Week 6 Flashback
The stage was set at Arrowhead Stadium, October 13, 2019. The visiting Texans roared back from a huge deficit to beat a surging home crowd and the explosive Chiefs offense led by reigning NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes. Many things have changed since their first meeting earlier this season. Personnel and game plans for both ball clubs will surely have some variance. What may remain a constant in this week’s upcoming divisional playoff game, and the differences that may influence how each team approaches the schemes they will deploy against each other has yet to be seen. For the Texans, they know that just because it worked first time, it doesn’t mean it will work again.
The most recent meeting between the Kansas City Chiefs and Houston Texans was all the way back in Week 6, when two very different teams met for the first time under the leadership of their respective franchise quarterbacks. The game plan for Bill O’Brien, Deshaun Watson, Carlos Hyde and company was simple; they should try to milk the clock with a run dominant scheme and keep the ball away from Patrick Mahomes as much as possible. Following that recipe resulted in a road win for the visiting Texans, and they did so despite falling behind to the tune of 17-3 in early in the first quarter. It didn’t help that Carlos Hyde fumbled the football on the opening play for the Texans offense, or that they squandered several drives with dropped passes. Houston somehow managed to stick to their guns as the team toted the rock a combined 41 times for 192 yards, and dominated time of possession in the process. Hyde led the way with 116 rushing yards and a touchdown, while Watson rushed for 42 yards and 2 scores. Give credit to Bill O’Brien for exposing a poor Kansas City rush defense, despite falling behind by two scores extremely early in the contest. Just as a side note, Duke Johnson was able to average nearly 7 yards per carry in 5 attempts for Houston in this game.
Is it possible to change while also staying the same? The run heavy approach may be the only mantra that remains from the game that was played over three months ago. On the other side, many things have drastically changed since mid October. Take for example the Kansas City pass defense, what was once considered to be an extremely weak unit, has forged a resilient turn-around, mostly in part to the play of former Texan Tyrann Matheiu. The Honey Badger has recorded 4 interceptions with the Chiefs since being acquired from Houston in the off-season. Former coach Bill O’Brien mentioned that he would have loved to keep Matheiu, but the cap space and surging safety market value simply didn’t allow it. Matheiu was exposed while faking a blitz on a must have first down completion to Texan receiver DeAndre Hopkins in the final seconds of the first meeting, the final nail in the coffin sealed the victory for Houston. The Honey Badger is hoping for a true revenge game this time around.
Friedrich Nietzsche once said, “The snake which cannot cast its skin has to die”, something both the Chiefs and Texans know all too well about the NFL week to week. The ability to lull your opponent to sleep with tendencies put forth throughout the year can be a huge advantage if you are team like the Texans. The Chiefs will try to deploy the same tactic, Kansas City will predominantly pass the ball, which makes their use of screens, short passes and delayed plays to the running backs so hard to cover. Andy Reid will run several well designed pick plays with tights ends and receivers, and will sprinkle those in as well to try and trick the opposition or catch them off-guard for huge gains.
On the flip-side the Texans would like to control the game and run the ball in order to draw the defense in, once they do, they take well-timed strikes over the top with a play-action, or purely off of Watson’s sheer gift to improvise. In the first meeting Watson’s stats fell victim to not one, not two, but THREE dropped Will Fuller passes for potential touchdowns. Add another rare DeAndre Hopkins touchdown drop to mix and any other quarterback would have been left for dead, but Watson put the team on his back and carried them to victory. Watson rushed for two scores on the ground while throwing another, virtually cancelling out Mahomes’ 3 passing touchdown day. In the end, Watson walked away with the first win in what many would expect to be this generations “Brady vs. Manning” rivalry.
Missing depth on the first go around, Sammy Watkins and Chris Jones did not play for the Chiefs in Week 6. You would also be intrigued to know that Tyreek Hill had two receiving touchdowns while only playing on 20 snaps. Mahomes was hampered with an ankle injury that later played a factor to a dislocated knee he suffered a few weeks after they faced the Texans. Chiefs kingdom would be quick to inform you that the entire team played somewhat sloppy in addition to all of the facts listed above. It is still no excuse for blowing a 17-3 lead at home with the previous year’s league MVP at the helm. The Chiefs failed to score more than 7 points from the 2 quarter on, and the Texans do what the Texans do, find a way to win.
Divisional Game Variables:
- Kenny Stills – Stills missed the first contest against the Chiefs and has been an exceptional receiver for Watson. Stills missed weeks 5 and 6 due to (surprise, surprise) a hamstring injury. The speedy Stills made a splash in the home opener against the Saints, catching all three of his targets for 37 yards and a last second score for what was thought to be the go-ahead touchdown on MNF. Once he returned from injury in week 7, Stills splashed again against the Colts catching 4 of 5 targets for 105 yards. The fact that Stills has played for the often injured Fuller and has been able to mesh with Watson has given the third year quarterback an extra veteran to look for down field once plays have broken down and he has been able to extend them with his legs. Stills has 40 receptions on 55 targets and 561 yards with 4 TDs this year as the Texans’ third option. With Will Fuller and DeAndre Hopkins on the field they pose one of the most dangerous wide receiver combinations left in the tournament.
- The Chiefs Defense – They are much improved against the pass. A defense versus quarterbacks that could have easily been compared to the Texans has plugged their holes and stifled the opposition as of late. They are 8th versus the pass, allowing 221.4 yards per game and boast holding receivers to the fewest yards in the league. They do have a chink in their armor as they allow the most receiving yards to opposing running backs on the season. Houston has an advantage running the ball, but may find it difficult to push the ball down field if Watson can’t buy himself any time. In a strength vs. strength scenario we would find Houston’s efficient pass offense facing off a much improved Kansas City pass Defense.
- The Houston Defense – The biggest difference may be one that no one is talking much about. The Houston defense. J.J. Watt took part in the first meeting, corner back Bradley Roby did not. He played limited snaps before exiting the game with an injury. Over the course of the last several weeks he has been playing well, breaking up passes and giving the defense opportunities to stop teams in the passing game, something the team has struggled with as whole the entire season. Jonathan Joseph was also injured and missed the game. He is healthy and expected to play. The Texans had yet to acquire Gareon Conley and Vernon Hargreaves III in Week 6, both of which are now playing the majority of snaps in the secondary. Xavier Crawford and Philip Gaines played a majority of the game in the first meeting and they are no longer on the active roster for Houston.
- Missed Opportunities – The Texans dropped at least one interception and let another one slip through their fingers for a Tyreek Hill touchdown. That alone would crush a team, but they also lost a fumble and dropped 4 possible touchdown passes in a narrow victory on the road. Houston also missed 2 field goals and an extra point. Since his early season struggles (and don’t want to jinx him), Texans kicker Ka’imi Fairbairn has righted the ship and not missed a field goal or extra point attempt since week 9. He has made 17 extra points and 9 field goals in that span.
Additional Notable Considerations:
- After Matt Moore took over at QB once Mahomes dislocated his knee, the Chiefs offense shifted to one that went under center more often. When Mahomes returned, Andy Reid continued to deploy a more balanced look on offense. Instead of leaving Mahomes on an island in shotgun looks, bringing him under center and running more play-action out of those formations has helped to keep opposing defenses honest.
- Kansas City pass offense ranks 5th in yards per game, tied for 5th in touchdowns and rank 5th in rating with the 3rd fewest sacks allowed.
- The Houston defense versus the pass ranks 29th in yards per game and 31st in 3rd down conversion rate; meanwhile Kansas City ranks 1st in 3rd down offense.
- Kansas City rush defense allows 4.9 yards per carry (28th) and 128.2 yards per game (26th)/over their last 4 losses they average 178.7 yards per game.
- Houston ranks 9th in yards per game at 125.6 and 10th in yards per carry at 4.6
- The Las Vegas line has Houston as heavy underdogs at 9.5 with a 51 point implied total, but a healthy Will Fuller might close the gap. In games that Fuller plays from start to finish the Texans are 7-2, and Watson’s passing metrics improve substantially.
- Nuk Hopkins has been lining up in the slot at 50% rate lately. The team made a second half adjustment and moved Hopkins outside against the Bills where he was able to make all of his damage. The Chiefs Kendall Fuller allows an 80% catch rate from the slot. Hopkins has a 69.3% catch rate on the season.
- Will Fuller has missed the Texans last two contests with a groin injury. He is listed as a game time decision. The Texans are 7-2 in games where Fuller plays in its entirety and Watson’s career splits with Fuller on the field are significant.
- Chiefs rookie safety Juan Thornhill was placed on season ending IR with a torn ACL. He was second on the team in interceptions with 3. Thornhill was allowing just a 56% completion rate and a 69.9 rating to quarterbacks throwing in his direction. With Fuller possibly in, and Thornhill out, the Texans could expose the Chiefs very strong pass defense.
- The Chiefs secondary takes another hit as cornerback Morris Claiborne will not be expected to play as he missed the entire week of practice.
- Chris Jones tweaked his calf at practice this week and his status is uncertain, he is in jeopardy of missing another game versus the Texans this season.
- Travis Kelce has popped up on the injury report with a knee bruise and is listed as questionable. He wasn’t a huge factor in the first meeting, due partially to play of Tashaun Gipson of the Texans. Gipson was placed on season ending IR a few weeks ago to make room for the returning J.J. Watt. Rookie defensive back Lonnie Johnson will most likely be tasked with covering Kelce on Sunday.
Houston @ Kansas City Divisional Playoff is set for 3:05 ET on Sunday 1/12/2020
Much has changed since nearly 13 weeks ago. The Chiefs had a week off to rest and get healthy while the Texans are trying to draw momentum from Deshaun Watson’s 6th come from behind victory last week in overtime. A few things that will remain the same are that fans and players alike will undoubtedly have their eyeballs glued to the two superstar quarterbacks, who are ironically, the catalysts for change in a new era of football.