What if the Patriots Simply Did Not Punt Against the Chiefs?

Liam McKeone
Patrick Mahomes in the pocket
Patrick Mahomes in the pocket / Adam Glanzman/Getty Images
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The Kansas City Chiefs took care of business against their fiercest competition in the AFC this past week when they took down the Baltimore Ravens on Monday Night Football. They made it look easy, too. But KC isn't getting much of a reprieve in Week 4 as the New England Patriots are coming to town. Andy Reid has to prepare his team on a short week to face off against one of the few football minds that rivals his own acumen.

Nonetheless, the Chiefs are and should be favored. Bill Belichick is a gridiron genius, but this Patriots team lacks the firepower of previous iterations; they do have Cam Newton, but other than that the star power at skill positions is lacking and the defense is not the historically elite unit it was in 2019. If the Patriots go down by multiple scores, it will be an extremely difficult deficit to overcome.

Therefore, may this blogger humbly suggest a strategy born from many hours of playing Madden: what if the Patriots just... didn't punt against the Chiefs?

One thing we can count on New England doing this week is controlling the time of possession. Belichick realized the value in that strategy against Patrick Mahomes even in his first season. When New England squeaked by the Chiefs in the AFC Championship Game in 2018, they nearly doubled their opponent in time of possession. The only real way to beat Mahomes is to ensure he has the ball as little as possible.

Normally, winning the field position battle is of equal, if not greater, importance than time of possession. But this Chiefs team is anything but normal. Teams will have to think outside the box to beat KC and their cadre of weapons led by a man with an artillery cannon for an arm who's able to see passing lanes no human should be able to see. Against a standard opponent, refusing to punt ensures the opposing offense gets a short field more often than not while tiring your own offense and probably demoralizing your defenses.

But that wouldn't be the case against the Chiefs should Belichick decide to get wild and try this. The Chiefs average 3.14 points per drive, good for fourth in the league, according to Football Outsiders. They average 30 points per game despite taking only 10 trips to the red zone in three games. They've converted nearly 60 percent of their third downs. I'm not saying it's inevitable the Chiefs will score on every possession, but it's close enough to consider alternative measures.

And here's why this alternative measure for this particular Patriots squad could work out. This year, the Patriots have become a great ground team. They've rushed for over 200 yards in two of three games so far. They also have the best short-yardage quarterback in the league in Newton. If -- and this is a big if -- the Patriots can stay away from long third and fourth-down attempts, this strategy could work. Converting a few times on fourth down on one drive would tire out KC's defense and probably result in 6-10 minutes of possession. Coming away with points is obviously the most important thing. If they can score on most possessions, they might be able to keep up with Mahomes.

On the flip side, should New England fail on a fourth-down attempt on their own side of the field, one would figure that is bad. And it is! But giving Mahomes a shorter field to work with might actually work out in the long game of trying to limit how often he has the ball. It would lower the chances that the Chiefs break loose and score on a big play, which is demoralizing for the defense and gives an instant deficit for the offense to overcome. The line of logic goes like this: the less ground the defense has to cover against Mahomes specifically, the more effective they can be. It's easier to bracket Tyreek Hill or Travis Kelce when you only have to worry about the 30 yards behind you, rather than the 70 yards of open grass. This offense is so good that holding them to a field goal should be considered a victory, and a shortened field could actually help that endeavor.

I know this sounds kind of insane and based off generally circumstantial evidence rather than hardline #advancedstats. But Mahomes is an anomaly on the football field. When you come up against an anomaly, you have to try something you wouldn't try against anyone else. If anybody could pull off a win and not punt the entire time, it would be Belichick. His team's short-yardage prowess and talented secondary is just the right combination to do it.

Besides, what do they have to lose? Nobody is going to win in a shootout against Kansas City. Hoping Mahomes isn't on his A-Game that day probably won't work. This is just enough outside of the box with a big enough payoff that it might just work. May as well give it a shot.

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