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How Noah Gray and Blake Bell filled in for Travis Kelce against the Steelers

On Monday’s Out of Structure podcast, we looked at how the tight end position fared not having its leader for a game.

NFL: DEC 26 Steelers at Chiefs Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

On the latest episode of the Arrowhead Pride Out of Structure podcast, we discussed our takeaways from the Kansas City Chiefs’ 36-10 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 16; we also answered a handful of your questions from Twitter.

(Listen to the podcast embedded above or by clicking here. It is also available on Spotify.)

One of the biggest storylines of the game was the absence of Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce due to COVID protocols, leaving rookie tight end Noah Gray and the veteran Blake Bell to take all of the meaningful tight-end snaps for the game.

We had two talking points from their performances:

Gray significantly out-snapped Bell

In total, Gray played 72% of the offensive snaps — while Bell played 36% — or 25 fewer snaps. When the Chiefs were in their 11-personnel packages (one tight end and one running back), Gray played Kelce’s role, moving around the formation and running routes from wide-receiver alignments.

It proved that the Chiefs really believe what they said about Gray in the post-draft reaction this offseason: he can be used in a way Kelce has been in the NFL.

Right now, Gray is Kelce’s direct backup.

Minimal impact in the receiving game

Gray may have lined up like Kelce, but he had nowhere close to a Kelce-like performance. There were three targets dished out; all three were caught for 23 yards — the longest being an 11-yard completion to Bell on the opening drive.

On Gray’s first target, it was a route the Chiefs love to use for Kelce: from an alignment that isolates him on his side of the formation, he runs a double-move type of route that ends up with him pivoting back into the middle of the field after faking an outside route.

Even with an on-time reception, the route appeared to be run short of the first-down marker — making a good connection between the quarterback and receiver fall short of converting the third down.

Obviously, there’s no replacing Kelce’s receiving production. It’s even more challenging for a rookie and a player essentially used to block.

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