Week 6 Preview: Chiefs Look To Rebound vs. Explosive Texans Team
The Madden Curse hasn't completely afflicted Patrick Mahomes yet, but the injury bug continues biting the Chiefs hard. Starting left tackle Eric Fisher (groin), defensive tackle Chris Jones (groin) and backup linebacker Dorian O’Daniel (hamstring) are all out this game, while receiver Sammy Watkins (hamstring) and starting left guard Andrew Wylie (ankle) are doubtful. Game-breaking receiver Tyreek Hill (shoulder) is listed as questionable and a game-time decision. Middle linebacker Anthony Hitchens left last week with a groin injury and was limited in practice all week, so that could affect his play on the field this week, as could the left ankle of Mahomes ankle.
The Texans will be without backup center Greg Mancz (concussion). Starting corner Johnathan Joseph (wrist/hip), backup running back Taiwan Jones (hip) and backup receiver Kenny Stills (hamstring) are all questionable this week after practicing in some capacity all week, but Still could miss his second-straight game.
Houston stays in 11 and 12 personnel a majority of the time, occasionally mixing in 21 personnel. The Texans have a zone-heavy run scheme centered around a guy somewhat familiar to Kansas City fans, Carlos Hyde. They added some zone-read and option looks off of the zone-based scheme. The offensive line is good about getting in the way to get blocks, but they aren’t really road pavers that push the line of scrimmage forward. Hyde does a decent job at finding a hole and running through it, using his strength to fight through tackles and push ahead for a few extra yards. Duke Johnson works as a change of pace, pass-catching running back, but has more explosion than Hyde to burst through holes for chunk plays.
In the passing game, the Texans have two main dynamic receivers in DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller that they target a majority of the time. Hopkins catches almost everything in a wide radius, and his elite body control allows him to adjust to the ball and balance through contact. Fuller makes a living stretching the field with his speed and outrunning pursuit angles once the ball is in his hands. Tight ends Darren Fells and Jordan Akins featured more in the red zone as mismatch weapons. Backup receivers Keke Coutee and Stills also have a knack for the explosive play. Deshaun Watson is a mobile quarterback who prefers to use his arm instead of his legs. He keeps his eyes downfield when faced with pressure, but looks to break contain and extend the play for his receivers to get open. He is accurate with the ball and trusts his arm to make any throw.
Stopping The Offense
The Chiefs must immediately recognize the tendencies, formations and alignment that tip off plays. Hyde’s alignment when Watson is in shotgun often tell the defense whether the play is a run or pass. When the running back lines up 1 to 2 yards deeper than the quarterbacks, it’s a run. If he is even or in front of Watson, the tendency leans toward pass. Johnson is a little tougher to read because he doesn’t line up as deep on runs, but the alignment run/pass reads are the same with him. When the Texans line up in Ace formation expect a split zone run opposite of where the running back is lined up. From the Deuce formation, with a wing to the tight end side and Watson in gun, the Chiefs can look for zone blocking with the right tackle pulling to serve as a lead blocker. Empty formations are generally a quick pass with receivers running hitches, outs and screens, although they did hit the tight end on a seam route as a tendency breaker.
Getting lined up quickly and correctly is important in this game. The Texans will run up tempo at times, and don’t wait for the defense to get set to snap the ball, which compromises the defensive scheme. If not enough defenders get on the perimeter pre-snap to cover all of the receivers, Watson will throw a quick screen to the edge, taking advantage of the numbers advantage.
With Houston’s zone-heavy run game, it’s crucial for the defensive line to eat up blocks and let the linebackers run free. The defensive line needs to create double teams try to split them and make the tackle on the ball carrier if one of the offensive linemen tries to release to the second level. If no double team, the big boys have to get skinny and slide through the zone blocks. They have to do the dirty work to clear the way for the linebackers to find their run fit, plug the gaps and make the tackles. The secondary’s main focus in the run game is to make open field tackles, or at least wrap up and hang on until help arrives.
Rushing the passer is tricky against the Texans. Watson has the ability to hurt teams with his legs, so the Chiefs have to create a wall around him and squeeze in around him. They can’t let him break containment because that opens up bigger plays for his receivers. The left side of the offensive line is pretty solid and good at picking up twists. Kansas City can attack the right side of the line with guard Zach Fulton and rookie right tackle Tytus Howard.
The Chiefs' secondary has its hands full this week with this group of pass catchers. Their best chance is to jam the receivers at the line, hand fight them all through their routes and try to sneak in slight holds at the tops of routes to frustrate the receivers and disrupt timing. With Hopkins maintaining exceptional balance through contact, the defense must wrap up when making tackles on him. They also must stay aware of Fuller’s speed and not get caught with him streaking past them.
Houston runs a 3-4 defense with cover 2, 3, 4, man-free and 2-man schemes. They do a good job of changing up which secondary player is responsible for which zone, often giving the quarterback a different look. Run twists and stunts, especially on passing downs, tend to slant their defensive line away from any blitzers. They will bring double A-gap pressure. The Texans also will have their outside linebackers and inside linebackers swap spots, then run a cross dog blitz up the middle.
J.J. Watt remains the engine that drives this defense. He plays with tons of energy, power and explosion. His swim move ranks as one of the best in the game. Bernardrick McKinney and Whitney Mercilus are very good linebackers who get involved in most of the tackles. Zach Cunningham is quick to diagnose what goes on in front of him and attack. The secondary really lacks a play maker, although second-year safety Justin Reid comes the closest they have to a standout player.
Beating The Defense
The front seven doesn’t have a lot of holes to exploit in the run game. Zone runs away from blitzers should see good cut back lanes open up. Other than that, misdirection runs or quick hitters on the edge are the Chiefs’ best bet.
In the passing game, getting Cam Erving help needs to be priority No. 1. He needs a permanent shadow for the game to keep him from getting overwhelmed. The Texans’ zone pass defense is loose and filled with holes. As long as the pass rush doesn’t get home, Mahomes can carve up the defense anytime they run zone. Bradley Roby and Lonnie Johnson Jr. are the two corners Kansas City should look to attack. Roby gets distracted trying to disrupt routes causing him to abandon his zone. Johnson is just a rookie and a little slow at mentally processing what is going on in front of him. The Chiefs can also throw to the running back on swing passes out of the backfield, and routes in the middle of the field
Matchups To Watch
Watt vs. Erving
Although Watt normal plays as the left defensive end, this matchup is too juicy for the Texans to pass up. Erving struggles with power and needs help with his footwork, making Watt, with his excellent bull rush and elite swim move, a nightmare for Erving.
Hopkins and Fuller vs. Chiefs’ Secondary
Hopkins, with his ability to adjust and catch everything thrown his way, and Fuller, with his game-changing speed, can be a handful for any defense. This week they face a Chiefs’ defense still trying to find its footing under defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo. The secondary must step up its game against these two tremendous receivers and give the banged-up defensive line a chance to get to Watson.
Chiefs’ Backup Receivers vs. Texans’ Secondary
The Texans play loose while in zone coverage, allowing the receivers to make catches underneath. They don’t often get in position to challenge the catch, settling to make the tackle and limit the yards after catch. They are a little better at being in position to contest catches in man coverage, but usually save the man-to-man for when they are blitzing. Without Watkins, and Hill’s situation remaining a giant question mark, the young pups must continue shouldering the load. Byron Pringle, Demarcus Robinson and Mecole Hardman have all had at least one breakout game this season. They need to find a way to duplicate their successes to get the offense humming again.
Mahomes vs. Watson
Mahomes was the No. 10 pick in the 2017 draft, and Watson went two picks later. Both quarterbacks have played unbelievably well in their short time in the league. While they will never be on the field at the same time during the game, their head-to-head matchups will be forever linked to that 2017 draft class, raising questions about who deserved to be picked first. This matchup of quarterbacks has the makings of a Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady type rivalry.
Andy Reid vs. Romeo Crennel
The Texans defensive coordinator, much like Detroit head coach Matt Patricia, is a former defensive coordinator under Bill Belichick in New England. Did Crennel learn anything from Belichick about how to approach an Andy Reid-led offense? Did Patricia’s Lions give Crennel a blueprint for how to attack Mahomes? Can Reid work his magic and get the offense rolling again?
Keys To Victory
The last two weeks saw struggles for the Chiefs. The Lions fought hard with Kansas City before ultimately giving up the lead with 20 seconds left. Then the Colts came to Arrowhead playing a physical game, battering the Chiefs and pulling out a win. Several key Chiefs players went down with injury in that contest, and the whole team left with a bruised ego. Now, down a few major players, Kansas City must dig deep and get back on the right track.
Fix the Run Defense
Run defense is all about passion and players finding their fit in the puzzle. Everybody on the Chiefs’ defense needs to take is personal when teams run on them. They need to swarm to the ball and be on a mission to bring the ball carrier down. The defensive line needs to eat up blocks to free up the linebackers. When Houston’s offensive line tries to chip and then get to the second level, the defensive line has to get off blocks and make the play. Facing a zone running attack this week, it is vital for the linebackers to plug the gaps and not allow Hyde to find running lanes. The secondary has to make tackles in space, or force the ball carrier back towards the help defenders. Take pride in stopping the run and playing stout defense to give the injured offense a chance to regroup.
Keep Watson in the Well
Watson has some wheels on him. He can break contain on the pocket and scramble for big gains. He doesn’t want to run, he prefers to use his arm, but if forced to use his legs to gain yardage he will. The Chiefs have to rush with a focus of creating a barrier to keep Watson in the pocket, and then squeeze the walls in around him, leaving him with no escape. While closing the pocket in around him, Kansas City needs to keep an eye on the ball, as Watson tends to get a little loose with his ball carrying when trying to break initial containment.
Get Erving Some Help
It’s been a few weeks now of Erving being left to block Mahomes blindside on his own, and it hasn’t gone well. Erving is now without the guy that’s been playing next to him since he took over for Fisher with Wylie is doubtful with an ankle injury. Andy Reid has to help Cam out with chip blocks from running backs and tight ends, or he runs the risk of losing his star quarterback with a worse injury than the bum ankle he has had for a few weeks now.
Missed tackles, dropped passes and poor blocking brought the Chiefs back to earth and eliminating their margin for error. Now the team must return to a more physical style of football and establish a tougher identity. That means the focus needs to turn to running the football downhill without all the frills and playing aggressive, hard-hitting, violent (not illegal) defense. The corners need to get a jam at the line of scrimmage and frustrate receivers trying to get a free release. The defense as a whole should look to punish ball carriers and discourage receivers from catching footballs because they know a hard hit is coming their way. This type of play wears down the opponent mentally and physically, giving the Chiefs a chance to exert their will on the other team and not be playing catch up against a motivated opponent at the end.