Chiefs

Chiefs film review: Stopping Travis Kelce a nightmare that awaits New England Patriots

QB Patrick Mahomes compliments Chiefs defense after Jaguars win

Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes thinks the team can score points with both sides of the ball, after the teams 30-14 win against the Jacksonville Jaguars at Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday October 7, 2018.
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Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes thinks the team can score points with both sides of the ball, after the teams 30-14 win against the Jacksonville Jaguars at Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday October 7, 2018.

The Jacksonville Jaguars appeared, at least on paper, the toughest test Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes would have to face through the first five games of the season. While he threw a pair of interceptions, he also spread the ball around to nine different receivers, passed for 313 yards and only took one sack.

Even on what qualifies as a sub-par day for Mahomes — he posted a quarterback rating of 62.7 on Sunday — he led the offense to 23 points (not including Chris Jones’ interception return for a touchdown) against a team that hadn’t allowed more than 20 this season.

A large part of Mahomes’ success in the passing game on Sunday came via connecting with tight end Travis Kelce. Kelce registered five catches for 100 yards, and he tied Dwayne Bowe for the fifth-most 100-yard receiving games in Chiefs history. He also extended his streak of consecutive games with a catch to 68.

Jaguars coach Doug Marrone had raved about Kelce’s ability to run after the catch and create big gains earlier in the week, and Kelce delivered with the help of Mahomes. We’ll take a closer look with the aid of the coaches’ film to see why that connection gave the Jaguars so much trouble ... and why the New England Patriots could be in for the same dilemma Sunday night.

The coaches’ film is courtesy of NFL Game Pass. The game-day television broadcasts, a condensed 45-minute version of every game and the coaches’ film, are available with an account at www.nfl.com/gamepass.

Quick slant to Kelce

Situation: Second-and-10 at the Jacksonville 26, first quarter

Alignment: The Chiefs took their running backs off the field and lined up with four wide receivers (De’Anthony Thomas, Chris Conley, Tyreek Hill and Sammy Watkins). Kelce lined up with an empty backfied and Mahomes in the shotgun. Thomas, Conley and Hill lined up to the left, with Thomas outside the numbers, Conley a step inside the numbers and Hill in the slot just outside the hash mark. Kelce lined up off the line to the right side, inside the numbers, while Watkins was on the line outside the numbers.

At the snap: All five receivers released into the pattern, and the Jaguars rushed four down linemen. Both Jaguars safeties remained over the top, and vertical routes by Thomas, Hill and Watkins cleared out the intermediate area and left Kelce to operate alone against linebacker Telvin Smith Jr. (50). Conley ran an in-breaking route on the opposite side of the field, a few yards deeper than Kelce.

Smith, who is listed as 6-foot-3 and 215 pounds, earned second-team All-Pro honors last season. The 6-foot-5, 260-pound Kelce gets Smith to bite hard on an outside move as though he were running an out-route and Kelce broke inside, where Mahomes delivered the ball by the time Kelce reached the near hash mark. Kelce hauled in the pass just shy of the 15-yard line but gained another five yards with the help of a Conley block.

“I just feel like they had a great game plan for us,” Jaguars safety Barry Church said. “They were flooding our zones and they came out in an 0-1 package, which is all receivers and a tight end, they were able to flood our zones and make plays. As for their coaches and players, they outperformed us today. We got to go back to the drawing board and see what we can do to get better.”

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Kelce’s ability to beat even a smaller, athletic linebacker like Smith left the Jags’ defense with a pick-your-poison situation. He’s still bigger and more physical than safeties, and devoting a safety to covering him means isolating one of the Chiefs’ other receiving threats, such as the speedster Hill.

“I think it makes defenses change their whole game plan,” Mahomes said of Hill’s speed. “Whenever you come to play us, you can’t play man coverage on the edge. They have to put someone over the top and make sure they account for his speed. That helps out a lot when you get to Travis (Kelce) and Sammy (Watkins) in the middle and then you get the running game going, because you know the defense can’t bring their guys down. Because if they do, kind of like at the end of the game, we take chances and we make plays.”

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Against the blitz

When the Jaguars tried to approach the same play a different way, and put a safety on Kelce man-to-man, Kelce burned them for 40 yards on the catch and run instead of 15 as he had earlier.

Situation: Second-and-8 from the Jacksonville 49-yard line, second quarter

Alignment: The Chiefs lined up with the same empty backfield setup as the previous play, with three wide receivers left and Kelce in the slot on the right and Watkins outside of him. Again Kelce was a step inside of the top of the numbers.

At the snap: This time Smith (50) lined up as though he was taking an inside-leverage position on Kelce, but he came on the blitz instead. That left the safety Church (42) responsible for Kelce with a 10-yard cushion at the snap of the ball. Mahomes recognized the blitz and stepped up and delivered to Kelce just as he reached the hash mark, which gave him time to catch and react to the defender, Church, closing in on him. Kelce made one hard cut and burst past Church. He wasn’t touched until he got to the 15-yard line and got tackled inside the 10.

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Linebacker on an island

Situation: First-and-10 from the 50, third quarter

Alignment: The Chiefs lined up in their “11” personnel, with three wide receivers (Hill, Conley, Watkins) along with Kelce and Spencer Ware in the backfield lined up to the right of Mahomes, who was in the shotgun. Hill and Conley were wide left, with Hill just off the bottom of the numbers and Conley slightly inside the top of the numbers. Watkins was wide right on the bottom of the numbers, with Kelce off the line but tight to the Chiefs’ right tackle, Mitchell Schwartz.

At the snap: Hill went in motion across the formation, and his presence forced the defense to be alert for the jet-sweep shovel pass, which the Chiefs used with great success to start the season with both Hill and Thomas. The Jaguars blitzed the slot defender to the side Hill vacated, but that forced the linebacker lined up across from Kelce at the 45-yard line to take Hill on the swing route. Meanwhile, the linebacker in the middle of the field at the hashmark, Myles Jack (44), became responsible for Kelce.

Watkins released inside and ran his route up the seam between the numbers and the hash mark to occupy the safety and the corner. Watkins’ route cleared the area between the sideline and the numbers for Kelce to work one-on-one with on the out-and-up. Kelce wins that matchup, and Mahomes showed both pocket presence and arm strength by stepping up with each of his blockers working one-on-one with five pass rushers on the attack. Mahomes doesn’t step into the throw; he just flicked it and avoided the leap of Yannick Ngakoue, hitting Kelce, who had gotten behind Jack.

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Asked about the Chiefs’ scheme, Marrone replied, “I thought Myles Jack did a good job running it down. I thought that we had the ball in the perimeter. I think that is how they play, so they are going to make you work the field. There are a ton of playmakers out there and you have to be able to cover sideline to sideline and cover verticals.”

Flooding

Church mentioned another key concept the Chiefs executed against the Jaguars defense. Jaguars defensive coordinator Todd Wash worked under Gus Bradley, who was part of the Seattle “Legion of Boom” defensive staff. While they’ve taken on a more hybrid man-zone philosophy, there’s still a lot of three-deep zone involved in their game plan.

Situation: Third-and-10 at Jacksonville 43, second quarter

Alignment: The Chiefs use “11” personnel, with three wide receivers (Conley, Hill, Watkins), tight end Kelce and running back Spencer Ware. Ware lined up to Mahomes’ left, with Kelce split wide left. All three wide receivers are on the wide wide of the field. Conley lined up off the line and tight to the right tackle. Watkins was between the numbers and the hash marks, while Hill was a step outside the bottom of the numbers.

At the snap: Jacksonville rushes four and drops into zone. Kelce worked against cornerback A.J. Bouye and also drew the attention of the safety, Church (42). Church drove on the in-cut by Kelce. Meanwhile on the wide side, Conley breaks for the flat, Hill runs a deep route outside the numbers and Watkins runs a 15-yard out.

The slot defensive back, Tyler Patmon (23), gets depth in his drop to take away the out-route but keeps eyes on Conley in the flat. The linebacker Jack (44) got depth in his drop up the hash mark, but he was in no position to react to Watkins on the sideline. And Hill pulled the safety with him and created a gap between the safety and the slot defender for Watkins to sit down and give Mahomes a window to throw.

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Watkins ended up with a 33-yard gain on third-and-10.

“Patrick threw a couple of interceptions,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “Now, all the sudden, it’s like, ‘How is he going to react throwing an interception?’ It didn’t even faze him. He just kept going and firing and made some big plays. He made some big plays to (Travis) Kelce and a few other guys.”

Lynn Worthy

Lynn Worthy covers the Kansas City Chiefs and NFL for The Star.

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