Allen Park — The Detroit Lions have been pretty good at bottling up tight ends for as long as Matt Patricia has been coach. In 2018, despite a slate that included superstars Rob Gronkowski and George Kittle, the Lions allowed tight ends to catch 64 passes, the seventh-fewest in the NFL.
That success has carried over to the early portion of this season. Part of that is because the defense didn't see a viable threat at the position the first two weeks, but the unit did manage to hold Zach Ertz in check in a win over the Eagles last Sunday, keeping him to a season-low four catches, totaling 64 yards.
The ability to defend the position will be put to the test again this week with the Kansas Chiefs and Travis Kelce come to town.
A four-time Pro Bowler and two-time All-Pro, Kelce has put together three consecutive 1,000-yard receiving campaigns and is pacing the position in 2019 with 17 grabs for 284 yards through three games.
"Kelce, just in regards to him, very big, very physical, he likes to play the physical part of the game," Patricia said. "I think he is a very experienced guy. He’s seen a lot of different looks, so he handles those things really well.
"He’s obviously a huge target for them in critical situations," Patricia continued. "He has great hands. I think the thing about him that is deceptive is, for as big as he, he plays fast. This guy can get vertical fast, and his run-after-catch is really phenomenal. He has a great stiff arm, he’s strong, he’s big, runs through a lot of tackles. Just a really big, strong, tough tight end that does a great job in the passing game."
Kelce's big plays and yards after a catch stand out. He had 18 receptions of 20 or more yards in 2018, to go with 557 YAC. Both ranked second for the position to San Francisco's Kittle.
Against the Eagles, the Lions leaned heavily on second-year safety Tracy Walker to match up against Ertz, often one-on-one in man coverage, with occasional help from a linebacker in critical third- and fourth-down situations.
"Tracy did a good job last week,, he really did," defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni said. "He played well. Technique, fundamentally he played well."
Will the Lions go that route again? It would make sense to stick with what's working, but the coaching staff isn't about to give away any part of the game plan to an opponent that comes to town favored by a touchdown.
"Every week in this league is a new week and there’s no way of predicting exactly how things will go," Pasqualoni said. "We’re going to formulate the game plan, which we’re in the process of doing right now. We don’t even know if Tracy will be over there. We’ll try to do the best we can. This is an awfully good team and a very talented team."