The Patriots run a base 3-4 defense with a good amount of man coverage and the occasional cover 2 on earlier downs. The defensive line does a good job of holding the line of scrimmage, rarely giving or gaining ground. They slant towards the strength on run-heavy downs to get penetration along the line, and use twists and stunts to try to get pressure on the quarterback in the passing game.
Linebacker Dont’a Hightower is the cog that makes this well-oiled machine go. He's a great run stuffer, covers running backs out of the backfield and plays the role of a wrecking ball in the twist game by crashing into offensive linemen to free up looping defensive linemen. Outside linebackers Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins are tackling machines and the club's top-two sack produders, while rookie defensive end Chase Winovich provides relentless effort off the edge.
The secondary is an experienced unit headlined by shutdown corner Stephon Gilmore. Gilmore uses his length and good technique to essentially eliminate most team’s top target. Safety Patrick Chung moves to linebacker in dime packages and covers the tight end in man coverage. Jason and Devin McCourty alongwith cornerbacks J.C. Jackson and Johnathan Jones provide a variety of scheme knowledge and physical talents rounding out the defensive back unit.
Beating the Patriots' Defense
The Patriots front seven is a solid group of bigger bodies that make running between the tackles tough. If the Chiefs want to get the run game going, they need to use a receiver or flexed tight end to pin the outside linebacker inside and let the running back get to the edge. The tap pass and jet sweep quick-hitting options can get the Kansas City speedsters in space with an opportunity to utilize their physical gifts in breaking things open.
Run-pass option plays can get the linebackers in conflict to help Mahomes make easy plays and get in a rhythm. Sending a tight end in motion, faking the hand off to the running back, pulling the ball and bluffing a quarterback run cause the linebackers to step up and opening up the motioned tight end in the flats for an easy completion.
Hightower is an excellent coverage linebacker, but he lacks the speed to keep up with the speedy Chiefs' running backs, especially on wheel routes. Make him constantly run from sideline-to-sideline wearing him out can also limit Hightower's effectiveness.
In attacking the secondary, the best option is for Mahomes to simply get the ball to fast guys in space and let them go to work. Tyreek Hill and Mecole Hardman have speed the Patriots cannot match. Hill should get the full attention of cornerback Stephon Gilmore with safety help over the top. The best option to get Hill the ball is to have him work in the slot outside jab step before cutting back inside for a shallow drag or deep over route.
When Hardman is on the field, the coverage likely falls to Johnathan Jones, who was burned last week by Houston's Will Fuller and Kenny Stills. Tight end Travis Kelce should see a heavy dose of man coverage from safety Patrick Chung.
If the Chiefs can force the Patriots to cover every inch of the field both vertically and horizontally while turning this game into a track meet, the Patriots will have a hard time keeping up offensively.