Texans-Chiefs Divisional Preview
While it originally seemed like the Bills could’ve been bound for Kansas City or Baltimore, Texans’ QB Deshaun Watson reminded us of why he is one of the most exciting players in football today, let alone one of the future great QBs for his franchise. After leading his team to an overtime win against Buffalo, when they were at one point down 16-0 late in the 3rd quarter, Houston was able to move onto the Divisional Round in the AFC. This won’t be the first time that these two teams have played this season. Week 6 of the regular season saw Houston travel up to Kansas City and take down the Chiefs 31-24, albeit against an injury plagued Chiefs team at the time. This matchup will be a bit different, and Houston knows it.
Deshaun Watson lived up to his name last week against the Bills in more ways than what many actually realize. Even with being sacked seven times, Watson still managed to put up 247 passing yards off of 20 completions on 25 attempts, with one passing TD. Add in 55 rushing yards with a rushing TD, and you’ve found not only the heart of your offense, but the soul of your franchise. There’s no question in my mind that the Texans would not have won their Wild Card game against the Bills without Watson, and I’m positive that very few would argue against it.
RB Carlos Hyde was kept mostly in check for the game, rushing for 48 yards on 16 carries, though he did snag a 5-yard reception for a TD late in the 4th quarter. Hyde did rush for 116 yards and a TD against the Chiefs in their Week 6 game, and don’t think for a second that Hyde hasn’t forgotten about the trade prior to the start of the regular season that sent him away from Kansas City to Houston. A second chance to enact revenge will sound sweet in his mind.
WR DeAndre Hopkins was kept silent for the first half, but that’s primarily due in part to CB Tre’Davious White doing what he does best. Hopkins should see more targets this time around, considering he saw 12 passes thrown to him in Week 6, catching 9 of them for mainly short yardage, posting up only 55 yards for the game. Be on the lookout for Watson to eye TEs Darren Fells and Jordan Akins to see increased action as well. This, however, depends on if either suit up, with both listed as questionable on the latest injury report, along with WR Kenny Stills, and Will Fuller, who missed last week’s game against the Bills.
QB Patrick Mahomes may not have the stats this year like what he put up during his MVP run last season, but don’t think for a second that he’s seeing a regression. Even after missing two full games, and a majority of another in which saw him dislocate his kneecap, Mahomes still put up 4,031 passing yards, 26 passing TDs, and only 5 interceptions. His 1.0% of times intercepted when attempting a pass was tied for second best in the NFL, and an entire 1.1% lower than his MVP run last season. While there are other stats that he also showed growth in after missing time this season, the biggest takeaway is his 17 sacks this year. For as many issues that the Chiefs have had in keeping healthy this season, especially on the offensive line, they still managed to keep the total sacks on their QB down to 25 for the season, which is the lowest total in the NFL.
One issue going into this the fact that TE Travis Kelce is listed as questionable on the latest injury report. This would be a huge loss for the Chiefs, considering he was the leading receiver for Kansas City with 1,229 receiving yards, and the first TE in NFL history to post four consecutive 1000+ receiving yards. There’s little reason to fret though, as it would take divine intervention at this point to keep Kelce from suiting up. As reported by ESPN’s Adam Teicher, Coach Andy Reid said of Kelce’s injury yesterday that it was “more of a bruise than anything.” With Kelce on the field, along with WR Tyreek Hill, and rookie WR Mecole Hardman, speed is the name of the game for the Chiefs offense.
The obvious benefit of getting a first-round bye in the playoffs is the much-needed rest for the players after a grueling regular season. While the Chiefs have been able to reap the benefits of this (more or less), the Texans have added to their injury report, which doesn’t come as a surprise after their matchup with the Bills last week. CB Johnathan Joseph, and S Jahleel Addae are listed as questionable, and don’t be surprised to see Joseph miss this one, considering he was listed as inactive last week as well. The Texans did see some positives this week from practice though, with DE J.J. Watt now listed as a full participant and fully off the injury list.
Regardless, the Texans will still have their hands full against this productive Chiefs offense. Ranked 19th in points allowed per game, and 28th in yards allowed a game, these stats are not the ones that you want to have when walking into Arrowhead Stadium to take on the Chiefs. Don’t pay too much attention to their Week 6 matchup when discussing the Texans defense. At that time, Patrick Mahomes was still hobbled with an ankle injury, and multiple starters on the offense were inactive, including LT Eric Fisher, LG Andrew Wylie, and WR Sammy Watkins. Now that their offensive line, and Mahomes, is back to full health, the Chiefs will present a much different look, especially from the left side, than from their previous game.
As I mentioned earlier, Texans RB Carlos Hyde was able to slash through the Chiefs defense for 116 rushing yards and a TD during their Week 6 matchup. The big question remains, how much of that was a result of Pro Bowl DL Chris Jones missing the game. With Jones healthy again, and DE Frank Clark finding his stride as the season continued, along with the addition of DE Terrell Suggs, and this defense does provide a much different look for Watson and the Texans offense. That being said, the loss of rookie S Juan Thornhill, who was coming on strong near the end of the season, has been lost for the postseason due to a torn ACL in the last week of the season, which could put a strain on All-Pro S Tyrann Mathieu.
By November 1st, the Chiefs defense were allowing 22.6 points a game, along with 377 total yards as well. Their allowed third down conversion rate was sitting at 39.22%, and they were allowing 23.9 first downs a game, which was second worst in the league at the time. Now ranked 7th best in the NFL in points allowed a game, and 8th best in total pass defense, the Chiefs now hold a mostly respectable defense. That being said, their rush defense still shows room for improvement, allowing 128.6 yards a game, which ranks at 28th in the league. This doesn’t bode well for a team going up against a mobile QB, and an RB who has a 100+ yard game against them this season. While they have improved, look for the Texans to try and expose the lack of a rush defense early and often against the Chiefs.
The 3 Keys to the Game for Each Team
1. If he was able to do it earlier, he could do it again. Expose the Chiefs weak rush defense and keep Hyde going through the game, as well as a few QB draw or options as well.
2. Find ways to free up DeAndre Hopkins, which will help take the pressure off of the rush game. The chance that TE Jordan Akins doesn’t suit up due to injury will make this even more important.
3. Don’t fall back and let Mahomes find weaknesses in the defense. Keep him on his toes with multiple blitz packages and coverages.
1. Contain Watson as much as possible. Keep a spy when possible and limit his ability to find holes for extra rushing yards.
2. Lock down Hopkins and keep Watson’s options to a minimum. If Akins misses the game, expect more targets to Fuller, who is coming off an injury as well.
3. Score early and often. Don’t let up, as Andy Reid and company have a tendency to go with a more conservative approach when up by multiple scores. If you’re not up by at least four scores, then let Mahomes be himself, and call the plays that let him make the plays that he’s known for. Essentially, you want to demoralize the Texans defense, which in turn, will impact the offense as well.
The Final Thought:
While the Chiefs were completely stunned back in Week 6, don’t expect a repeat. With the majority of the Chiefs players now healthy, while the Texans are nursing injuries of their own, we should see almost an exact opposite from the previous game. Look at it this way. The Bills were averaging 330.2 yards per game on offense going into the Wild Card game with the Texans, best for 24th in the NFL. Next thing we know, the Bills have put up 425 total yards during the game. Now, the Texans get to face the one of the best offenses in the NFL? If the Texans can run up the score early, essentially keeping pace with the Chiefs offense, then an upset could be possible. Outside of the Ravens though, that’s a bold request. Look for the Chiefs offense to lead the way to the AFC title game next week.
Chiefs 34 – Texans 23