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‘Catching Kelce’ key to Bears’ chances of containing the Chiefs

If the Bears want a shot at upsetting the Chiefs, they nforce must force someone other than Travis Kelce to beat them.

Syndication: Florida Times-Union Corey Perrine/Florida Times-Union / USA TODAY NETWORK

A lot of people are assuming Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs offense are due for a get-right game against the Chicago Bears on Sunday, and they may be right.

Then again, what if they're not?

Through two games this season, the Chiefs offense has looked… ordinary, though a good deal of that has to do with Travis Kelce working his way back onto the field after missing Week 1 with a hyperextended knee. Kelce returned to action last week against the Jacksonville Jaguars but only caught four of his nine targets for 26 yards in KC's 17-9 win.

Now, there's no reason to think things shouldn't be better for the defending champion Chiefs with Kelce coming in a little healthier against one of the worst passing defenses in football. Mahomes remains the best quarterback in the game despite a rough start, and eventually, he's going to start dominating.

If the Bears are going to pull an upset, though, now is the time. They'll need to pay attention to other teams' blueprints on how to do it.

The problem with the Bears' pass defense is largely in the trenches. They're tied with the Lions for last in the league in sacks (one) and are bottom-five in pressures (11) through two games. (The Lions also gave Mahomes trouble, but that was without Kelce.) If you can't pressure Mahomes at all with your defensive front, you can't win.

That said, if you can harass Mahomes even a little, the Bears can make things slightly more difficult for the Chiefs than people expect by playing a very similar defensive style to what opponents are doing to Justin Fields: rush four and make him hold the football.

Why? Because as of now, the Chiefs only have one pass-catcher they can fully rely on at this point (Kelce), and he hasn't been quite 100 percent. So the strategy has largely been to force Mahomes to beat them with high-difficulty throws to very covered/bad receivers.

The Jaguars' use of Cover 1 "Robber" against the Chiefs highlighted this.

NFL GamePass

For one, Jacksonville does a great job disguising this look pre-snap. When the Chiefs motion pre-snap, no one follows him. The two linebackers alert the motion and stand their ground as the safety to Kelce's side (Rayshawn Jenkins) looks like he intends to drop down and potentially cover him man-to-man. Just before the snap, though, Jenkins bails into what looks like a two-deep shell.

Except it's not. The linebacker to Kelce's side (Devin Lloyd) jumps out to re-route Kelce while Jenkins looks to poach any in-breaking routes to the tight end. Mahomes can't find anyone open, but he is able to tuck and run for a first down because no one's left in the middle of the field. If the Bears try to play that coverage, they'll need to be smart about their pass-rush lanes. But the intent – forcing the ball into non-Kelce offensive players' hands – worked well.

The Jaguars were also intentional about double-teaming Kelce in zone coverage whenever possible, which helped lead partially to a Mahomes interception last week. On this Cover 4 drop on 2nd-and-long, Lloyd widens his drop to push Kelce out toward the numbers (and toward the boundary corner) while Jenkins takes away the middle of the field.

NFL GamePass

Mahomes thinks he has Justin Watson running open on the post and goes to uncork a deep shot, but his split second of hesitation leads to him getting decked as he throws. Safety Andre Cisco swipes the underthrown ball as a result.

Of course, no coverage will work against Mahomes and the Chiefs if their lack of pass rush continues. So it might behoove Matt Eberflus, who will likely call the defense this Sunday, to dial up some games up front.

But the first two games of the season have shown the Chiefs are beatable on offense with a good plan to take Kelce away and just enough pass rush to make things uncomfortable. (After all, Jacksonville only sacked Mahomes once last week.)

If there was any time to turn things around defensively, it's now.