Of course the centerpiece of the Chiefs offense is Patrick Mahomes and his top target Travis Kelce. Despite lacking high-end wide receiver talent after trading Tyreek Hill, Kelce was still unstoppable last year (110 receptions for 1,338 yards and 12 touchdowns).
Despite opposing defenses being able to focus on Kelce, he still got his production. Having Mahomes and his array of throwing skills finding windows to get him the ball of course helps a lot, but it's rare defense this side of the Cincinnati Bengals that has much of any success containing Kelce.
Lions head coach Dan Campbell talked about the obvious challenge of defending Kelce, especially when a play breaks down and Mahomes' improvisation skills come out.
"There’s a way to limit what they do a little bit, and it’s going to take every one of us defensively. You’ve got to play your keys, do your job, but when the play breaks down you’ve got to stay alive, and stay alive for six, seven seconds. And you better find out where 87 (Kelce) is when that play breaks down,"
How should the Lions go about defending Travis Kelce?
The obvious question has been posed.
The Lions have depth in the secondary and especially the linebacking corps like they've not had in awhile. So they can (and should) deploy a variety of coverage approaches with multiple different players against Kelce, and like Campbell noted it will be a collective effort to try to stifle the best tight end in the league.
Last year, for whatever it's worth, the Lions were not particularly generous to tight ends outside of the scoring column (11 touchdowns allowed to the position, tied for second-most in the league).
Kelce will pretty much "get his" on a base level, no matter what you do. The core ideas would be to keep him from going off big for something like double-digit catches, and to limit his big plays after the catch by rallying to tackle him.
Coverage Kelce thinks is too close or handsy will surely get him complaining to officials and possibly getting subsequent penalty calls, so there's a line for the Lions to toe there. But Kelce occasionally shows outward signs of frustration, so some early success against him could throw him off his game just enough to matter. A minor penalty or two early just might be worth it.
Sometimes you'll just lose to a great throw by Mahomes and the innate chemistry the two have, so completely shutting down Kelce is destined to be a fruitless goal. But you can have a good plan to contain him. How the Lions go about it, and get it done (or not) will be a big key to watch on Thursday night.