Alex Smith to Travis Kelce, Redux

The Kansas City Chiefs clinched a playoff berth with a victory in Week 16, relying on the connection between their veteran quarterback and dynamic, playmaking tight end. Mark Schofield looks at how Alex Smith to Travis Kelce has become a staple of the Chiefs passing attack.

It’s hard to believe, but the hottest team in the NFL might be Kansas City. After a loss to Minnesota in mid-October dropped them to 1-5, Andy Reid’s squad has ripped off nine-straight victories, including a win over the Cleveland Browns on Sunday to clinch a playoff spot. The eventual game-winning score was a short touchdown throw from Alex Smith to tight end Travis Kelce, that utilized concepts relied on by the Chiefs throughout the season, all the way back to Week 1 and again in Week 7.

With 0:36 remaining in the first half, Kansas City has a 10-3 lead, facing 1st and 10 on the Browns’ 13-yard line. They line up with Smith (#11) in the shotgun and 11 offensive personnel on the field. Three wide receivers setup in a bunch formation on the left of the offense, while Kelce (#87) lines up in a two-point stance to the right side, using a short split from right tackle Jah Reid (#75). Cleveland has a 4-2-5 nickel package in the game showing a single-high safety look before the snap:NFLReview16KCStill1Kelce’s split is critical to the success of the play. He lines up inside the numbers – an indication to cornerback Tramon Williams (#22) that a pass pattern breaking to the outside is coming his way. Kelce is the only receiver on this side of the field, and there is a lot of real estate between his alignment and the sideline.

The Browns run Cover 1 on this snap giving Williams help to the inside. The cornerback sets up using outside leverage, attempting to take away any route from Kelce breaking to the outside and funnel the tight end back toward free safety Donte Whitner (#31):NFLReview16KCStill2

On the bunch side, the inside two receivers release vertically while the outside WR runs a deep out pattern, breaking at the goal line. To the weakside, Kelce runs a skinny post pattern while running back Charcandrick West (#35) runs a Texas route:NFLReview16KCStill3

This play employs a core element of the Kansas City offense: Isolating Kelce on a defensive back through formation and alignment, and then having him run a route breaking to the inside. This allows the versatile tight end to shield the defender from the football with his body:

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Kelce releases vertically and initially bends his route toward the outside, reaching the middle of the numbers at the top of the vertical stem. This causes cornerback Williams to widen as well, guarding the sideline. When Kelce begins his cut, Williams is at the bottom of the numbers. This not only creates separation between the tight end and cornerback, but draws Kelce away from the potential safety help. When Smith releases the football, Whitner is just inside the hash mark:NFLReview16KCStill4

By bending the route to the outside Kelce creates two separation points – one between him and the cornerback, and the other between him and the safety. Had the Chiefs’ tight end simply released vertically from his starting point he may have created separation from Williams, but Whitner would be in position to make a play on the the throw. By bending to the outside Kelce creates a bigger throwing window, which Smith is able to find for the touchdown pass.

Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkSchofield.

Mark Schofield has always loved football. He breaks down film, scouts prospects, and explains the passing game for Inside the Pylon.

All video and images courtesy NFL Game Pass.

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