This week's opponent is a bit harder to figure out than any of the previous five. The Kansas City Chiefs come to Reliant Stadium leading the AFC West with a 3-1 record. It's an impressive start for a team that was expected to be rebuilding this season. With the rest of the division under .500, the Chiefs appear to be the class of the West.
However, I am, as I'm sure most people around here are, still unsure exactly what to make of Kansas City. Their three wins have come over San Diego, Cleveland, and San Francisco, who are a combined 3-12. San Diego is the most-impressive win, but this is a win that came (a) in-division, so we know anything can happen against familiar foes, (b) against a San Diego team that is 0-3 on the road, and (c) in September, where San Diego traditionally struggles. The Chiefs are coming off a tough loss at Indianapolis, where they kept the game surprisingly close. It's less of a surprise when you consider the familiarity Romeo Crennel has with the Indianapolis offense. Even in Cleveland, Crennel knew how to slow ol' #18 down, so that was it, right?
All that said, the question remains: Who are the Kansas City Chiefs? They are good, but how good are they? Are they among the league's best teams or a good team who takes care of business at Arrowhead Stadium and beats the teams they should beat? As is the case for a number of teams on Sunday, Houston and Kansas City could find out where they belong in the NFL's power rankings.
With such a mysterious opponent, and the Texans coming off a whipping in all three phases of the game, the best course of action, to me, is to look at all the match-ups to figure out how the Texans should attack the Chiefs. I do exactly that when you...JUMP.
Match-Up: Texans Offense vs. Chiefs Defense.
Defensive Tale of the Tape: 6th in run defense (80.5 yards per game with 3.2 yards per carry allowed); 25th in pass defense (240 YPG allowed).
Ideal Strategy: Play-action pass to the RBs and TEs early, run later.
The Chiefs 3-4 has been fairly stout against the run. It's a big help when your defensive backs can come in and tackle. This year, Arian Foster has been a strength, but the Texans should use the threat of his run to open up the pass, which will later open up the run when the defense begins to hesitate due to the play-action.
The Chiefs pass defense is 25th, with a rookie free safety manning the deep part of the field. Eric Berry, despite being a fantastic young player, is still in the part of his career where he can be slowed down - especially by a viable play-action pass. Honestly, I'm of the belief that the entire Chiefs defense will be keyed in to stopping that stretch zone play that the Texans love to establish, so why not use it as a decoy when they expect run? Having the threat of Foster, the league's leading rusher, should make the play-action, especially that bootleg pass to the crossing target, effective.
While Matt Schaub will be tempted to target All-Galaxy WR Andre Johnson, the Chiefs have given up 42% of their passing yards to tight ends and running backs. If you're into DVOA stats, the Chiefs are third-best against #1 wide receivers, but rank 15th, 19th, and 26th against non-starting wide receivers, tight ends, and running backs respectively.
Using Foster, David Anderson, Steve Slaton, Owen Daniels, Joel Dreessen, and even Vonta Leach should be a major part of the offensive gameplan. By designing the plan to utilize his backs and tight ends, Schaub should also be able to avoid those throws downfield into triple coverage and re-discover other weapons aside from Johnson and Jacoby Jones (targeted on 40% of Schaub's attempts despite Johnson and Jones missing time in Oakland and New York). Besides, a few quick completions in a row could get the offense back into a rhythm.
Match-Up: Texans Defense vs. Chiefs Offense.
Offensive Tale of the Tape: 3rd in run offense (148.8 YPG); 27th in pass offense (158 YPG).
Ideal Strategy: Maintain gap discipline and back-side contain, force Matt Cassel to beat you, and man-up on and challenge Chris Chambers, Dwayne Bowe, and Tony Moeaki.
It's another strength-on-strength match-up with the duo of Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones facing the league's fifth-best run defense (79.6 YPG with 3.6 YPC allowed). Like New York did to Houston last week, the Texans need to strangle the run game since it is easily the best part of the Kansas City offense. The defensive line can't be pushed around, but the real onus is on the outside linebackers and Bernard Pollard to control the edges and maintain contain - especially when Jamaal Charles is on the field.
Luckily, Chiefs head coach Todd Haley has limited Charles to ~12 carries per game, which I hope holds true on Sunday since he's the kind of back who can hurt Houston. He's good on the draw play and able to cut-back against a defense that crashes and over-pursues. Whoever is on the backside will need to show patience, and the defense needs to wrap up - as they typically do in games they win.
If the Texans can shut down the running game, and the offense can score some points, then it's on Matt Freakin' Cassel to win this game with Chris Chambers and Dwayne Bowe. As much as we rip the secondary, they have begun to intercept some passes lately, and they are not over-matched in this match-up as Chambers and Bowe aren't much bigger or faster than the cornerbacks. Frank should shy away from the zone in this game. Not only do the cornerbacks respond well to being allowed to fight at the line of scrimmage, but the Chiefs' #1 target absolutely won't be stopped by the zone defense.
Tony Moeaki, rookie TE out of Iowa, leads the Chiefs in receptions and yards. With the linebackers six yards deep in a zone, the Texans have given up a league-worst eight receptions and 94 yards to tight ends per game. Frank, get Zac Diles, or someone, and stick him on Moeaki. Let Kareem Jackson and Glover Quin jam and man-up on Chambers and Bowe, which will free up Pollard and Brian Cushing to focus on attacking Cassel and the backs.
The Chiefs have a talented duo of backs, but you don't beat a running game by letting them come to you. You don't stop a weak passing game by letting them throw against a soft zone. Frank Bush needs to take the bowtie off and really put some effort into his gameplan because the vanilla shtick is played out. I do hope he continues to show more of those 3-4 and 46 defenses the Texans used in the second half of the New York game because the entire defense seemed to play well out of it.
Match-Up: The Chiefs Punt Return vs. The Texans Punt Coverage.
Return Tale of the Tape: Javier Arenas and Dexter McCluster; 15.4 yards per punt return leads the league; shown the ability to return one for a touchdown.
Ideal Strategy: Let Matt Turk do his thing. If the Chiefs burn them on a return or two, then kick out-of-bounds.
Long story short, Arenas and McCluster are deadly. They are fast, able to change direction quickly, and elusive. If a punter outkicks his coverage, it's game over. Allow them to hit the edge? Game over. Luckily, Matt Turk's one of the best in the business.
When Turk's on it, the ball hangs sky high. Matt may not have the power leg of a Lechler, but he really gets great hang time on his punts. The coverage unit takes advantage of every inch of air time. Eight of Turk's 21 punts have been downed inside the 20-yard line, and only 10 have been returned. On those returns, the Texans coverage unit has allowed 5.1 YPPR, which stands as the sixth-best average in the league. If the Texans stick to their guns, this shouldn't be too much of a worry.
Lane discipline is another key on returns, but Joe Marciano's group has only allowed a long of 13 yards. If, for some reason, the coverage breaks down, Joe's smart enough to go to Plan B--kick out-of-bounds. The Houston defense is a questionable group, so you don't want to ask them to defend a short field. If Matt Turk does his thing, the field position battle shouldn't be too much in Kansas City's favor - at least when Houston kicks to the Chiefs.
On the flip side, the Chiefs allow a league-low 14.5 yards per kick return and 4.2 YPPR, third-best among punt return coverage. If you're a Texans fan, hope Jacoby Jones is healthy, and Gary Kubiak has him, or someone else, returning. Otherwise it will be an uglier than normal day for Steve Slaton.
There's the blueprint for the Texans: Play-action to the tight ends and backs early to set-up the run late, choke out the Kansas City running game to put the game in Cassel's hands, and continue to play excellent punt coverage. If the Texans can do all of that, we should be celebrating a 4-2 start to the 2010 season.
Agree? Disagree? Have your say on the blueprint in the comments, BRBers.