De’Anthony Thomas has played just 35 total offensive snaps, and no more than 10 in any of the Chiefs’ five games this season. Yet the speedy wide receiver, whose primary role is as a returner, has been effective in his brief stints with the offense.
In Week 1 against the Rams, Thomas played just seven offensive snaps but was effective on a gadget play when he took a 1-yard shovel pass in for a touchdown.
The way Thomas was deployed on that play exemplified the Chiefs’ ability to rotate a multitude of playmakers into their offense, a strength that could test the conditioning of Patriots defenders Sunday night.
“These guys are really fast, and they run a lot of vertical routes and they get a lot of space plays where they get the ball out,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said on a conference call Tuesday. “Forces everybody to pursue laterally across the field on consecutive plays or multiple plays in a short amount of time.
“They do a good job of rotating their receivers. Bringing Thomas in there. They substitute personnel and take advantage of their depth at that position. It is taxing on that [defensive back] group.”
Wide receiver Tyreek Hill and tight end Travis Kelce are the dangerous 1-2 punch of the Chiefs passing offense. Kansas City also added Sammy Watkins in the offseason, and they come up with creative ways to get the most out of their depth.
Hill and Kelce are almost always on the field; combined they have hauled in six of Patrick Mahomes’s 14 touchdown passes. Seven different players account for Mahomes’s other eight, including two by Chris Conley. Despite being on the field for 70 percent of the offensive snaps, Conley has only 18 targets. He’s caught 11 of them for 79 yards and the two scores.
“I think if you look at their skill group as a whole, there’s a lot of explosive players on the field, and again, it would go back to, I would say, the quarterback Mahomes,” Patriots cornerbacks coach Josh Boyer said.
“He distributes the ball very well, sees the field very well, and there’s also an element of they’re coached extremely well, so they’re very disciplined in what they’re doing and then their scheme is very good. We’re going to have to do a good job playing good team defense.”