Film Review: Neutralizing Travis Kelce and Patrick Mahomes unstoppable connection
When the Dolphins traded a haul of draft picks to bring Tyreek Hill’s talents to South beach, defenses knew the way to stop the Chiefs was to neutralize Travis Kelce. Almost every team has failed.
The league’s most elite tight end racked up a career-high in receiving yards (1,338), touchdowns (12, 2nd in NFL), targets (152), and receptions (110, 3rd in NFL). With multiple injuries plaguing Kansas City’s wide receivers, Kelce picked up the extra slack this postseason.
He leads all players in the 2023 NFL Playoffs with 21 receptions and scored three touchdowns in the Chiefs’ two games. Kelce’s team-high 26 targets are lightyears away from second-place Marquez Valdez Scantling’s ten pass attempts thrown his way. Teams know the All-Pro tight end is Mahomes’ security blanket under challenging spots, yet not one has sustained success against the pair all season.
In last year’s AFC Championship Game, Cincinnati’s defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo used Sam Hubbard as a spy and rushed only three players while dropping eight into coverage. This scheme helped prevent Tyreek Hill from destroying them with deep passes but also kept extra eyes on Patrick Mahomes as he escaped the pocket. Kelce finished with ten catches for 95 yards and a score, with Tyreek going for 78 yards on seven catches and a touchdown in the Bengals’ overtime win.
With Mahomes’ ankle sprain lingering heading into last Sunday’s contest, Anarumo felt comfortable rushing four or five and making the two-time MVP step up in the pocket or risk scrambling with that injury. Apart from Travis Kelce’s 14-yard touchdown on a busted coverage by the Bengals, their defense held him to six catches for 64 yards on seven targets, which is a win on most occasions.
Given that the Eagles possess the best cornerback duo in the NFL, Jonathan Gannon should be okay with running his single-high safety look. An extra defender in the box helps his defense against Andy Reid’s elaborate smoke-and-mirrors rushing attack and helps throw more bodies at Travis Kelce.
Avonte Maddox and Chauncey Gardner-Johnson will play essential roles in containing Kelce, but the linebackers must be at their best. The Chiefs run Travis Kelce over the middle on a stick route as their “jab” to test the defense’s soft zone coverage or to set up an outside receiver with a one-on-one situation. With all eyes on Kelce over the middle, multiple Kansas City receivers get one-on-one looks and have to make the most of those opportunities.
Travis Kelce creating space for Kadarius Toney, Noah Gray and MVS
While Maddox and Gardner-Johnson should draw most of the matchups with Jason Kelce’s brother, Kyzir White and TJ Edwards carry one of the most challenging jobs in the Super Bowl. Both linebackers have to remove Andy Reid’s “jab,” aka that quick hitch over the middle, and not allow Kelce to get yards after the catch. More importantly, they have to run with Kelce on vertical routes to take away that quick first-read throw Mahomes loves to make.
Bengals taking away Mahomes’ first read
With their superstar quarterback likely still hobbled to a degree with that high ankle sprain, Gannon needs his overpowering defensive line to once again create havoc while rushing only four players. The Eagles’ front needs to collapse the pocket to keep Mahomes from scrambling toward the sideline. When Mahomes gets loose outside the hashes, defenders’ eyes wander, and receivers get left alone.
Left tackle Orlando Brown Jr is in charge of protecting Patrick Mahomes blindside but has not lived up to the hype since joining the team in 2021. Brown’s surrendered a team-high 56 pressures, nine quarterback hits, and four sacks this year. Trey Hendrickson tallied six pressures against Orlando Brown Jr in the AFC Championship and forced Mahomes to step upfield rather than escape horizontally.
Even if everything goes exactly to plan, the MVP frontrunner still makes absurd throws, as seen on this touchdown to MVS. And there’s also a mad scientist running the offense who will draw up intricate plays like this 25-yard screen.
Two players go to fake pass protect, then Jet McKinnon runs a fake stick over the middle to draw the linebacker, only to throw the screen to MVS and have Noah Gray out in front as a lead blocker. Andy Reid is a wild, wild man, and it will take everything in Jonathan Gannon’s bag to thwart this dynamic offensive attack.
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