Four Downs: Chiefs 34, Texans 20

Another bold first quarter in Kansas City was dashed under an avalanche of Chiefs points as the Texans jumped out to a quick 7-0 lead on the David Johnson rejuvenation machine. The problem was that they forgot to turn it off, and new playcaller Tim Kelly called the game like Johnson was on his fantasy team. They featured David Johnson heavily on all downs, and Duke Johnson’s injury (a knee that O’Brien wouldn’t say much about in the post-game report) shelved a lot of the creative two-back stuff the team had planned.

Unfortunately because we’ve had no build up, this game was a little like taking a drink from a fire hose. Or trying to defend against Patrick Mahomes. We have a lot to cover because there was almost nothing to cover in the build-up. I’m typing this right now because there are going to be players that splashed here or there that aren’t going to get mentioned. I’m sorry. There’s a lot to deal with here!

This was a disappointing game for me on a few levels that we’ll get to, some surprising, some mostly unsurprising at this point. I never thought the Texans were going to win this game, but I did think they had a little bit more than they showed. Ultimately, what I’m saying is that we have to start with the head coach and general manager again, because his fingerprints were heavy on this one:

1. Bill O’Brien’s situational awareness was in midseason form.

There were about 3-4 separate things you could complain about with O’Brien here, but the main flashpoint was not going for it on fourth-and-4 at the 50-yard line in a tie game in the second quarter. O’Brien would reveal in his presser that he was not necessarily aware of the length of that fourth down:

It is, well, it’s about what we’ve come to expect with O’Brien. He ran the hell out of the ball in this one. Down 14-7, with 2:26 to play in the half, they started with a RPO to Darren Fells and two running plays. With 1:26 left, they could grab only enough yards to set up a long field goal, which Kai’mi Fairbairn shanked to the right.

On their initial possession of the third quarter, the Texans ran on five of eight plays, gained 27 yards, punted, and got the ball back with 1:12 left in the third quarter. They somehow ran the clock out on their own chance to win the game.

There’s a lack of urgency that seems tantamount to whatever O’Brien is and does that … well, I’d call it something that needs to be corrected. But let’s be honest: It won’t be. This is who he is. As he said about David Johnson’s contract, it is what it is. The head coach does not believe, as a general rule, that the team should ever play fast. That’s a problem! Not one that a team can’t overcome, but a pretty big one!

2) Deshaun and the disappearing deep ball

Remember the line that all those speedy receivers would help open up things for the Texans? Well, about that…

The offense got off to a great start by almost running more screens for their backs than they had all of last year. But it was mostly about a power run game making big in-roads and some great vision from David Johnson on his early carries:

While Johnson was a bright spot and showed a lot more burst than I personally expected him to have, that was about it for the offense in this one. Some easy drops by Will Fuller and Kenny Stills, and the new guys were complete non-factors. Brandin Cooks had two catches for 20 yards on five targets, and Randall Cobb had two catches for 23 yards — both in garbage time. I don’t think anyone expected the timing to be gangbusters in Week 1, but that was pretty disappointing.

Moreover, it didn’t seem like the Texans really had much in the way of deep balls all game. Watson talked about it at the podium:

Watson was sacked four times and hit in motion by Tyrann Mathieu during his one interception. I don’t have a good hurries source immediately post game but he was hit seven times in 36 dropbacks. This is a team where every member of the offensive line either cost a first- or second-round pick, was signed as a premium free agent, or was given a humongous extension. Against a team that, despite a good finish, was projected as an average defense this year. That is inexcusable.

I’m not going to linger on the lack of DeAndre Hopkins stuff much but it turns out that grabbing four fast receivers together doesn’t mean you just dominate the entire vertical passing game, huh? Who’da thunk?

3) Whither D.J. Reader?

I raised the suspicion in my preview that the Texans would have trouble dealing with the run games without D.J. Reader this season. That turned out to be spot on. With the Texans mostly playing two-deep and giving a lot of extra attention to Tyreek Hill, the Chiefs ran all over them.

Clyde Edwards-Helaire glided past Benardrick McKinney and Justin Reid on the touchdown that turned the game into a 21-7 laugher. Houston had problems at the point of attack all game, and mostly wound up using Charles Omenihu as a third defensive end. As much weight as he gained this offseason, run downs are a new role for him and I’m not completely surprised.

Schematically? I don’t think it was all bad for the Texans. I think there were multiple times where a secondary player was able to scheme their way past a pick and that communication was an upgrade on last year. The tackling was lackluster, but you kind of expect that against this team and with this little of a preseason.

The Chiefs are … well, they’re the Chiefs. They were always going to pants Houston’s pass defense. It’s just not good enough. Bradley Roby’s touchdown allowed to Tyreek Hill was all Hill’s speed. The screens work against every team in the NFL. I think the Texans did a good job of dealing with the dink-and-dunk game plan. I don’t think that Mahomes is ever going to make the mistakes to make that strategy work unless the Houston offense is also pushing the pedal to the floor.

Hey, you know what’s great? Taking this run defense to host Baltimore next week.

4) Playing time thoughts

The lone sack of Patrick Mahomes came from Jacob Martin, beating Mitchell Schwartz on the outside:

The Texans went on to play Martin … 17 snaps. The entire game. Let me point out that per NFL Next Gen Stats, Whitney Mercilus got one pressure the entire game and got pressure on … 3.7% of his snaps. The Texans can love Mercilus the person. I love Mercilus the person. The Texans paid him a ton of money and he’s not as good of a pass rusher as Jacob Martin is. That’s a pretty sad fact! And the contract is going to get Mercilus the lion’s share of the playing time unless they figure out a more-defined role for Martin. That would be priority No. 1 for me if I were defensive coordinator.

Lonnie Johnson played one snap the entire first half, and his role was mostly usurped by fourth-round rookie John Reid. Tough scene for footwork king offszn fiends. I think Johnson is one of the best corners the Texans have in terms of physicality but if they were playing to keep the ball in front of them I can squint and kind of see this as a play to stay disciplined? I don’t think Johnson fans are going to be happy with that one. But … that’s the best I got for you. Reid played 31 snaps, Johnson played 29, and Hargreaves played 43. A.J. Moore played a lot, and Justin Reid also played some man coverage including on the near-touchdown to Damarcus Robinson that he broke up.

The Texans wideouts mostly wound up as a true platoon, although Cooks being limited probably influenced that a bit:

Bless Bill O’Brien’s heart, always finding a way to reward DeAndre Carter.

As I said on Twitter, I don’t believe if you picked the Texans to make the playoffs this season, that this game should hold an inordinate amount of sway on you. This is who O’Brien is. He gets pantsed often by the NFL’s best. It so happens that a lot of the NFL’s best are lined up against him in the first four weeks. So, you know, maybe a little urgency for once, Bill?

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