FOXBORO — Patriots safety Duron Harmon surveyed his locker room Thursday searching for the answer to a question that asked how many of his teammates could run with the fastest Chiefs.
His eyes scanned left, straight ahead and then peeked right. At last he concluded: none.
No Patriot can keep up with Kansas City wideouts Tyreek Hill and Mecole Hardman in a straight line. Pats cornerback Jonathan Jones would come close, Harmon said, but he’s never clocked a time of 4.2 seconds in the 40-yard dash like those two.
And so it was, days before the Chiefs will visit Gillette Stadium for one of the NFL’s most-anticipated regular-season games, the Patriots’ league-leading defense openly admitted it stands at a disadvantage.
But then Harmon added, “We’re going to be all right.”
The reason? The Pats’ brains and their brawn.
“We’ve got a good plan of what we want to do to try to neutralize their speed,” Harmon said. “Obviously it’s a big asset for them, and they rely on it heavily, but we’ve got to do a good job of trying to neutralize it and play the game on our terms.”
Two lockers down, Jones agreed.
“Everyone has speed (on the Chiefs). That’s the thing they’re built off,” he said. “I think we’re gonna bring physicality, and it’s gonna be a good one.”
Jones has every right to draw confidence from the Pats’ last clash against Kansas City, a 37-31 overtime win in the AFC Championship Game. Hill failed to make a single catch against the double-team Jones formed down after down with Devin McCourty. Hill’s lone reception came against former seventh-round rookie cornerback Keion Crossen.
This season, the Chiefs have complicated matters for opponents by placing Hardman on the opposite side of formations. The rookie ranks in the league’s top 10 for yards per reception, turning 23 catches into 450 yards and five touchdowns. Together with Hill and veteran Sammy Watkins, they form the fastest receiving corps in the league.
Still, Jones is not deterred.
“I think we had a good game plan last year in the AFC Championship Game and we came out, between Devin and myself, and executed. I think it’s gonna be the same this year,” Jones said. “Whatever we decide to do and how we’re going to do, I think that’s going to be key: sticking to the game plan and getting it done.”
Belief in system and one another is spread throughout the Patriots’ locker room. Conveying that belief publicly, however, is more uncommon.
Players can often make coach Bill Belichick feel like the NFL’s closest thing to a ventriloquist, mechanically uttering the same opponent compliments and platitudes he did hours earlier during a press conference. In that spirit, Harmon verbally tipped his cap Thursday when asked about the Chiefs’ use of presnap movement misdirection — but then picked up his head up with an assured grin.
The greater the test, the bigger the bravado.
“It’s a lot of stress,” Harmon said of the motion. “Just making it a misdirection game, trying to get guys to go sideways, try to out-leverage (defenders). It’s definitely tough. But we’ve got a good game plan of how we want to neutralize the misdirection, neutralize the speed that they have. And I think if we execute the plan, it’ll be a good day for us.”
Harmon explained the Patriots will be in the disguise business, too on Sunday, trying to confuse third-year quarterback Patrick Mahomes. They want to force him to sift through muddy presnap pictures, while the Pats are rotating safeties late and moving players around. They hope to slow the offense by clogging his reads.
Overall, Mahomes’ numbers this season have come down since last year’s MVP campaign. He was also hampered by a knee injury, but remains plenty dangerous with his ability to extend plays and deliver throws from distances and at angles other passers might deem unthinkable. Mahomes lives in and for that gray area.
Last January, the Pats sacked Mahomes four times by pairing crafty pressure schemes with mostly sticky man-to-man coverage behind it. For his career, Mahomes has performed appreciably worse against man than zone. Even at a speed disadvantage, the Pats can be expected Sunday to play a heavy dose of man-to-man against his receivers.
Because they intend to make up for it in other areas and yield the same result.
“We know it’s going to be a game where the secondary’s going to be relied on heavily,” Harmon said. “But we’re up for the challenge.”
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