Minimize Travis Kelce. Notice how I didn’t write “stop” Travis Kelce. Few teams have ever been able to do that. Though Sunday night’s Wild Card matchup will be a rematch between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Kansas City, it’ll be TE Travis Kelce’s first meeting against Pittsburgh. He missed the Week 16 game due to being on the COVID list but barring will be available the second time around.
Talking with reporters Wednesday, Steelers’ LB Robert Spillane broke down how the team will try to prevent Kelce from being an impact player.
“Travis Kelce, obviously his work speaks for itself,” he told reporters via Steelers.com. “He’s one of the best tight ends to ever play the game. He’s a match up problem for anyone across the field. So we do things personnel wise and schematic wise to limit him as much as possible. But at the end of the day, we still gotta play football.”
The NFL has yet to come up with a scheme to stop Kelce from winning week-after-week. 2021 was another strong season for him, finishing with 92 catches for 1,125 yards and nine touchdowns. By his standards, a “down” year after going for 105/1,416/11 a year ago. For anyone else though, elite numbers.
The fact Kelce even missed a game is unusual. It’s just the third game he’s missed since 2015, making him one of the most consistent and durable weapons in the game. Not even elite tight ends of recent years like Rob Gronkowski, plagued by back injuries, can even claim that.
It’ll be all hands on deck to prevent Kelce from catching the ball. And when he does, Spillane knows the Steelers have to immediately drag him to the ground.
“He’s known to take five yard catches and turn them into 55 yard touchdowns. So like you said, tackle the catch is the main emphasis for us this week.”
Missed tackles were one of several issues in the Steelers’ Week 16 loss. According to our Josh Carney, the team missed 11, Spillane leading the team with three. It’s been a sloppy season from the tackling department. According to Pro Football Reference, Pittsburgh’s 125 missed tackles were fourth-most in football and the most of any playoff team. Only the Lions, Jaguars, and Chargers were worse.
Over the years, the Steelers have mostly held Kelce in check. He’s played Pittsburgh five times in the regular season, 2014 to 2018. From 2014 to 2017, he averaged a paltry 4.5 catches for 41 yards and just one touchdown over that span. He also caught five passes for 77 yards in the team’s 2016-2017 playoff loss to the Steelers.
But the last meeting didn’t go so well. In 2018, Kelce lit up the Steelers to the tune of a seven-catch, 109-yard, two-touchdown performance in 2018 with Patrick Mahomes as his quarterback. Mahomes has transformed this offense with his ability to work off-script and throw off-platform. It’ll be one of many challenges Spillane and this Steelers defense faces Sunday night.
“Kelce can really do it all. He’s a versatile tight end that makes plays down the field turns short yards, short catches into long runs. Blocks, gets involved in the screen game. So he’s a complete player who could do it all. He’s gonna be a big matchup for us this weekend.”