- Mike Rodak, ESPN Staff Writer
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Taking a look at the television copy of Monday's night's game against the Chiefs and offering some first half observations:
1) Giving Chiefs QB Tyler Palko another wrinkle to consider, the Patriots employed perhaps their most extensive use of the 3-4 defense this season. The first instance came on the second play of the Chiefs' second drive. ILBs Gary Guyton and Jerod Mayo both bit hard on a play action to the right, with Palko rolling back to his left (his throwing side). The play fake also allowed WR Steve Breaston to get a clean break off the line -- OLB Rob Ninkovich had a jam assignment -- and cut across the field for the catch and a 15-yard gain. The Patriots would return to the 3-4 later in the game, generally with Ron Brace or Kyle Love at nose tackle, and Vince Wilfork in a 5-technique on the outside. The results were mixed.
2) The early going was a tale of two different defensive strategies, with the Chiefs favoring a nickel package (with CB Javier Arenas staying on the field) even when the Patriots were in base personnel. This gave the Patriots a size advantage in the running game, but one they were unable to capitalize on (14 yards on 5 first quarter carries). Meanwhile, the Patriots, with a defensive backfield thinned by injuries, generally stayed in base or nickel personnel even when the Chiefs had 3, 4, or 5 wide receivers on the field for their first drive. On one play, this matched up Mayo against WR Jerheme Urban and LB Tracy White on WR Jeremy Horne. Neither Chiefs receiver had a catch.
3) The Chiefs' pass rush certainly generated some pressure early in the first half, but it wasn't the only factor in the Patriots' offensive struggles. On the second-to-last play of the first quarter, a six-man protection handled a five-man Chiefs blitz without a problem. However, a miscommunication between QB Tom Brady and TE Aaron Hernandez led to Hernandez signaling a deep release while Brady fired the pass expecting Hernandez to break on his route. Two plays later, the Chiefs capitalized on 3rd-and-8, blitzing Arenas while LB Derrick Johnson showed a blitz but then dropped and disrupted Welker's crossing route, taking away Brady's outlet and forcing a strip-sack.
4) Even on first down, the pressure continued to come from the Chiefs into the second quarter. One play saw Arenas and SS Donald Washington blitz off one edge -- with RB Danny Woodhead and RT Sebastian Vollmer picking them up -- but without an outlet option, Brady was forced to step up and have DT Amon Gordon spin off C Dan Connolly for another sack. The Patriots began to catch on, with Brady opting for a quick flat pass to Hernandez on the next play, only to have Hernandez drop it. This set-up a 3rd-and-12 where the Chiefs, who frequently stacked the line of scrimmage in the early going, opted for a three-man rush, with DE Tamba Hali beating Vollmer to the inside for another sack.
5) On their final drive of the first half, the Chiefs shifted their offensive approach to more of a spread look, attacking the middle of the field with multiple receivers. This strategy has worked for other teams this season, keeping the Patriots defense on its heels and putting pressure on the cornerbacks and pass rush. The Chiefs were successful, driving into Patriots territory before Breaston couldn't come down with a well-thrown Palko pass, intercepted by CB Kyle Arrington. It was close to being another big catch for the Chiefs, with Arrington backing off in coverage as Breaston broke towards the middle of the field on his route.