The Kansas City Chiefs are great. They really are a fantastic team, and it's wonderful seeing them get the recognition they deserve after several years of being a really special football team. They have speed for days. Alex Smith is arguably the most underrated QB in NFL history. Travis Kelce is easy to hate for being dirty and crude on the field, but he can ball with the best of them. Me likey Kareem Hunt, who looks like the next big thing. Justin Houston is a monSTAR. Marcus Peters is one of the most exciting young players in the NFL.
In what is starting to feel like one of the most highly anticipated games of the season, the show down between the Houston Texans and Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday night, feels like the stage is set for a coming out party for the Texans as much as it is for the Kansas City Chiefs.
Let's discuss the match ups to watch, and weigh in on who will come out of this game victorious. Somebody's hype train will go into overdrive on Sunday night, and these may be the match ups that decides whose train that may be!
Match up 1: Texans Front 7 vs KC's Rushing Attack
Kareem Hunt is a special player. The Chiefs offensive line is banged up pretty good, and starting the show signs of vulnerability. The Texans rush defense is overpowering in the trenches. Something is going to have to give on Sunday night between this strength on strength match up.
For the Texans, it starts with the brick wall anchoring the point of attack in DJ Reader, and his Iron Mike Tyson of a punch that knocks back even the strongest offensive linemen in the business. Whitney Mercilus, JaDeveon Clowney, and JJ Watt are damn near impossible to block one on one, which leads to often 2 or 3 of them breaking free behind the line of scrimmage and disrupting the play before it even has a chance to begin. When ball carriers are able to avoid the edge pressure set by the Texans big 3, they are funneled into an attack Bernardrick McKinney who bursts through gaps before the RB can slip through them...wrecking shop behind the line of scrimmage with his teammates. The result is a hard to escape vortex that absorbs mere mortal ball carriers in the blink of an eye. Rookie ILB Zach Cunningham has the kind of sideline to sideline range to shut down the precious few that do escape limiting them from picking up more than a few yards for their efforts. The Texans have played two league top 6 Rushing offenses this year, and despite that, they are a top 10 rushing defense in rushing efficiency.
Kareem Hunt is a beast, and I don't intend to take anything away from him, but he's not the sole reason the Chiefs are so potent. He is a slippery and explosive player with great instincts, but the way Andy Reid is using him takes those qualities and amplifies them. Tyreek Hill will motion across the line, and threaten taking the ball on a jet sweep with all of his elite play making skill. Alex Smith plays point guard and has all the ability to take the ball himself and be dangerous with his arm and his legs. Even Travis Kelce is getting folded in lately as a rushing option on a shovel pass, or as a lead blocker to help open up space for the other elite play makers in this attack. Andy Reid is freaking brilliant. He has 4 elite play makers moving in different directions forcing defenders to commit to one, creating easy mismatches to attack for others. It's unfair.
There is little doubt the Chiefs will be able to expose the Texans at times this game, but the simple game wrecking ability of the Texans, matched up against the Chiefs banged up O-Line gives the Texans the overall edge in this match up, as I see it. Andy Reid's schemes and plans are going to impact this game. The prodigious talent of the KC offense will deliver results. But, these scripted plays can be blown up when JaDeveon Clowney bursts through the line before Alex Smith has even gotten a chance to read his first key in the rushing attack. The Texans have just as many disrupting play makers on their defense, as KC has on offense. The Chiefs are averaging 6.7 YPA in the rushing game, but that is unlikely to continue against the Texans stacked rushing defense. The KC offense will not be ineffective, but it will not be able to expose the Texans defense the way it has some others. There will be some chunk yards, but it's hard to see KC running away with the game as they have vs other foes this season. There is just too much defensive talent in Houston for that to happen. I expect a couple of big plays for KC, that may even result in a couple of scores, but I don't expect a sustained attack that dominates time of possession and wears down the Texans front throughout the game. The Texans will hang with the Chiefs throughout the game, and will give up some big shots that light up the scoreboard. But, I don't expect the Chiefs to pull away in the fourth quarter vs THIS Texans team the way they have vs others. The Texans are allowing a 31 % conversion rate on third down, which is among the best in the league. They have forced 4 interceptions and 7 fumbles on the season as well which is near the top of the league in both categories. This defense knows how to get off the field, and the offense, now knows how to sustain drives. That difference should be enough to keep the Texans in position to win in the fourth quarter where other Chiefs opponents haven't been able.
Match up 2: The suddenly potent Texans offense vs KC Defense
For all the deserving talk Kareem Hunt has received as the front runner for Offensive Rookie of the Year, Deshaun Watson has been an MVP candidate as freaking rookie. No, I'm not just some fanboy making delusion claims. The Texans started the season with Tom Savage at QB, one offensive play maker in DeAndre Hopkins, and one of the worst offensive lines in football. Due to Hurricane Harvey, they saw less practice time and pre-season games than any other team in the league (exception to the Cowboys). After one half of football, where the Texans were getting their brains beat out by a division rival and had sustained injuries to 6 of their top 8 offensive options, Bill O'Brien enlisted Watson to take over the offense. Good luck, kid! Oh, by the way, Game 2 vs a tough Bengals defense would come on a Thursday night, with all those injured players still out of the line up. The Texans managed to split this start to the season going 1-1, and earned themselves a nice 10 day rest to heal up and actually figure out how to re-create the offense in Deshaun Watson's image.
What has followed has been nothing short of incredible. The Texans have scored 90 points in the past two weeks, with Watson's play making ability front and center. Since the revamped offense was installed, Deshaun Watson has a QB Rating of 108.1, completing 70.5% of his passes for 8.7 YPA, 6 TDs and 3 Interceptions. That's lights out, and doesn't include the 65 yards and a TD Watson has contributed on the ground over that period of time. The Texans have been a competitive team for a number of years now, that has been just a QB away. Well, it is apparent that the Texans have found that QB, and the results have been eye popping since.
What's also added to this offensive explosion are the Texans are getting healthier and improving in areas that have been weak to start the season. The Texans welcomed back Will Fuller, the 2016 first round pick, and one of the fastest men in the league. Fuller's return rips the cover off of defenses and opens up the entire offense, allowing Watson to take advantage from the QB position. The offensive line, while still mediocre has improved to an at least functional level, that can be mitigated over the course of the game. Role players such as Ryan Griffin and Bruce Ellington have emerged to give the Texans a deeper inventory of weapons to call on to keep the pressure on opposing defenses as they methodically exploit mismatches when teams try and key on their play makers. The Texans offensive explosion, is no fluke. They will score points, which means to beat them, you have to find a way to win against one of the best defenses in the league.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Chiefs have plenty of talent to challenge this new Texans offense, but key injuries are going to put a lot of pressure on their roster depth in this match up. The loss of Eric Berry, was devastating to this team. Eric Berry, is arguably the best Free Safety in football. He is a ball hawking, turnover creating, missed tackle erasing, do it all-from everywhere-against anyone play maker, that is impossible to replace. Marcus Peters deserves a lot of credit as a play maker in his own right, but Peters just isn't the same player with Berry out of the line up. He has played off the ball more, has been challenged over the top more, and was exploited last week, giving up two TDs against the Redskins. In this match up he will have to try to contain the speedy Will Fuller, or the prolific DeAndre Hopkins in the passing game, and both players represent significant threats to Peters willingness to gamble. Add on that Dee Ford will miss this game as well, and Watson's mobility and evasiveness at QB, and there will be a lot of pressure on Kansas City's secondary in this showdown. Ford's absence will allow Watson and the Texans to focus primarily on one defensive show stopper on the edge in Justin Houston, and design plays to limit his impact.
Beyond these key losses, the Chiefs are excellent. Despite Peters tendency to gamble, and occasionally lose that gamble, he remains one of the best play making CBs in football. He is threat to take the ball away any time he's tried, and this game may be decided by whether he wins his gambles or loses them. Ramik Wilson, Bennie Logan, and Derrick Johnson are all unheralded disruptors that have the ability to breach the Texans offensive line and crash the backfield. Chris Jones presence on the D-Line will wreck shop against the Texans make shift offensive line, and open up lanes for those around him, and at 6-6 he will disrupt throwing lanes when he isn't bearing down on Watson. For all the talk of the Texans defensive fortitude, the Kansas City squad has allowed less points per game than the Texans defense and has forced turnovers nearly as frequently. This game may come down to which defense makes more plays or gives up the least.
Match up 3: The Texans no name secondary against the Kansas City Speedway
Whoosh! To be frank, this is the biggest mismatch in the game. The play making ability of the Chiefs passing game is five deep, and the Texans chances of containing it relies far more on their front 7 than it does on their secondary. The Texans need to force the Chiefs to get out the ball quick by living in Alex Smith's back pocket, and preventing him from ever getting his feet set to deliver the ball. The Texans need to play back to prevent the Chiefs speed overwhelming them for deep connections, but they're also going to have to press to allow the pass rush enough time to be effective. Romeo Crennel and Mike Vrabel are going to have to work extra hard on disguising their coverage to account for the Chiefs play making ability, while not giving Andy Reid any obvious holes to exploit.
LB's Dillon Cole and Zach Cunningham are going to have to cover Travis Kelce and Kareem Hunt out of the backfield, to take the pressure off of the defensive backs. The Texans may have to work in a two deep zone with Andre Hal and Marcus Gilchrist, which will put a lot of pressure on the front 7 in the rushing game, but will offer some protection against getting beat deep. Johnathan Joseph isn't as quick as he once was, but he's going to need every bit of what he has left to keep up with Kansas City's slow WR Chris Conley, who only runs a 4.35 forty time. Kareem Jackson will be the liability, and the Texans will need to bracket him over the top with their safeties to prevent Tyreek Hill from getting behind him.
The good news is for all of the speed and danger of the Chiefs play makers, they are not as refined as WRs at this point. Outside of Kelce, no player on the Chiefs has shown a propensity for winning one on one passes, and high pointing the ball to snatch it in traffic. The Chiefs rely on the wizardry of Andy Reid to get his play makers open in space, and the deadly accuracy and efficiency of Alex Smith to deliver the ball on time where it needs to be. If the Texans can clog passing lanes and disrupt timing with their front seven, they can limit the damage, and this game may come down to if they can limit the damage enough.
Final Prediction: Texans home field pays off
Look, there is no stopping this Kansas City Chiefs offense. There will be big exciting plays, and that offense is just too explosive to contain. But, the Texans defense ability to take the ball away, and get off the field on third down is going to limit their exposure to Kansas City's potent offense. I'm expecting Kansas City to hit on a couple of big play TDs, and I'm expecting them to move the ball into FG range a few times as well. I fully expect the Chiefs to score 20 to 27 points in this game, and trade the lead with the Texans back and forth throughout.
The difference in this Texans team, will come from the poise and brilliance of Deshaun Watson. This is a heavy weight match up, Sunday night, in prime time versus an undefeated opponent. The Texans have a history of folding in these contests, because they've never had the kind of power and balance to go blow for blow with the best in the game and come out on top. The Chiefs will lead the Texans at times in this contest. In order to win this game, the Texans will have to show they have the ability to hit back. Big games and bright lights bring out the best in Deshaun Watson. His cool confidence and poise, puts his teammates at ease, and makes the guys around him better. With him under center, the Texans don't only believe they can win, but they expect to win. With that comes focus and the means to finish the job.
Games like this tend to come down to who has the ball in their hands last, and who makes the plays that need making when it's winning time. Deshaun Watson has shown us time and time again, that he will make those plays, and his team will be in a position to close out and win under the bright lights. This game is going to come down to a game winning drive in the final minutes. Deshaun Watson will lead that drive and lead his teammates to victory. The Chiefs will experience losing for the first time this season, and the 1972 Miami Dolphins will have their annual champagne toast as the final undefeated team of 2017 falls. But, the real toast of the NFL won't be because we are looking in the rear view mirror at a team that played this game 45 years ago. The real toast of the NFL will be for what we're looking forward to in the rising ambitions of the Houston Texans and it's rising star, that's just getting started.