Chung and Co. in tight spot

Boston Herald - - PATRIOTS GAMEDAY PREVIEW - By KEVIN DUFFY Twit­ter: @Kev­inRDuffy

PA­TRI­OTS NOTE­BOOK

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.

No tricks

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.

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