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Should we worry about Denver shutting down Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce?

On Monday’s Out of Structure podcast, we discussed one of the least productive days in the elite duo’s existence.

NFL: Denver Broncos at Kansas City Chiefs Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

On the latest episode of the Arrowhead Pride “Out of Structure” podcast, we discussed the latest victory in the current five-game win streak that the Kansas City Chiefs are riding; there was plenty to talk about surrounding the team’s 22-9 victory over the Denver Broncos in Week 13.

Despite another win, the offense was ineffective for most of the game — and two of its best players were corralled to low production.

Tight end Travis Kelce and wide receiver Tyreek Hill combined for five receptions for 49 yards against Denver, catching only 38% of the passes thrown their way. The longest play between the two was 14 yards.

Without looking, you can reasonably assume it was one of the least-impactful games the duo has ever had. With an already-underwhelming stretch of offense in the team’s recent history, it begs the question:

Is there reason to worry about defenses being able to contain Hill and Kelce this severely?

All season, defenses have slowed down the All-Pro tight end with physical coverage off the snap — and as he gets into his routes. On Sunday, Denver’s safeties and linebackers took it to another level, taking every opportunity to hit him and make their presence felt — no matter whether it was before or after the ball was in the air. It obviously worked: Kelce only had 27 yards on the eight targets he saw; the lack of production wasn’t from the offense’s unwillingness to attempt a pass towards him.

Hill’s day was a little different. He made a huge impact on the opening drive that ended in a touchdown — converting both a second and third down with a quick pass. But from the first drive on, Hill didn’t catch another pass. Mahomes tried to work him on a few slants in the second half, but both deflected off his hands. The second one ended in an interception.

The reason to worry

Defenses are feeling more and more comfortable completely selling out to take away Hill and Kelce because the Chiefs have no other wide receivers or tight ends making enough of a difference in the receiving game. That was not the case in the past: when the team needed it most, former Chiefs wide receiver Sammy Watkins made a consequential difference. He led the team in receiving yards in the combined postseason stretches of 2018 and 2019 — and his ineffectiveness in last year’s Super Bowl was one of the biggest reasons the team fell flat.

Behind Hill and Kelce, there’s no receiver on the team who can make anything close to the difference Watkins made in the postseason.

The reason not to worry

It was evident that head coach Andy Reid came out with a vanilla game plan that called for his players to execute base plays and do enough to earn the win; at any point in the game, he didn’t show much creativity.

That plan didn’t help Hill and Kelce, who currently need help from the scheme to get open against defensive coverages doing everything they can to stop them. Reid was content with winning ugly; after they quickly got out to a 10-0 lead, there was no need to unleash the best ways to get a chunk play for either player.

Right now, Reid may be confident enough in the other two phases of his team to continue playing in this fashion — revving up the engine only when necessary. We’ve seen him have regular-season success with this philosophy, but that can’t be the way it works in the postseason — and Reid knows that.

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