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KANSAS CITY, Mo. – It doesn't seem to matter much to Chiefs coach Andy Reid whether it's Jamaal Charles or Knile Davis in the backfield. Or Cyrus Gray, for that matter.
After building a reputation as a guru of the West Coast offense, and with a particular affinity for chucking the ball all over the field, Reid seems to have harkened back to yesteryear in building everything around the run.
The Chiefs piled up nearly 200 yards on the ground in last week's win in Miami, even though Charles — their most electrifying playmaker — was out with an ankle injury.
That sets up an intriguing battle in the trenches on Monday night, when the Chiefs (1-2) get a visit from the New England Patriots (2-1) and one of the NFL's vastly improved run defenses.
Two weeks ago, the Patriots held the Adrian Peterson-less Vikings to just 54 yards rushing. In last week's victory over Oakland, Darren McFadden and Co. managed 67 yards on the ground.
All told, they're allowing just over 100 yards rushing per game. That's quite an improvement on last season, when the Patriots were among the worst in the NFL at stopping the run. And considering the Patriots also have the NFL's best pass defense, it makes for a stout unit as a whole.
"They're extremely physical up front. Extremely physical," Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith said. "They're a talented group, and physical up front, and they throw a lot at you scheme-wise, a lot of fronts, a lot of different defenses."
The Chiefs figure to present plenty of problems in their own right. For one thing, the Patriots may not be certain who will be carrying the ball until shortly before kickoff.
Charles was practicing this week, just as he did last week, and Reid sounded hopeful that he would be available. If not, the quick, elusive playmaker will again be spelled by Davis, a bruising power-runner who had a career-best 132 yards rushing last week against the Dolphins.
"They're different skill sets, but they do the same things with them," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said, "so the same plays look different, depending on who is carrying the ball."
The Chiefs could also use Gray, another running back from their deep stable, though Joe McKnight is no longer in the picture. He ruptured his Achilles tendon in practice this week.
"They certainly have a lot of different avenues," New England defensive coordinator Matt Patricia said. "They have some very dangerous weapons in the backfield that they can take advantage of, whether to match up in the passing game or the running game, and exploit pretty quickly."
The matchup in the trenches is just one story line for Monday night's game, though. Here are a few other things to keep an eye on at Arrowhead Stadium:
BRADY'S MILESTONE: Patriots quarterback Tom Brady needs 219 yards passing to become the sixth player in NFL history with 50,000 yards. There's no guarantee he gets there, though. He's averaging just over 210 yards passing through his first three games. "My responsibility as a player is to do whatever the coaches ask me and do it the best way I can," he said. "That's trying to do everything well on a consistent basis — be a good leader, obviously make plays when they're there, have a great command and understanding of what we're doing, try to put our team in the best position possible."
AIR IT OUT: Smith never threw a pass more than 10 yards down field in the Chiefs' victory last week in Miami. That may have to change if New England gangs up against the run.
UNFAMILIAR FOES: The teams have only played twice since 2005, and there's been plenty of change on the roster and the coaching staff in Kansas City. "It's a lot of new players," Belichick said. "We really have to do a good job of studying up on the schemes and certainly the personnel."
TOP TIGHT ENDS: One of the often-overlooked positions in football will be center stage Monday night. The Patriots' Rob Gronkowski has earned a reputation as one of the game's top tight ends, while the Chiefs' Travis Kelce is starting to do the same for himself. "He's a great player. Athletically, it's hard to find a guy as big, as strong, as athletic as him," Kelce said. "Hopefully I can keep his legacy going with good tight ends."
EARPLUGS: Chiefs fans are once again attempting to set a world record for crowd noise. They broke Seattle's record in a game last season, only to watch the Seahawks reclaim it. "It might be a little louder there, probably is, but it's all, I don't want to say the same, but pretty much you're dealing with the same thing in every away game in that situation," Belichick said.
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