The Chiefs have long been considered to have a solid, if unspectacular, offense. Even before the Andy Reid years, it was a ball-control offense, centered around the run. Now, it's a ball-control offense centered around star runner Jamaal Charles and short passes to the perimeter to open the middle of the field. Different, but not altogether.
Something they've had in recent years, though, hearkens back to the days of All-World tight end Tony Gonzalez -- and then some. His name is Travis Kelce, and he's continuing a tradition of excellent receiving tight ends in Kansas City. In fact, he may arguably be the second-best tight end in the NFL right now, behind Rob Gronkowski.
I could simply call Kelce a "beast" and that would be sufficient. But it doesn't do justice to what he is capable of. He has three main traits that all come together in the complete package.
Kelce is athletic.
This play, from the Chiefs' 2015 meeting with the Steelers, highlights two of Kelce's best weapons: his speed, and his jumping. And his ability to go vertical is augmented by the fact that he's 6'-6" and has long arms.
This is a very straightforward play for Kelce. He doesn't do anything special on the route itself. It's a simple seam route. The play is both "won" by Kelce and "lost" by Timmons. Kelce simply runs past Timmons. Timmons, however, initially takes too flat of an angle when entering into coverage, and that allows Kelce to run right by Timmons as he is rotating into position to run with the tight end. Once he gets a little separation, it's all just about going up and getting the ball.
Kelce is strong.
We typically lump tight ends into two categories: receivers and blockers. Kelce is one of those guys who can do both well. Sometimes, as on this play, he is his own best blocker.
Again, there's not much to analyze here. The only really interesting thing is that he is split out wide. For guys who play like large, strong wide receivers, this is a nice advantage. It puts a 265-pound receiver on a 195-pound cornerback. Kelce takes full advantage of that on this screen, and then some, as he drags along more tha a third of the Chargers' defense before finally going down.
Kelce is smart.
In this final play, we see how good Kelce is at making his own opportunities. Aas you can see above, there is an enormous hole in the Chargers' defense before the snap, and thanks to the defender playing soo far off Kelce in coverage, he has the opportunity to tweak his route a little to get to that hole in the most expedient way possible.
One of the keys to this play is the running back running a short curl in the middle of the field. This freezes the retreating dime linebacker. Meanwhile, safety Dwight Lowery moves to cover the right flat zone. The single high safety doesn't recognize that Kelce is running a post rather than a seam route until it's too late, and Kelce is wide open 15 yards downfield -- right inside that gaping hole.
The Steelers have their work cut out for them this week. Kelce is as good as they come, and the Steelers have had trouble covering athletic tight ends, even when healthy. This week, they will have a dinged-up Timmons, no Ryan Shazier, and no Robert Golden. If they can't find some way to defend Kelce, it's going to be another long, long day for the Steelers' players, coaches and fans.