Everything about the two Texans-Chiefs games last season were a disaster if the Texans winning or losing a football game has any effect on you feeling happy or sad. Last season, the Texans lost 27-20 after being down 27-6 at one point until Bill O'Brien ran his patented garbage time comeback that hides the truth from Pro Football Reference visitors decades, centuries and millenniums later. The Texans also lost 30-0 to the Chiefs in the NFL playoffs.
In those games, there were so many terrible things that happened. There was Brian Hoyer's first pass being intercepted when he turned to the other side of the field and threw at DeAndre Hopkins without looking. There was Travis Kelce donkey-kong spiking the ball in the end zone. There was Travis Kelce running untouched on a 42 yard touchdown like a streaker. There were screen passes from Alex Smith that eviscerated the Texans' defense. There was a 106 yard Knile Davis opening kickoff return where the blocking was so good that Keith Mumphery could have returned it for a touchdown. There was Brian Hoyer's five turnovers. There was Alfred Blue having the Texans' best offensive performance in a playoff game. And of course there was Eric Fisher flipping J.J. Watt out of his wheelchair.
These are all things that I recall enduring last year, and there are probably many more sitting around deep in my blackened and dried prune of a heart that I don't feel like digging up. Tomorrow, I'm expecting more memories forced down in there when the Texans play the Chiefs for the third time in two seasons.
Here are five specific things to watch for.
1.) Come On Inside
Both teams should have difficulty blocking in this game, especially on the interior. The Texans had a decent rushing attack last week that had more to do with volume than efficiency. Lamar Miller ran the ball a lot. He wrapped that football in his arms and moved his legs 28 times for 106 yards, at 3.79 yards a carry, and finished down at the bottom of Football Outsiders' numbers. This was against a bad Bears' defense.
Tomorrow, the Texans will be facing an interior that consists of Dontari Poe, Jaye Howard, Allen Bailey and Chris Jones. The key to run blocking against a 3-4 defense is to get movement at the first level. This is going to be difficult to do. Also, Houston's line is known for being unable to get to and stick at the second level. Like last week, this week's rushing attack maybe more about volume than effectiveness.
The Chiefs will be without their two starting guards, Laurent Duvernay-Tardif and Parker Ehinger. Although Kansas City places so much emphasis on getting players in space and moving the ball around quickly, running the ball up the middle is just as important for them. Going back to last season, the Chiefs have run 274 plays up the middle (4th) and picked up 4.6 yards a carry (3rd). With two backups playing inside with the tasks of moving J.J. Watt, Jadeveon Clowney, Vince Wilfork (who wasn't a feather last week, plus having to get up to Benardrick McKinney, Kansas City could have trouble successfully completing an essential part of their offense.
This is enormous when it comes to the passing game. With all the cute little three step drops the Chiefs take, it is nearly impossible to get pressure. If you do, it needs to come from the inside not the outside, because the path to the quarterback is shorter. Watt, Clowney, and inside linebacker blitzes are more important to the Texans' pass rush tomorrow than John Simon and Whitney Mercilus.
2.) Behold the Hurricane
Jadeveon Clowney is teetering on the verge of something. After showing flashes of dominating play last year and last week, we are getting closer to the day where Clowney is more than a complement on this defense. It's been fascinating to watch how his career has played out so far and how he has evolved as a player.
Last week against the Bears, we saw another step in his development. Houston used him primarily at defensive end. There, he was able to use his strength and power on bull-rushes to get through a seeping Bears' line of scrimmage. Because of the space on the outside, exterior rushing is more about speed. Offensive linemen have plenty of space to hunker down and bring a bull-rush to a top. On the inside, it's different. By focusing on his strength and power, Clowney may become a more productive rusher on the inside.
Going back to the previous section, I expect and hope Clowney to play defensive end again tomorrow. By going up against two backup guards, he can bull-rush and batter and abuse players who aren't in the same universe as he is athletically. Hopefully, he is pillaging the backfield, blood drenched, hands full of scalps, and whirling into ball carriers like a maelstrom.
3.) Let's Get, Let's Get, Let's Get Brocked
What is also great about this matchup is that there is no Brian Hoyer. He was terrible against the Chiefs last season. The numbers are terrible. I don't feel like bringing them up.
Instead, the Texans' new black hair flowing, sun-induced sparkling, giraffe clopping quarterback is taking on Kansas City. In last week's start, Brock Osweiler was good. It was the first time since Matt Schaub I saw a quarterback make some really great throws. He controlled the pocket well. Most importantly, he pushed the ball downfield with touch and accuracy. It was the perfect game to start the season off against a bad defense.
This week will be different. Even though the Chiefs have exterior pass rushing issues with Tamba Hali getting creakier and Justin Houston being out, Kansas City still has four good rushers on the defensive line that provide mismatches for Greg Mancz and Xavier Su'a-Filo. It's not a great pass rush, but it will be better than the Pernell McPheel-ess one Brock faced last week.
Even more importantly, the Chiefs' secondary is better than the Bears'. Eric Berry is back there. Marcus Peters reads eyes like a fraud reads palms. Ron Parker has been a better player since moving from the slot to safety. And I have no idea if Phillip Gaines is good or not. The problem is Osweiler had issues with decision-making. He has thrown errors into a defense that were jumped, but not plucked, and his interception total was lower than it should have been last season. Peters and Berry are pirates that can jump routes and steal the ball out of the air. Osweiler will need to be careful with the ball. Hopefully, he washed his hands after shaking Brian Hoyer's following last week's game.
4.) Do YOU Like Screen Passes?
First off, let's extinguish some notions. The Chiefs' offense was killer against the Texans last year. In their first meeting, Kansas City had drives of 13, 83, 66, 22 and 7 yards that all ended in scores after punting on their first drive. They scored 27 points in that first half and were only stopped once.
In their second meeting, Kansas City had drives of 29 (punt), 5 (interception), 27 (field goal), 40 (field goal), -2 (punt), 37 (punt), 94 (touchdown), 71 (touchdown), 7 (punt), 5 (field goal), and 9 yards (end of game). When you are up big, killing clock, and working with short fields, you aren't going to have a gaudy number of yards. The Texans' defense was better in that second game, but they still gave up two hope-extinguishing touchdown drives of 94 and 71 yards that put an end to that game. And they were also up against a risk averse coach in Andy Reid, who isn't going to be in attack mode with the defense playing the way it was in a playoff game.
The way the Chiefs have done it is by feasting on the Texans' defensive weaknesses. Houston has a slower defense, especially at the linebacker position. Neither Brian Cushing, who's out, Benardrick McKinney, or Max Bullough can cover well. McKinney is great in the box and bludgeoning backs and blitzing, but he's not going to be able to cover Travis Kelce one-on-one. Kansas City attacks this weakness by having backs Spencer Ware, Charcandrick West, and their tight end Kelce use their speed to exploit linebackers who can't keep up.
They've done this by using screen passes and quick passes to get players in space. That first game was a masterful performance of screen passes. The Texans played off the Chiefs' receivers because Alex Smith throws a great deep pass. Oh, what's that? He doesn't? Oh.
The Texans played off the Chiefs' receivers because I have no idea why. This gave their blockers more time and their receivers more space to accelerate and maneuver around traffic. This, plus the Texans' inability to tackle, led to Kansas City moving the ball like Little Guys all over the field.
Tomorrow, we will see the same offense (minus Jaamal Charles) against the same defense. I am expecting more of the same. I think Kansas City will again get Ware in space, Chris Conley in space, and have Travis Kelce rampaging up the middle to complement a rushing attack that has backs who are great at making players miss. Until the Texans' defense really stops the Chiefs, I don't expect them to.
5.) Fisher v. Watt
As I've gotten older, the amount of emotion that finds me during the games has decreased. I still watch. I still care. But rarely do things make me feel like anything is possible or life is just a meandering, meaningless endeavor like they used to. Emotional maturity is a good thing. Yet, last year, in the wild card round when Eric Fisher was blocking J.J. Watt, I became furious.
At the end of the game, Watt was flailing around with his groin peeled off the bone. He tried to rush the passer. It was like a seeing a parched sentient thing wandering for water in the Mojave only to never find any. At certain points, Watt flat out laid down because of an inability to move. Eric Fisher took these opportunities to leap off the cage and plop on top of Watt. He didn't masterfully block him. He just yanked his cane and then proceeded to beat him with it. Chiefs fans cried with joy about how Fisher ate Watt's lunch.
Last year, I watched film on Eric Fisher and wrote a guest post on him. I found him to be underwhelming. He was a player who never made great blocks. He didn't stifle the point of attack in the pass game or drive defenders in the run game. All he did was use his athleticism to get in the way. He was a hindrance. He was a sports car going 55 mph in the left hand lane.
This season, it seems things have changed. Last week, Pro Football Focus rated Fisher as the best left tackle in Week One, whatever that means. Chiefs fans have been enamored with how he has improved. All I know is I watched a bad player last year. I'm curious to see what, if anything, has changed.
All that being said, this matchup probably will rarely occur and isn't a focal point of this game. But dammit, do I want to see Watt match up one-on-one against Fisher and obliterate him.
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