The Pittsburgh Steelers will play the Kansas City Chiefs Sunday in the Divisional Round of the playoffs and that means they’ll be looking to once again limit their great tight end Travis Kelce in the passing game for a second time this season. During his Tuesday press conference, head coach Mike Tomlin talked about the challenges Kelce presents to the Steelers defense this weekend in addition to discussing how they might choose to defend him at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City.
“He’s a special guy,” Tomlin said of Kelce. “He’s a match-up issue. Too athletic for linebackers, too big and strong often times for secondary people. It’s probably going to require a combination of both. That and some zone coverages and so forth to work to minimize his impact on the game as always. It’s no different than our approach in October. October we utilized Justin Gilbert to cover him some on possession downs. We may do that again, we may not, we may add to it. It’s just acknowledging a guy of his talents is part of the preparation process in terms of putting together a game-plan.
So, does that mean we’ll see the Steelers play some dime sub packages against the Chiefs on Sunday like they did against them way back in Week 4? Tomlin was asked that question on Tuesday and sidestepped it.
“We did last time,” Tomlin said.
The Steelers managed to limit Kelce to just 5 receptions for 25 yards and a touchdown during the first meeting between the two teams with his longest reception going for 9 yards. While Steelers cornerback Justin Gilbert did indeed play in that earlier-season game against the Chiefs, he only played 8 total defensive snaps that included him mostly lining up against Kelce. Gilbert, by the way, has only played a total of three defensive snaps since that game.
Kelce enters Sunday’s game against the Steelers as the Chiefs leading pass catcher as he finished the regular season with 85 catches for 1,1125 yards and four touchdowns. Over half of Kelce’s receiving yardage has come after the catch as well and he finished the regular season with an average of 7.7 yards after the catch. In short, the Steelers defense must make sure that they get him down on the ground quickly much like they did the last time they faced him back in October.
During the regular season the Steelers defense allowed opposing tight ends to catch 83 total passes for 946 yards and 6 touchdowns. They haven’t, however, allowed a tight end to register 100 yards or more receiving in a single game this season and need to make sure Kelce doesn’t become the first to do so Sunday in Kansas City.