Does Houston Have the Ability to Slow Down the Chiefs?

The NFL season is finally here! And it kicks off with the defending champion Chiefs taking on the Texans, who they eliminated last season in the AFC Divisional Round.

In that game, Kansas City erased a 24-point lead in the 2nd quarter and finished the day with 51 points. This wasn’t the only game in 2019 where Houston’s defense struggled. They were bad all season, with their inability to get a pass rush having a trickle-down effect. The Texans finished 31st in the NFL in pressure % and 26th in sacks (Largely because J.J. Watt missed 8 games due to injury). They couldn’t defend the pass (29th in passing yards allowed) and couldn’t get off the field, finishing with the second-worst 3rd-down defense in the NFL. It’s no wonder they couldn’t stop the Patrick Mahomes/Andy Reid combination.

The rough 2019 led to Defensive Coordinator Romeo Crennel being replaced by Anthony Weaver, who is expected to be more exotic with his schemes this year. Regardless of scheme, it goes without saying that Houston needs to execute better than they did last January.

In that game, the Texans tried some things you might see on Thursday night. They played a ton of man coverage and aimed to take away Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce by accounting for both with 2 defenders at times, as you can see on the below play.

Screen Shot Courtesy of Gamepass

It didn’t work on this particular play because the help defender in the middle allowed Kelce to run by him. What’s the point of being the help inside if you don’t actually take away the inside?

Screen Shot Courtesy of Gamepass

We saw this multiple times in the Divisional Round, and it’s a mental lapse that can’t happen against the Chiefs’ passing attack.

Even when the Texans tried to disguise coverage and drop into zone at the last moment, something we should see often from Weaver’s defense, Mahomes was still able to handle it with ease.

On the below play, the Texans showed a single-high look before rotating to Tampa-2 at the snap. Mahomes wasn’t phased, and the result was a 48-yard catch and run for Sammy Watkins.

The cornerback at the top of the screen, Gareon Conley, could have done a better job of carrying Watkins, but he probably wasn’t expecting a throw backside/late vs. Tampa-2. Spacing was also created by Mahomes looking off/holding the safety to that side. There’s a reason Mahomes is the best quarterback in the NFL.

What also made both of these big plays possible? The lack of a consistent pass rush. Mahomes wasn’t touched all day in the Divisional Round. If Houston can’t find ways to get to him, they’ll likely see a similar result on Thursday. The good news for the Texans is that J.J. Watt will be healthy and in the lineup.

On the other side of the ball, the Texans have somewhat of a new look on offense after DeAndre Hopkins was traded to Arizona. Deshaun Watson’s new trio of receivers, Will Fuller, Randall Cobb, and Brandin Cooks, can be very effective if they can stay on the field. But their health is already in question (and we haven’t played a game yet). Does the trade for David Johnson signal a desire to establish the running game more and help protect Deshaun Watson? We’ll see on Thursday. The Texans had a lot of success running the ball in their first meeting against KC in 2019. The Chiefs Defense improved drastically by the time they met in the playoffs, though. And we expect them to be even better in year 2 under Steve Spagnuolo.

Our prediction: The Chiefs win by two scores.

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