The Texans travel to a familiar foe Sunday with a chance to reach their inaugural AFC Championship game. The Kansas City Chiefs – an opponent defeated 31-24 in week 6 – stand in the way of a Championship berth against the the victors of the Saturday game where Tennessee travel to Baltimore. A Texans win in the Sunday’s 2:05CT/8:05pm BST K.O. would show progress for the franchise but would it be enough the deem the season successful?
When considering the landscape of the moves made by Bill O’Brien and the remainder of the front office committee, where would the end point for the 2019 season be, if a championship is out of reach. Then where does the teams endeavours end, if they are to be considered a relative success?
The Texans lack of consistency hasn’t warranted them being in the conversation of the elite teams. It would appear their biggest task is to live up to their abilities. Although, their most accomplished performances this season have been against the supposed top-tier ball clubs on their schedule. Based on that lens, it wouldn’t be a far fetched notion that you could be more comfortable with the best version of Deshaun Watson emerging out the tunnel in Missouri. As that version has shown already this season they have what it takes, to beat anyone on their day.
The Chiefs Are Healthy Favourites
Are the Chiefs a much changed side from week 6? As thats been the clear rhetoric that the national media and bookmakers have peddled this week. As Kansas City are resounding favourites, not uncommon for a home, but it also reflects the their form prior to the wildcard bye week. In terms of the KC defensive efficiency this would be correct, only giving up an average 11.5 points in their final 6 wins. But when considering the only defeated one play-off team in that stretch and that was against the fading Patriots.
The truth is the KC defensive ranks have remained un-tested for some time. As their previous game against a play-off calibre team was a road loss, at Tennessee, in the week 10 shoot-out. Subsequently the Chiefs have placed Juan Thornhill on IR after a stellar rookie season at the safety spot, who shone bright in a no-name secondary for most of the year.
The wildcard bye week certainly favoured Kansas City, as only two players are listed as questionable, however those are defensive star Chris Jones and game wrecking Tight End Travis Kelce. Both would be expected to suit up and contribute, based on the magnitude of the game.
In contrast the Texans have no less than seven players listed as questionable. Perhaps the biggest concern would Darren Fells, players who appeared late in the week with a hip complaint and may struggle to be healthy for Sunday. This within the climate of Jordon Atkins hamstring – who missed the Bills game last week – would then leave Jordon Thomas as the sole Tight End who’s failed to contribute since coming back from IR. The Texans plans at Safety are also a concern also with Justin Reid being the only healthy player at that spot. So the Texans poor form which saw them miss out on the top two seeds may well come back to haunt them Sunday, as KC will be the far fresher side.
Snow, Wind & Rain – Run the Ball Again
The weather has to be a factor of concern for Houston who play the majority fo their games in controlled environments. Reports indicate that 6-inches of snow could fall the day prior to the game as well as reports of adverse weather could impact by the time the second half rolls around. But this will mostly impact the kicking unit which have been a source of strength for Houston, Fairburn will want to rectify the missed PAT and field-goal from week 6 but will have to do so against the elements.
The weather shouldn’t drastically impact the offensive game plan, as just in week 6, keeping Mahommes off the field will be key. Houston had almost double the time of possession in that win and it will required once more. The Texans will need to find dependability in ground game to bleed the clock. Not that anything would feasibly expect O’Brien to move away from predictability of running the ball on first and second down. But the execution of the blocking and assignments will need to be there.
Getting the blend correct between the power of Hyde and the zone cutting ability of Duke Johnson will be important. The pair combined for a 150 yards in the previous tie, but the Texans will need to contend with Chris Jones, who will likely be one of the top free agents, commanding interest across the league, come March.
If the TE group are limited, which was a week-6 source of 9 catches for 108 yards, Jordon Thomas will need to wake up in a hurry for this team. Whilst Duke Johnson, continues to be underserved versus his ability shown when he gets the ball in his hands. The former Miami U. man has shown, either through the air or the ground is irrelevant, he will contribute – games like this and the ability of the Chiefs linebackers are made for Duke to steal the show – Feed the Duke and he will score. After making the game-saving 3rd and 16 play last week in overtime, if there was ever a timely reminder to get him the ball, then that was it.
Watson has to be ready
A slow start will simply kill this teams hopes of advancing. Will Fuller looks like he will be available in some capacity, but his groin/hamstring will not be at full strength. Watson will have to put this team on his back for 60 minutes and drive the ball consistently, by whatever means necessary.
If Watson is seeing the field and releasing the ball on time, then this team will be in the game. Holding the ball and trying to make too much happen, forcing the issue, then leads to stalled drives. The offence must avoid the unnecessary sacks and getting behind the chains to reduced the chance for Chiefs DC, Steve Spagnola, dialling up the extra pressure from the second level – a challenge Watson has continued struggle when the defence has the upper hand in obvious passing downs.
The ability to go up-tempo and extend long drives will be vital for the offence, keeping the KC pass rush on their heels, rolling out and moving the pocket against a slow linebacker group is recipe for success. Having the power-three wideouts on the field, will yield open receivers. Kenny Still will always be a tertiary defensive-back match up, for moving the chains. The Texans can’t be afraid to go to Nuk Hopkins if he’s isn’t double covered, as there isn’t a corner on the KC roster who can match up with him. On time and sharp passing as displayed in the second half against buffalo will set this team up for success.
If the Chiefs attempt to stack the box then the return of Fuller will be well timed. He will want some of his drops from week-6 back and matching him up against the departed Ty Mathieu will lead to yards and points.
Man on Man, Screens & Pick Plays
Mahommes and scrambling Wide Receivers allows the Chiefs to make off-script plays. The Texans front will need to be alive, keeping contain and they must improve the tackling from last week, 19 missed tackles will lose you the game against the current reigning MVP’s offence.
The pass rush came alive last week and to Romeo’s credit and of course a nod to the return of JJ Watt. The looks and additional blitzes were a big factor leading to the Texans getting back into the wild card game. Mixing up the personnel and formations to disguise pressures is RAC’s speciality, so 40 years of coaching experience will be needed to help guide this defence to contain Mahommes. Doing just enough and playing disciplined football to hand the ball back to the offence to keep them in the game will need to be the mantra – who haven’t had their share of interceptions fall their way so far and no there better time for it to start, than Sunday.
The defence will need to be on constant alert for the pick plays and screens. These are two staples of the Andy Reid offence, the Texans have to be conscious they are go-to-plays and often help the Mahommes and Co. spring a lead or setting up a scoring positions.
Selling out to double-cover Tyreek Hill and matching Lonnie Johnson up with Travis Kelce, once more, will be big for the defence. Can they achieve this whilst remaining stout on all three levels? The soft coverage looks deployed have lead to much criticism this season and the secondary had evolved but showed last week, it is still a work in progress.
The receiving weapons of the Chiefs will be the biggest test for Conley, Roby and Hargreaves who will also have the perspicuous presence of Johnathan Jospeh, to help steer through the challenges of their vertical attack. Roby has the ability to hang with Hill one on one, being able to do on certain downs so Williams and the ground attack isn’t the leading cause of the KC drives. The role of Justin Reid cannot be understated in helping cover and directing traffic on the back end so the assignments are tied up pre-snap. Giving up cheap scores won’t help this team win as KC will get their share of hard earned once also.
A Chance to step into new heights
If Deshaun and the offence come out of the blocks ready form drive one, theres a chance. If the defence can do enough and force themselves off the field at key times, theres a chance. The weather, health, form and widely held expectation are in favour of Kansas City. But when you have Number 4 in the mood – “someone has the chance to be great – so why not me?”. Say no more.
HOUSTON TEXANS @ KASAS CITY CHEIFS
Sunday 12 January 2020 – 2.05pm Central
Arrowhead Stadium – Kansas City, Missouri
CBS – Jim Nantz , Tony Romo