Well, here we are after another rousing week on the hype train. The Texans took out another team with a good quarterback that appears to be going nowhere, and have run into AFC Royalty at perhaps the best possible time.
Patrick Mahomes is nursing an ankle injury. Sammy Watkins has not practiced this week. (As of Thursday night when I write this.) Chris Jones has not practiced this week. Eric Fisher has not practiced this week. Starting guard Andrew Wylie has not practiced this week. Tyreek Hill has been limited, but appears to be trending towards playing.
The initials odds on this game were the Chiefs by 8.5, but that has been bet down heavily again, to the points where Kansas City is only four-point favorites, in that weird Vegas zone where all Texans games seem to appear in.
There’s a lot of recent history between these teams. Watson’s second career loss game to the Chiefs on Sunday Night Football, where he had a furious rally to get the team within eight. They played in 2016 and kicked off the first oar of hope in the failed Brock Osweiler Era. They played twice in 2015 and met in the playoffs that year, where Brian Hoyer was pantsed and the Texans did not score. I never said it was great history for the Texans.
If Houston were to win this game, even with the injuries, it would be an enormous leap for the theory that this Atlanta game was an actual liftoff point. Let’s feast on the details:
When the Texans have the ball
The Chiefs went on a huge spending spree this offseason, and that spending spree has turned around … not much. They’re a bit better as a pass defense, but even with Derrick Nnadi anchoring well up front, they have almost no run defense. The Colts steamrolled them for 180 yards. All of the last three teams they’ve played have been able to get at least 180 rushing yards. Of the teams that didn’t, the Jaguars were in a negative game script almost at the very offset of the game, and the Raiders got merely 129 yards.
It is very easy for me to imagine the Texans riding the 12-personnel that worked so well last week against this team. Linebacker Anthony Hitchens is on the injury report and hasn’t been all that good when healthy. There simply isn’t much healthy depth, with UDFA Ben Neimann playing snaps last week. Making them go big is only going to expose more depth without real experience. The Chiefs have just one sack against 12 personnel this year.
In the passing game, the Chiefs have shadowed with Bashaud Breeland at times against true No. 1 threats, and I’d wager they’re likely to do that against DeAndre Hopkins as well. When shadowing Tyrell Williams and T.Y. Hilton, Breeland allowed just 44 receiving yards on five targets. (Source: PFF.) I’m not sure the Chiefs will be willing to double Hopkins as much as Atlanta was, but I don’t think it’s out of the question. I’m sorry, fantasy football owners, I’m right there struggling with you.
The most disappointing player for Kansas City so far is probably Frank Clark, who has just one sack and five pressures (Source: SIS) through five starts with his new team. He’s getting out-produced by buy-low ex-Browns second-rounder Emmanuel Ogbah. The Chiefs are getting pressure on just 23.0% of their passing downs as a defense, one of the four lowest rates in the game. I expect they’ll probably play a pretty aggressive game plan with Deshaun Watson and bring plenty of run blitzes as well to try to score some negative plays. Houston’s offensive line has played moderately well the last few weeks, but this is a loud environment and I don’t think they will be played quite as straight-up as they were in Atlanta. In other words: I expect Watson will actually get hit in this game.
The big strength of Kansas City’s defense is actually short passes — they’ve allowed negative DVOA on all directions of short passes this year, and are fifth in DVOA against short passes. Do not expect the passive Falcons defense you watched last week to bully their way into this game. The Texans will make plenty of plays, but they won’t be quite that easy.
Tyrann Mathieu will be a big factor in this game. 8.4 targets per game go to tight ends against Kansas City, the fourth-highest total in the NFL. Last year saw the Texans watch Mathieu get picked on by bigger tight ends. Darren Fells has a good eight inches on Mathieu, and Jordan Akins isn’t much worse at 6-foot-4. It’s not at all inconceivable that this game will come down to a test of Mathieu’s man coverage ability against taller targets.
When the Chiefs have the ball
I can think of no greater compliment to Patrick Mahomes than to note that with his offense down to Travis Kelce and a pile of nobody receivers, and his offensive line down to two regular starters from last season, he just casually threw for 320 yards and a touchdown, turnover-free.
A lot about this week is going to depend on whether Tyreek Hill, who has been limited in two practices this week, actually plays. He’s probably a game-time decision, but I am writing this as if I expect him to play.
If Hill does play, this above chart is a little less relevant. Hill’s speed is something that forces safeties to play him honestly, and forces zone coverage on to the field. Even just on posts or corners, safeties can’t be counted on to keep up with the play speed that Hill demonstrates.
The Texans run a lot of zone, of course, but showed a little bit more man than they have in a while last week against the Falcons. I think they’re likely to change it up.
The big mismatch the Texans have going for them here is the defensive line versus a banged up Kansas City unit. J.J. Watt is coming off his best week in a while, but will primarily be up against Mitchell Schwartz, who is one of the best right tackles in the NFL. Right guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardiff has had somewhat of a down season, but shouldn’t be too overmatched by Watt inside either. Where blood can be found is with D.J. Reader inside and Whitney Mercilus outside. Reader will be up against center Austin Reiter, a first-year starter who has been far from dominant, and Wylie’s replacement, possibly Stefen Wisniewski? It could also be Martinas Rankin! Memories!
Anyway, Cam Erving plays outside and here’s how he did against a blitzing cornerback last week:
So, probably good things for Whitney Mercilus’ hurry numbers this week.
Now I can tell you all these things, and I can tell you that the Chiefs haven’t had much of a run game, and I can tell you the non-Kelce/Hill receivers shouldn’t scare you. But they are going to move the ball, and they are going to score points. Andy Reid’s offense scored 42 on the Texans the last time they played, and that was when he had the limited Alex Smith.
The Texans have talked all week about how much respect they have for Mahomes. Mahomes is the only quarterback who I think can do the things that Deshaun Watson can do and more. He is banged up, yes, but he’s also still phenomenal. The Texans can play great defense and still give up 28 here.
The Chiefs have been gashed in coverage so far, giving up 192 yards in kickoff returns and racking up 18 different special teams penalties for 173 yards. This is not how the Chiefs usually play.
The Texans have also continued to tank on behalf of their struggling kicker, Kai Faibairn, who has missed an extra point or field goal in three consecutive weeks since holder Trevor Daniel was let go.
I can definitely see a way that the Texans win this game, and I think it’s on the ground, taking advantage of everything they can do against this Chiefs front seven. I know everyone is excited about last week. The Texans have shown us this kind of offensive performance before under O’Brien and went right back to normal the next week. If the Texans turn in another dominant offensive performance, I am all about it. I will not be the one betting on it to happen in Arrowhead.
Mahomes is not human. Houston’s defense will get pressures but not anywhere near the same amount of sacks the Colts had last week.
This is a game I put in pen as a loss for the Texans when the schedule came out. It feels like everything based on “momentum” rolls that in to question. But I think a logical look at the actors involved leaves us thinking that this game is closer, but still leaves Houston unsatisfied. Give me Kansas City 31, Houston 24. If Hill and Watkins both sit, I would probably take that total down four points for Kansas City, but not change my overall prediction.
Enjoy this game. It has two of the best young quarterbacks in the NFL. It’s going to be a hell of a ride.