Look out for trickery from Chiefs
Things to watch as heavy underdogs try to find way to deal with Patriots
1. Don't let Tamba Hali ruin the game.Similar to DeMarcus Ware (Cowboys) and LaMarr Woodley (Steelers) this season, the Patriots know that Hali can single-handedly disrupt the game. He leads the Chiefs with six sacks after totaling 14.5 last season. The 6-foot-3, 275-pound outside linebacker is a big test for Patriots blockers, starting with tackles Matt Light (left) and Sebastian Vollmer (right). If there is trouble, tight ends could be called upon to help.
2. Limit the Chiefs' running attack.This was the theme of the week among Patriots defenders, who noted the Chiefs average 124 rushing yards per game (10th in the NFL). It's a three-headed combination of Jackie Battle (403 yards on 87 carries), Dexter McCluster (291 on 63) and Thomas Jones (204 on 70), while athletic backup quarterback Tyler Palko also is a factor with his legs. Battle (6-2, 238) is a banger, while McCluster has been compared to Reggie Bush in terms of style of play (he's also a factor as a pass-catcher). The idea is to limit the rushing attack and put Palko in a position where he has to make plays with his arm (he's the first left-handed thrower the Patriots face this season).[+] EnlargeAP Photo/Kathy WillensAntwaun Molden will again have to contend with some big receivers in what could be his first career start.
3. Win the jump ball situations.The Patriots are likely to be without cornerback Devin McCourty (doubtful, shoulder), which would probably thrust four-year veteran Antwaun Molden into the lineup for his first career start. One of the reasons the Patriots claimed Molden from the Texans was his size (6-1, 198). The Chiefs have size at receiver, led by Dwayne Bowe (6-2, 221), and this could be a game where Palko throws up jump balls to let his big receivers make plays. Steve Breaston (6-0, 189) and Jonathan Baldwin (6-4, 230) also can make plays on the outside for the Chiefs. While the deep ball is a factor, the Chiefs also can beat foes with catch-and-run plays on the outside.
4. Adjusting to Romeo Crennel's defensive plan.The former Patriots defensive coordinator figures to have some wrinkles in his plan, attempting to slow down Tom Brady and Co. Patriots pass-catchers were preparing for the likelihood of double teams on either Wes Welker or Rob Gronkowski in some form. If it's Cover 1, as some expect, it could open opportunities to make plays on the outside down the field for others, such as Deion Branch and Chad Ochocinco. The key will be to diagnose it early and adjust accordingly.
5. Limiting big plays on special teams.The Patriots tightened up their coverage last week against the Jets and the improvement comes at a good time because Javier Arenas is one of the NFL's more dynamic punt returners. He also has been used as a Wildcat option on offense this season. Meanwhile, Arenas and McCluster are big-play threats as kickoff returners. Matthew Slater, Tracy White and Jeff Tarpinian are the Patriots' top coverage players and will be counted on heavily to limit the Chiefs in this area.
6. Be aware of the unconventional play.The Chiefs enter as heavy underdogs with few expecting them to hang in with the Patriots. That creates a situation where they could be inclined to take more risks, using unconventional plays more often and also calling on trick plays, specifically on special teams, to steal a possession. Being alert will be crucial.
Mike Reiss covers the Patriots for ESPNBoston.com.
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