Travis Kelce needs to be featured more in the passing game.
I start with that just because it needs to be said. Kelce is a human mismatch, capable of creating separation against any linebacker and the vast majority of safeties and even corners. The few players who can stick with his smooth speed and agility get overpowered by his size. He’s GOT to become a bigger part of the passing game for it to hit its ceiling.
A lot of players would be frustrated by this. They’d pout, take plays of, maybe make a fuss in the locker room or say passive aggressive stuff to the media. Instead, Kelce is contributing in another way: making key blocks in a running game that is really hitting its stride.
The ability of multiple linemen to get into space gives the Chiefs the ability to do tons of things in the run game. Also, sup Travis Kelce? pic.twitter.com/YkGlClw9d9— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) October 27, 2016
When people think of Kelce, they generally think of his athletic ability and perhaps his willingness to date 90 women simultaneously (dude’s crazy for that, in my opinion, but more power to him. I can barely keep one woman happy). But he’s been a big part of the stretch run game that’s been the Chiefs bread and butter this season.
As the above GIF shows the Chiefs have had a lot of success this season with stretch runs to the edge with one (or often more) offensive linemen pulling from the opposite side and getting into space.
The reason this works well for the Chiefs is that all five of their OL can really move. Probably the LEAST athletic of the bunch, as far as I can tell, is Mitchell Schwartz, who is well above average for a right tackle in that department. And so on any given play, the Chiefs can pull any of their interior linemen and send him to the second level with a good chance of them reaching a spot to affect the play.
Additionally, the Chiefs have a pair of tackles strong enough to kick defensive ends outside and out of the play. If you get a chance, watch Eric Fisher run block. He’s been fantastic this season in that respect, constantly moving defenders and getting to the second level every chance he gets. Schwartz is adept at keeping himself between the defender and the runner and creating lanes as well.
But Kelce is an additional factor that brings these runs on the edge to a whole new level. When you combine his top-end speed (which allows him to reach the edge quickly) with his strength and aggressive blocking (which has been hit and miss in the past and is now much more hit), you end up with a real problem for defenders.
Kelce has been a bigger part of the run game's success on the edges than I thought. Helps seal the edge here for a big gain. pic.twitter.com/LoE1ZUPZvn— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) October 27, 2016
On this play, LDT doesn’t QUITE get where you want him to be when he pulls and is unable to seal off the secondary player (who, to his credit, didn’t get sucked inside and made LDT’s job nearly impossible despite his speed). When an edge defender doesn’t get sealed off, that means the run will get strung out until help arrives. That’s what happened on Jamaal Charles’s only run of the day, which went for no gain.
However, because of Kelce’s superior athletic ability he’s able to get all the way outside and deliver a shove that ruins the defender’s chance of maintaining the edge. Instead of a short gain or even a loss, Spencer Ware gallops for a nice gain (he’s got just enough speed to get to the edge, which is important for a power back to be a complete player).
On almost every successful run the Chiefs had against the Saints, Travis Kelce was a part of the equation.
Another big gain, another Kelce block in space, this time taking on a linebacker on the second level. Also, watch Morse and LDT go to work. pic.twitter.com/P5H0vdrr46— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) October 27, 2016
Now, let’s be clear, there’s a LOT more than Kelce that goes right here. Take your time and re-watch that gif a few times, focusing on a different offensive lineman each time. Fisher, Morse, and Ehinger all do their jobs perfectly. LDT does very well too, though one can’t say “perfectly” because he’s not able to completely kick the safety inside (it’s a potential touchdown if he does). However, he does get into space and definitely helps create extra yardage for Ware.
However, all of that falls apart of Kelce isn’t able to take on a linebacker by himself in space and hold his ground.
There’s nothing glamorous about being a good run blocker as a tight end. The only time casual fans care about run blocking is when stud receivers do it well (like Gronk). Outside of Kansas City, how many people do you think even know who Jason Dunn is? Very few, and it’s a tragedy. Because a tight end who blocks well raises a running game’s ceiling all by himself. And that’s exactly what Kelce is doing, despite the fact that his superstar talent isn’t utilized as much as it should be.
Kelce should absolutely be getting more targets than he is, and I sincerely hope Alex Smith and Andy Reid are working on ways to involve him more. But in the meantime, don’t assume he hasn’t been a big part of the offense. His willingness to roll up his sleeves and go to work should be commended.