-Chiefs Part 1 in Week 6, and another talented edge guy in Dee Ford.
As a group, they present a fresh problem for Dante Scarnecchia and Josh McDaniels to solve.
“We know how good [Houston] is on the edge and the things he does and how much of an impact he makes on their team, not only in the pass rush but in the running game,” said McDaniels during a Monday conference call. “They’re leading the league in sacks, really conscious of the ball, they do a great job of creating turnover opportunities for their team. [Chris] Jones is as good of a player as we’ve played in the front all year. This guy is tremendously disruptive, not only in the running game but as a pass rusher inside – this guy is really a talented player. [Dee] Ford’s having a great year. We saw him in the first game and he’s a very disruptive player on the edge, too.”
The return of Houston since the Patriots game has ostensibly helped open things up for Jones in the middle. Jones had just two sacks in his first six games; in the 10 since the Patriots’ 43-40 win, he’s amassed 13.5 sacks, 30 tackles (15 for losses), and 25 quarterback hits.
Houston missed four games in the middle of the season, including the loss to the Patriots. But in seven games since returning, he’s made six sacks, eight QB hits, and three fumble recoveries. He made life tough on Andrew Luck and the Colts, sacking the QB twice and recovering a fumble.
The Patriots just proved against the Chargers that their tackles are capable of neutralizing dynamic edge-rushing tandems. Jones’ pressure up the middle is the kind that usually gives Tom Brady more trouble. The Patriots’ offensive interior – left guard Joe Thuney, center David Andrews, and right guard Shaq Mason – are likely to spend a lot of time making sure Jones can’t get to Brady and move him off his spots.
Jones didn’t get to Luck much against the Colts, often going up against All-Pro rookie guard Quenton Nelson. But he was able to disrupt passes anyway by batting them down; he was credited with three pass breakups against the Colts after five of those in his first 16 games. Brady got rid of the ball quickly against the Chargers, but he seldom had a giant mitt in his face the way he could against Jones in the AFC Championship Game.
Communication will also present a different kind of test for the Patriots offense, who likely have to rely on silent snap counts in order to move the ball at the historically loud Arrowhead Stadium.
“”It’s going to be a big challenge,” said center David Andrews when asked about the Chiefs last Sunday. “This is a good football team, they’re playing good football and they’ve got a good defense. They can get after the passer. I never played there, but I know it’s going to be a big challenge. It’s a good football team.”
The offensive line has been arguably the most consistent positional group on the entire Patriots team this season. They’ll need to be on point more than ever in the AFC Championship Game, their toughest road test of the season against a formidable front-seven.
Sunday will prove whether they’re up to the task.
Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.