The Kansas City Chiefs (1-2) and New England Patriots (2-1) meet in this week's "Monday Night Football" game at Arrowhead Stadium. It's the first game between the teams in Kansas City since 2005 and only the third Tom Brady has played at Arrowhead.
Here, ESPN Chiefs reporter Adam Teicher and Patriots reporter Mike Reiss discuss the game.
Teicher: Mike, what stands out about the Patriots through the first three games is how much better they're playing defensively. New England is third in total defense and No. 1 against the pass. What are the factors in the improvement, or is it too small of a sample size to yet say the Patriots have indeed improved?
Reiss: There has definitely been improvement, Adam, but important context comes in mentioning they haven't played high-powered offenses the past two weeks in the Adrian Peterson-less Vikings and then the Derek Carr-led Raiders. After struggling against the run in the season opener, in part because of a flawed game plan that didn't have Chandler Jones at an end-of-the-line position, they have been much better the past two weeks at the line of scrimmage. The presence of cornerback Darrelle Revis has made a difference (he was excellent against Greg Jennings in Week 2), and 2012 first-round draft picks Jones and Dont'a Hightower are playing at a high level.
For the Chiefs, the presence of defensive tackle Dontari Poe and outside linebackers Tamba Hali and Justin Houston stands out on defense. How are offenses accounting for them to make sure they don't take over games?
Teicher: All three are playing well. Poe had his best game of the season last week, and Houston and Hali each had a sack. With the injuries the Chiefs are dealing with on defense (four starters didn't play in Miami), those three have to play well for the defense to play well. The Chiefs are again effective with their pass rush (they are fourth in the league in sacks per opponent pass attempt) but are allowing fewer big pass plays this season. The Chiefs have yielded only five pass plays of 20 or more yards, which is tied for the league lead. Big pass plays were their undoing last season. The Chiefs have been hurt by long running plays. They have allowed 14 runs of 10 or more yards, and only two teams have allowed more.
Mike, we're not used to seeing Brady so far down the passer rankings. He's 26th among 35 qualifiers in passer rating. What explains the reasons for his down season?
Reiss: Like many things in football, there are multiple factors. If I had to choose one overriding factor, it's been inconsistent play on the offensive line. This particularly showed up in the second half of the season opener at Miami and throughout last Sunday's closer-than-expected win over the Raiders. Brady has been under duress often, to the point that I'm not sure there is any quarterback who could be successful in that situation. On top of that, a lack of a threatening option outside of receiver Julian Edelman and tight end Rob Gronkowski still working his way into a full-time mix has been part of it.
Offensively, it seems like the running game is the key for the Chiefs. If you'd agree with that sentiment, how has that manifested itself with and without Jamaal Charles?
Teicher: It would be difficult for the Chiefs to be successful without a solid running game. Alex Smith isn't the type of quarterback capable of carrying a team on his back. Charles' season has barely started. He didn't get much use in the season opener and then left the game with an ankle or foot injury in the first quarter in Week 2 against the Denver Broncos. He hasn't played since. If Charles doesn't play Monday night, the Chiefs still are quite capable in the running game. Knile Davis had 132 yards and a touchdown in last week's win against the Dolphins. At 227 pounds, he's bigger and more powerful than Charles and perhaps just as fast, so he has big-play ability. He doesn't have Charles' skills in making defenders miss. He has also fumbled three times this season and is a liability as a pass protector and receiver.
The Chiefs have had problems adequately protecting Smith this season. He's already been sacked 11 times, including five by the Dolphins. Pressure came from everywhere in that game. Five Dolphins had at least a half-sack. Who in addition to Jones do the Chiefs need to worry about when it comes to New England's pass rush?
Reiss: Rob Ninkovich, at the left defensive end spot, is a solid, dependable edge-setter and pass-rusher. We've seen the team's second 2012 first-round draft choice, Hightower, be a factor in that area more than he has in past seasons. Linebacker Jerod Mayo is a good blitzer up the middle, while first-round pick Dominique Easley -- as an interior sub-rusher -- flashed at times in training camp. I wouldn't call the Patriots a relentless pass-rushing team, but they scheme it up at times, dropping linemen up and disguising their intentions on who is coming.
Tell us more about some of the wild-card players on the Chiefs who people might not be aware of.
Teicher: He's not a secret anymore after catching a couple of touchdown passes in last week's game, but running back Joe McKnight was out of football last season and a surprise to even make it to the regular season with the Chiefs because he was injured for much of training camp. Patriots fans might remember McKnight from his days with the New York Jets. Likewise, tight end Travis Kelce sat out all of his rookie season last year with an ailing knee but caught his first touchdown pass last week. He leads the Chiefs in receiving yardage. On defense, end Allen Bailey is unheralded but played well against both the run and pass last week. Punter Dustin Colquitt is in his 10th season with the Chiefs but still does a tremendous job. His ability to plant kicks inside the 20 and avoid the end zone is fantastic.