NFL Preview Week 2: Greg Olsen v. Houston

The Houston Texans were gashed by the Kansas City Chiefs dynamic young tight end Travis Kelce in Week 1. Up next is savvy veteran tight end Greg Olsen and the Carolina Panthers. Mark Schofield breaks down some of the likely ways the Panthers will copy the Chiefs approach, and success.

The Kansas City Chiefs received a big day from Travis Kelce in their 27-20 victory over the Houston Texans. The big tight end caught 6 passes for 106 yards and two touchdowns. This weekend Houston faces another talented pass catching tight end, Greg Olsen from the Carolina Panthers. While the Carolina TE only caught one pass for 11 yards in Week 1 against Jacksonville, he figures to be more involved against the Texans, because of the schemes that both Kansas City and Carolina use to get their tight ends open.

Isolate A Corner

On Kelce’s first touchdown of the 2015 season, the offense comes out in 13 offensive personnel with quarterback Alex Smith under center. Three tight ends line up on the right edge of the offense: Demetrius Harris (#84) on the line of scrimmage, James O’Shaugnessy (#80) and Kelce (#87) in wing alignments right outside Harris:


Houston has their base 3-4 defense in the game, showing Cover 4 in the secondary. The Chiefs throw the ball on this play, with Jeremy Maclin (#19) running a fade route at the bottom of the screen. The TEs all run in-cuts at various depths, with Harris and Kelce running post routes and O’Shaugnessy dragging underneath:NFLPreview2KCPlay1Still2Because of the base personnel, pre-snap alignment and route scheme, Kelce is isolated on cornerback Kareem Jackson (#25). The CB is listed at 5’10”, 188 pounds. Kelce is listed as 6’5”, 260. So, when the TE runs right at Jackson off the snap, and then turns inside, he is able to use his big frame against the defender:

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The throw is high ‒ but it is placed well on this play, as Kelce is able to go up and get the football. Either the TE is coming down with the pass, or the throw sails out of bounds. Kelce secures the catch, and the Chiefs have six points.

Here is how Carolina used personnel and formation to isolate Olsen on a defensive back. Facing 3rd and 10 on the Jacksonville 16-yard line, quarterback Cam Newton is in the shotgun with 11 offensive personnel on the field, in a 3X1 alignment. Three wide receivers bunch on the left. Olsen lines up as the only receiver to the right, using a split from the right tackle:NFLPreview2KCPlay2Still1

The Jaguars have their 4-2-5 nickel defense in the game, showing Cover 1 in the secondary. They walk linebacker Telvin Smith (#50) over Olsen prior to the snap, but with fellow LB Paul Posluszny blitzing on this play, Smith is actually responsible for the running back.

Leaving safety Sergio Brown in man coverage on the TE:

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Olsen runs an out route, and is able to shield the defender away from the football on the catch, picking up a first down.

Tight Ends Doing Slot Receiver Things

Both Houston and Carolina successfully line up their tight ends in non-traditional spots on the field, particularly in the area often occupied by a slot receiver. On this play, the Chiefs have the football on their own 40-yard line and face a 2nd and 11. Smith lines up under center and Kansas City has 13 personnel in the game, and the defense has their base 3-4 on the field showing Cover 4:NFLPreview2KCPlay3Still1

The offense starts this play with the 3 TEs on the left, but prior to the snap Kelce motions across the formation, and settles into the left slot, where he will run an out route:NFLPreview2KCPlay3Still2

In Cover 4 when Maclin uses a vertical release, the cornerback turns to run with him. This means the slot-side safety is now responsible for the #2 receiver ‒ Kelce. If the TE runs a quick route to the flat or a shallow underneath route, the safety must pass coverage of Kelce to underneath defenders, and help the CB on the vertical route by the #1 receiver. But if the #2 receiver releases vertically, then the safety must pick him up in man coverage:

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The outside vertical route occupies the cornerback, creating space along the sideline for Kelce to operate. The safety’s multiple responsibilities gave Kelce room to operate from the slot, where the big TE shows his route running abilities.

Finally, here is Olsen from Week 1, starting as a Z receiver in tight to the formation, with TE Ed Dickson (#84) on the line of scrimmage:NFLPreview2KCPlay4Still1

The Jaguars have their base 4-3 defense in the game using Cover 1. At the snap Olson releases to the outside, drawing cornerback Davon House (#31) in man coverage. Dickson runs a wheel route to the outside:NFLPreview2KCPlay4Still2

With man coverage, the wheel route moves the play-side linebacker, and after selling House on a deeper route to the outside the TE breaks back to his QB on a curl route, occupying the area vacated by LB reacting to the wheel route:

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Newton hits his tight end for a nice completion ‒ which is called back because an offensive lineman drifted downfield prior to the pass. But the concept is the same: Get a big tight end in a non-traditional alignment and let him work against a defensive back. Given what the tape from Week 1 showed, Olsen will likely put up some better numbers this weekend against the Texans.

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 and/or Game Rewind.

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