Tom Brady and the Patriots look like they’re finally hitting the wall

HOUSTON, TX - DECEMBER 01: Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots reacts after an incomplete pass in the fourth quarter against the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium on December 1, 2019 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TX - DECEMBER 01: Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots reacts after an incomplete pass in the fourth quarter against the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium on December 1, 2019 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images) /
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KANSAS CITY, MO – DECEMBER 01: Running back Darwin Thompson #34 of the Kansas City Chiefs celebrates after scoring a touchdown against the Oakland Raiders during the second half at Arrowhead Stadium on December 1, 2019 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Peter Aiken/Getty Images) /

Run Darwin Run!

The Chiefs have struggled to run the ball consistently in any fashion the entire season. They approached this season with the “running back by committee” strategy, mostly out of necessity, and you could argue it hasn’t really worked. LeSean McCoy and Damien Williams, the two presumed “starting” running backs, have both struggled to develop any kind of consistency or physicality as the primary rusher. What’s worse, both have had issues holding onto the ball in critical moments of the game.

This has born itself out in the statistics, with the Chiefs currently ranked 20th in rushing yards per attempt. If you take out the rushing yards and attempts credited to Mahomes, in most cases the result of a broken play, their rushing offense ranks even worse at 22nd in yard per attempt. At this same point last year, even with their vaunted passing attack, the Chiefs ranked fifth in yards per attempt.

The problem is, McCoy is past his prime and loose with the football and Williams struggles to absorb and produce against contact. The Chiefs don’t need an All-Pro at running back; they simply need a player who isn’t afraid of contact and can thrive under those conditions. We need someone who can ice a game by getting those extra two or three yards, and a player that coaches can count on to take care of the ball.

Darwin Thompson checks off all of those categories and the coaching staff needs to find ways to keep him on the field. He has demonstrated some things we haven’t seen since last year with Kareem Hunt. He has a unique ability to take on the first tackler and either make them miss completely or break their tackle.

The likely response will be he only averaged four yards per carry last game. While true, he only had five carries before the 11 he had against the Raiders. He won’t be a game breaker his first time under pressure, but give him time and he has all the tools to be a good to great running back in the Chiefs offense. The Patriots have struggled historically against physical runners, and now might be just the time to set Thompson loose.

Watkins has completely disappeared

I’ve long been a Sammy Watkins supporter, from the time the deal was done through most of this season. Sammy Watkins clearly has talent, the type that if displayed consistently would make him a top-five receiver. He has demonstrated it multiple times throughout his career, but his biggest knock has always been his ability to stay healthy. He’s only played a full 16 games once in his career, his rookie year, and has averaged only 12 games played per year.

So far this season he’s started nine games and played in 10, the exact same number he started and played the entire season in 2018. He’s been consistently healthier this season and the expectation with that result was increased production in his second year in Reid’s system. Unfortunately, maybe not surprisingly for some of the more pessimistic fans, that has not been the case.

In comparison to last season, remembering they are now essentially the same sample size, Watkins has two more catches for 19 yards. Considering the fact that 37 percent of his season’s production came in the first game of the season, that’s not a good sign. If you remove that game altogether, in the following nine games Watkins has only averaged 38 yards per game.

It is for a different team, but Chris Conley is currently averaging 52 yards per game. Albert Wilson’s last healthy season, coincidentally with the Chiefs, he averaged 43 yards per game. Demarcus Robinson has himself averaged 31 yards per game this season. My point is, all of these players are on significantly cheaper deals than Watkins.

Now, this doesn’t quite tell the whole story. This doesn’t, for instance, compare each player’s proclivity for beating man coverage. This is something that Watkins has shown the ability to do, and will come in handy in the upcoming contest against the Patriots. He was one of the keys to the comeback in last year’s AFC Championship game with 10 catches for 176 yards.

Sammy Watkins has all but disappeared this season. He showed flashes early but has become almost an afterthought in the last few games. With Sunday’s contest against the best secondary in recent memory, this will be a good indication of what to expect from Watkins in the playoffs.