Chung and Co. in tight spot
FOXBORO — The last NFL tight end to eclipse 1,200 yards in a season was Jimmy Graham in 2013.
Don’t look now, but Kansas City’s Travis Kelce is on pace to gain more than 1,300 yards this year. While Tyreek Hill is a one-of-akind speed demon, Kelce is probably the Chiefs’ most polished pass-catcher.
Limiting Kelce is not a simple task, according to Patriots coach Bill Belichick. He moves all over the formation.
“Kelce at tight end is one thing,” Belichick said. “Kelce split out is another thing. Kelce in the red area is one thing. Kelce on third down’s another thing. I mean, that’s a much longer conversation than just, ‘Well, we’re just going to do this.’ It depends on where he is and what situation we’re talking about and what we’re in, where our help is, if any.”
In a traditional nickel defense against three-receiver personnel, tight end responsibilities usually fall to strong safety Patrick Chung. When the Patriots go “big nickel,” using three safeties and two cornerbacks, tight end duties sometimes shift to Devin McCourty. Both players were in coverage against Indianapolis’ Eric Ebron in Week 5, and both were beaten routinely.
Ebron and Erik Swoope combined for 12 catches for 149 yards and three scores.
Former Pats safety Rodney Harrison was especially harsh on his former team’s tight end coverage earlier this week.
“If you look at the Patriots defense, they can’t cover anyone, really,” Harrison said on a recent NBC Sports conference call. “I mean, they are grabbing guys. McCourty, he’s a liability in coverage. They tried to cover — to use him to cover some of the tight ends from the Colts.”
Harrison added: “Even last year, looking at that tape, he got beat by one of Kansas City’s tight ends. He’s not a cover guy. He’s a great leader. He’s a pretty good tackler in the open field, but when you start asking these older safeties that have clearly — they are not the same player that they once were, to try to cover a Travis Kelce in space, I think they are going to struggle.”
Kelce averages 52 yards in three career games against the Pats. Chung completely shut him down in the 2015 AFC divisional round, holding the budding star to six receptions for 23 yards.
The historically great Chiefs offense versus the inconsistent Patriots defense dominated the conversation this week.
But what about the matchups on the other side of the ball?
Asked if the Patriots are the same offensively as they’ve been in years past, Chiefs defensive coordinator Bob Sutton said, “Unfortunately, yes.”
“They’re just getting all their players out there, you know?” Sutton said. “To miss a guy like (Julian) Edelman is huge. He’s a big part of that attack, always has been. Has a great onthe-field relationship with (Tom) Brady, there’s a great trust factor there.”
Sutton added, “We’re not going to trick Brady. He’s broke too many huddles. He’s seen too many defenses. And so you try to slow it down and make it a little harder for him.”
Hogan in slump
One of the greatest mysteries of the Patriots’ sea- son is the ineffectiveness of Chris Hogan, who seemed destined for a breakout year.
In fact, the opposite has happened. Hogan has caught only 11 passes through five weeks, and he’s seen his average yards per game plummet from 48.8 in 2017 to 28.6.
Hogan is questionable for tonight’s game due to a thigh injury. The injury kept him out of Thursday’s walkthrough, but he returned for Friday’s practice as a limited participant.