Four Downs: Houston 31, Kansas City 24

I like to pat myself on the back sometimes, and I’m now 5-1 at picking Texans games this year after picking this exact score, but in favor of Kansas City, in my preview post.

I don’t know if there’s a better way to describe this win besides: franchise-altering. The Texans don’t win games like this under Bill O’Brien. Well, they didn’t. Yes, the Chiefs are banged up a bit on the offensive line and defensive front seven. But they had a semi-healthy Patrick Mahomes, a healthy Tyreek Hill, and a healthy Travis Kelce. This is the biggest win of the O’Brien era.

And it came in spite of a lot going against the Texans. Injuries to Tytus Howard and Bradley Roby. Losing the turnover battle. Going down 10-0 in the first two offensive drives of the game. A drop-fest from Will Fuller. Four lost points to Ka’imi Fairbairn’s mojo.

Franchise-altering. And I think we need to start with how O’Brien made this game work:

1 — Going for it

The Texans went for it on fourth down on three separate occasions.

— Fourth-and-1 on the Kansas City 24, down 8 with 4:46 to play in the first half. The Texans converted and eventually got a touchdown.
— Fourth-and-1 on the Kansas City 40, down 1. The play was eventually an interception because it looked like two receivers ran the same route, but it was a ballsy playcall.
— Fourth-and-3 on the Kansas City 27 to put the Chiefs away after the two-minute warning.

I’ve been critical of O’Brien in a lot of areas this year, but one thing he’s earned consistent praise from me for is his fourth-down playcalling. The Texans didn’t punt the entire game. They did not piss away any points on purpose. This was playcalling to win the game. You’ve simply got to give that applause, particularly when stacked up next to Andy Reid’s last drive where he got the Chiefs into a terrible position.

2 — The short passing game is humming for the second straight week.

Deshaun Watson has not been sacked since Week 4.

When you take what Watson does well, make sure that his short reads are always going to work better for him, and then craft a really well-founded run game around him, what you’ve done is erase most of the negative plays that defined this team for the last 20 games.

Most of the deep shots that the Texans took on Kansas City’s secondary wound up not working out. Will Fuller had three touchdowns on his body that went incomplete. Another throw to Hopkins deep was basically a throwaway. Watson completed just two passes over 10 yards on nine attempts, garnering 43 yards and both of his picks. In fact, Watson’s average completion came just 3.2 yards past the line of scrimmage. That’s a practically Bridgewater-ian rate.

It didn’t matter. Houston’s build up of depth at the skill positions carried the day. Tackles were missed left and right, and Duke Johnson, Jordan Akins, and Darren Fells all had huge catches left open underneath.

This was not the sexiest Deshaun Watson game, though it could have looked that way if Fuller catches all three of those balls. All it was? A wildly effective one. Particularly considering that the Chiefs had put up a negative DVOA against short passes and ranked as the fifth-best unit against those passes coming into the game.

3 — The development of the run game

Carlos Hyde ran between the tackles 17 times, garnering 84 yards and a touchdown.

Hyde has been a revelation, as we’ve talked about before, but what was extremely impressive about this game is all the little wrinkles that O’Brien and the staff added to these run plays. They went RPO at times. The tight end dragged across at times. And, oh by the way, Watson is so good that he doesn’t need a lot of help. Two rushing touchdowns from him, each on plays where the Chiefs read the play right but couldn’t bear down on Watson.

It was easy to see how the Colts were able to drive the Chiefs off the field in the second half to take the lead — Kansas City simply couldn’t stop the run. The Texans rolled into Arrowhead and did the exact same thing, putting down 192 rushing yards and showing a ton of window dressing between Keke Coutee and the tight ends.

The Texans held the ball for nearly 2/3rds of the game. 39:48. The Chiefs had only three second-half drives.

It was a pre-game nugget that O’Brien was pumping a lot of Rocky music this week, playing up the role of the underdog. This is right out of the underdog playbook and it worked to perfection.

4 — The defense … it existed

OK, that’s a little unfair in the second half. But seriously, I don’t think the Chiefs had much of a problem moving the ball. Mahomes was rarely hurried and had just one sack and one quarterback hit. But what they did do is get the ball on the ground at the most opportune time:

Charles Omenihu’s strip sack got the Texans the ball on the goal line right when it looked like they were about to be trailing going into the half. That was a huge emotional boost for the team. They got some help from the referees in the second half, when they didn’t rule an incomplete pass to Travis Kelce as defensive pass interference. Then they got some help from Reid with a two-play sequence where he ran a screen Houston sniffed out so easily that two defensive linemen were waiting for the running back:

Reid followed that up by running on second-and-14, forcing a third-and-long. Mahomes didn’t convert, and the Chiefs never got the ball back.

Small sample size extreme shifts bailed the Texans out on this one — they did not look like they had a prayer of stopping the Chiefs for most of the game. It will be an area that will continue to force the team to play like this against top quarterbacks. I, personally, am not sold that Houston’s defense will be able to get a stop when it matters without outside help. If Bradley Roby is out for any long-term period of time, that concern only grows.

But it is worth noting the shift towards blitzing and man-to-man that Romeo Crennel has had to go with this year without a lot of talent at cornerback. It’s almost like he’s being dragged into playing a more aggressive defense that, ironically, is a better fit for the current state of the NFL. Johnson showed some flashes in this game of getting it. That’s about the upside of it all at this point.

4-2, heading into Indianapolis to play a team coming off a bye that has a power run game of its own. This is going to be an interesting spot for the defense.

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