Chief Among Them: New England Patriots AFC Championship Game Wide Receivers Report

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AFC Championship Game
FOXBOROUGH, MA - OCTOBER 14: Julian Edelman #11 of the New England Patriots runs with the football during a game against the Kansas City Chiefs at Gillette Stadium on October 14, 2018 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)

Two of the NFL’s best offenses come face-to-face again in the AFC Championship Game at Arrowhead Stadium. After besting the Kansas City Chiefs 43-40 at home in Foxboro during the regular season, the New England Patriots will have to take on the Chiefs in their own house to keep the postseason run alive.

Patriots Receivers Report: Offensive Fireworks Ahead in the AFC Championship Game

Chiefs Defensive Outlook

The Chiefs look to field almost a completely different secondary that they fielded against the Patriots in week six. Eric Berry, who has been battling a heel injury this season, did not play in week six but is expected to be on the field for Sunday’s matchup. Eric Murray, Berry’s backup at safety, also did not take the field in week six but is expected to continue to see significant playing time this weekend.

Daniel Sorensen was also not present for the game after starting the season on the injured reserve. The Chiefs had brought in Ron Parker to play in place of Sorensen and Berry. Parker played 100 percent of the Chiefs defensive snaps in week six and now finds himself unemployed. Jordan Lucas was also on the field for all 78 defensive snaps in week six, but the return of Sorensen to the defense has since balanced out Lucas’ role.

Divisional Round Notes

The Chiefs played terrific defense against a very good offense in the Divisional Round game against the Indianapolis Colts. They essentially eliminated the threat of T.Y. Hilton, allowing him to catch only four of his 11 targets for 60 yards and a score. His 60-yard game led the team, with Dontrelle Inman being the only other wide receiver to top 50 yards receiving in the game. Eric Ebron, who is having his most productive season in his first year with Indianapolis, also topped 50 yards receiving, but only barely.

However, the Colts offense isn’t the postseason Patriots offense. Julian Edelman has kicked into postseason mode and dropped 151 yards on the Los Angeles Chargers defense last week. James White caught 15 of 17 targets in the Divisional Round. Phillip Dorsett averaged 10.3 yards per catch and scored in the blowout win.

Granted, the Chargers were playing a lot of soft zone against Tom Brady, who eats soft zone for breakfast. Things should look a little different against a man-coverage Chiefs defense.

White, Hogan, Edelman

When the Patriots faced the Chiefs in week six, Josh Gordon was targeted a team-high nine times. Last week’s win proved that the Patriots can put on an offensive clinic without Gordon, and I maintain that the Patriots are better off without forcing the ball to Gordon again and again anyways.

White saw a significant drop in production to close the season, and the Patriots offense suffered for it. His reintroduction to the short passing game ups the ante against a Chiefs defense that will want to play heavy man coverage against the Patriots bevy of talented pass-catchers.

Chris Hogan was exceptional against the Chiefs in week six. He pulled in all four of his targets for 78 yards, including a 42-yard burst up the right sideline in which he beat Kendall Fuller in isolated coverage. Hogan could find similar success in Sunday’s matchup. With both Berry and Sorensen in the mix, the Patriots are going to try and spread the safeties with go routes up the sidelines, a tactic that worked to Edelman’s favor against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Dorsett, given his speed, should be the complement to Hogan on the sideline.

Rob Gronkowski did significant damage against the Chiefs in week six, racking up 97 yards on three receptions. The star tight end will be a crapshoot. This could be vintage Gronk against one of the league’s worst defenses against tight ends, but the Chiefs have limited receiving looks for tight ends across their last three games.

Edelman, however, is coming off a huge game against Los Angeles and will be looking to continue that production. The last time these teams met, Edelman’s catches four catches came by intersecting other routes and shedding defenders. This won’t be easy, given the rebirth of the Chiefs defense. That said a healthy Gronkowski should draw enough attention for Edelman to slip into space.

Dorsett

Every week now could be Dorsett’s last week in a Patriots uniform. He made a serious reappearance in last week’s win against the Chargers, but his utility in this offense is still inconsistent and questionable, despite his talents. Josh McDaniels has been excellent this season about showing defenses different looks. Dorsett’s virtual absence from weeks six to 17has the potential to lend itself well to unpredictability in the passing game. Because of this, his role this week is anything but predictable.

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