Heading into Week 6 of the NFL season, we questioned whether the Patriots could slow down Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs’ incredible offense, whether Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers could overcome Jessie Bates and the Bengals’ stout pass defense, and if the Jets’ running game could get anything going against Darius Leonard and the Colts’ run defense. Here’s a look at how these matchups played out.

Chiefs’ offense vs. Patriots’ dime packages

Winner: Chiefs

The Sunday night clash between the Patriots and Chiefs more than lived up to the hype. After the Pats raced out to a 24-9 lead at the half, Mahomes and the Chiefs stormed back to take a late lead. Then Tom Brady led one last drive to set the stage for a Stephen Gostkowski field goal on the game’s final play, giving the Patriots the three-point win.

The Patriots built their halftime advantage in part because they were able to take away what Kansas City does best – and used the 3-2-6 dime package to accomplish this goal. Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce was a clear focal point of this strategy, and it paid off in the early going. Mahomes threw two first-half interceptions, and the second offered a prime example of Bill Belichick trying to eliminate Kelce as an option.

In the closing seconds of the first half, the Chiefs were in the red zone with a chance to cut into New England’s lead. They faced a first-and-10 on the Patriots’ 15-yard line, and this is how the teams aligned for the next play:

NFL/NBC

Kelce (No. 87) aligns as the inside receiver in a trips formation. Look at how the Patriots defend him with their 3-2-6 package. Dont’a Hightower (No. 54) is right across from him, and he chips Kelce and denies him a free release off the line of scrimmage before rushing Mahomes. Then Kelce faces a double-coverage look from safeties Patrick Chung (No. 23) and Duron Harmon (No. 21). The other linebacker on the field, Kyle Van Noy (No. 53), aligns wide on the left side of the defense across from running back Spencer Ware (No. 32), who is split wide to the right side of the offense.

After chipping Kelce, Hightower flushes Mahomes to his right. The young quarterback still tries to hit Kelce, but with double coverage on the TE, the pass ends up in the wrong hands:

The Chiefs responded by hitting some big plays against this 3-2-6 package from the Patriots. For example, on Tyreek Hill’s 75-yard touchdown pass that tied the score at 40, the Chiefs took advantage of the Patriots’ dime defense – and their focus on Kelce.

Facing a first-and-10 on its own 25-yard line, Kansas City used a two-tight end package, putting Kelce and Demetrius Harris (No. 84) to the left. The Patriots had their 3-2-6 package on the field, and they dropped safety Devin McCourty (No. 32) down across from Kelce to help cover the tight end. But that meant McCourty wasn’t in position to help against Hill’s deep crossing route:

The Chiefs smoked the Patriots’ 3-2-6 coverage in the second half – and it nearly opened the door for an incredible road comeback. At the very least, that second-half rally earns them a narrow victory in this X vs. O.

Ben Roethlisberger vs. Jessie Bates

Winner: Roethlisberger

The Steelers pulled out a 28-21 win over Cincinnati on Ben Roethlisberger’s game-winning touchdown pass to Antonio Brown – a play we highlighted in our By Design piece. And the matchup we promoted in last week’s X vs. O post – Roethlisberger against Bengals’ rookie free safety Jessie Bates – was just as close in favor of Big Ben.

While Roethlisberger had a big afternoon, completing 32 of 46 passes for 369 yards and a touchdown, a look at his passing chart Sunday from NFL Next Gen Stats indicates the bulk of his success came in the short passing game, targeting receivers in areas away from Bates in coverage:

Roethlisberger connected on just one of six passing attempts of more than 20 yards. That might make sense considering Bates’ strengths as a defensive back prospect coming out of Wake Forest – his pre-draft profile at NFL.com lists both man coverage and zone coverage skills among his best traits.

But Roethlisberger was terrific in the short and intermediate areas of the field, thereby attacking Bates’ biggest weakness. The Steelers QB targeted players like Brown, JuJu Smith-Schuster, and tight end Vance McDonald on shorter routes, getting them in space where they could tack on yardage after the catch. Reading Bates’ pre-draft profile, notice that his ability to tackle, particularly in space and in open fields, was a big question mark. On this slant to Brown, you can see how the quick throw and the precise placement from Roethlisberger put the receiver in a position to churn out yards after the reception:

Brown runs a slant route from the outside as part of a two-man slant/flat combination. He beats the press coverage and gets inside leverage on the defender, and after making the catch, the first defender he faces is Bates. Brown easily dekes the rookie safety, picking up 48 yards and getting the Steelers into the red zone.

There’s more than one way to attack a defensive back in coverage. Rather than trying to match Bates’ strength, the Steelers looked to isolate his weakness in the open field as a tackler. That decision led directly to victory Sunday.

Darius Leonard vs. Jets’ running game

Winner: Leonard

One of the top Week 6 matchups pitted the Jets’ resurgent ground game against a Colts run defense led by rookie linebacker Darius Leonard. While the Jets came out on top in the final score, beating the Colts 42-34, the Colts’ run defense did comport itself well, holding the Jets to 107 yards rushing on 36 attempts. Leonard’s dominance contributed to New York’s struggles, as he notched nine tackles – five of them solo – and forced a fumble.

This play offers a representative glimpse of Leonard in run support, sifting through blockers to stop a run before it gets going:

The Jets may have ruled the day, but Leonard won this matchup comfortably.

Mark Schofield writes NFL feature content for theScore. After nearly a decade of practicing law in the Washington, D.C., area, Mark changed careers and started writing about football. Drawing upon more than a decade of playing quarterback, including at the collegiate level, Mark focuses his work on quarterback evaluation and offensive scheme analysis. He lives in Maryland with his wife and two children. Find him on Twitter @MarkSchofield.

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