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Texans-Chiefs Preview: Five Things To Watch

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Here’s five things to watch for when the Texans play some Sunday Night Football against the Kansas City Chiefs.

Kansas City Chiefs v Houston Texans Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images

There’s some teeth in the air this morning. It’s finally a little cool. For the first morning after all these mornings of blaze once the sun erupts from under the Earth, turning the landscape aflame at the first light, like some blood drinking humanoid, air conditioning is not needed.

I’ll miss it. I love the heat, the sweat, the long days, the sitting inside at work and dying to be outside, the water, the grass. Soon I’ll enjoy pumpkin stuff until the days gets short, my skin gets chapped, and gray drab falls until the sun makes its way back again.

Usually this first morning is painful even though the wind coming through the window is so sweet. I hate the dark, the cold, and all those days indoors. This year, I’m excited for it. Because 2017 brings more holy Sundays to watch Deshaun Watson play quarterback. He’s been incredible. I’ve spent the last two weeks just watching this play over and over again.

All rationality is gone. There’s no need for analysis. Deshaun Watson is the greatest quarterback of all time. He’s a general. He’s a little rocket man.

He’s the first young quarterback with real potential in franchise history. He doesn’t sweat; that’s just future possibilities seeping out of him. He’s Russell Wilson without the nanobubbles. Damn, I can’t wait for Sunday night.

HIT IT.

1.) Deshaun Watson Versus A Great Defense

I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Your opponent has a big impact on your performance. Crazy, right? Well in Watson’s case, he has put up 33 and 57 points against the two worst defenses in the NFL according to DVOA. The Patriots are 32nd at 18.0% (negative is good), and their pass defense DVOA is 56.8%, which is New Orleans Saints and 2010 Texans terrible. The Titans are 31st in defensive DVOA at 18%, and their pass defense DVOA is 38.2%.

In addition to having bad defenses, the Patriots and Titans ran peculiar schemes as well. New England rushed four the majority of the game and played Cover Three. They dropped their linebackers into the middle of the field and gave up shorter sideline routes as a result. This was the biggest reason why those dump-offs were such huge hits and why Watson was able to convert on third down so often. New England’s one safety in the middle of the field was easily yanked, with Watson’s eyes creating two touchdown throws.

Last week, the Titans rushed three a lot of the time. When they did blitz, there weren’t any stunts being used. It was all really straightforward. They didn’t create any free rushers. Their hits on Watson mostly came from zero dog blitzes where the linebacker is spying and will blitz if things open up. Tennessee also left DeAndre Hopkins in one-on-one coverage and kept lesser players like LeShaun Sims on him.

Tomorrow night, Watson won’t be getting help from the other side of the field. The Chiefs have one of the better pass rushes in the NFL. They are 15th in adjusted sack rate at 7.3% and have picked up eleven sacks. Their pressure rate is 34.3%, which is fifth in the NFL. On the outside, it’s Dee Ford and Justin Houston. On the inside, it’s Chris Jones and Allen Bailey. Kansas City will blitz creatively as well to create pressure at times.

In coverage, Marcus Peters and Terrance Mitchell are on the outside. Teams have been terrified to throw at Peters. I wonder if he ever gets tired of intercepting passes? He has only one interception this year, compared to his previous totals of six and eight, but he has been targeted only 20 times. Teams are focused on throwing at Mitchell, who’s been targeted 38 times. According to Football Outsiders’ game charting stats, Mitchell has held up well. He has a success rate of 55%, which ranks 52nd. Ron Parker is one of the more underrated safeties in the league and has been so much better there than he was at the slot cornerback position.

Not only is there talent in Kansas City, but they won’t use a strange scheme when they play Houston. They are going to rush five. They get pressure from the outside especially. They play man coverage. Watson is the greatest quarterback of all time, but even the all-time greats have trouble against certain opponents. This is going to be a much tougher match-up for Watson and the Texans’ offense than New England or Tennessee provided.

2.) The Last House On The Left

Don’t go right. Just don’t. The left side of the Kansas City Chiefs’ defense, the side that covers the right side of the offense, is downright despicable. Justin Houston knocked the dust off the water glasses last season and is back to being monstrous. Chris Jones is also feasting this season.

This season, Houston leads the Chiefs with 9.5 pressures and four sacks. He is a Defensive Player of the Year candidate. Jones is second with second pressures and has three sacks. In the run game, the Chiefs are first in adjusted line yards at defending runs over the right tackle with -0.94 and are giving up zero yards per carry on these runs. They are 17th in runs over the right edge with 4.89 adjusted line yards, mostly because of some long Carson Wentz runs. There are much better against running backs. In this direction, they have allowed only 3.83 yards per carry.

The Texans haven’t stated whether or not Jeff Allen or Greg Mancz is starting at right guard. They may not do it, but they 100% need to start Greg Mancz. Breno Giacomini is strong but slow. He should have a decent matchup against Jones in the run game. Yet Giacomini against Houston in pass protection is a horrifying thought. The Texans will continue to chip and keep seven in to pass block at times. Also, the Chiefs have been susceptible to quarterback runs and the Texans have the best running quarterback in the history of football.

Although the left side is the dried up darkness that nightmares are made up of, there is one part of the Chiefs’ front seven to attack. That’s the rest of their linebackers. If you can get past the first level against the Chiefs, you can get into the open field. All those tears in Derrick Johnson’s legs have finally added up. He’s no longer the same player. The Chiefs are 26th in second level adjusted line yards at 1.26. The secondary has done a good job cleaning things up, though. If the Texans can move the first level, Lamar Miller, D’Onta Foreman, and Deshaun Watson will be able to run across a flower-filled field into Parker’s arms.

3.) Dropping Out With Andy Reid

Reid has spent the last four seasons in Kansas City building an offense like this. All those cute screen passes, options, shovel passes, and jet sweeps have been molded into a Claymore. This piece and this video do a good job showcasing some of the plays that Kansas City has run. There are triple options, veers, and run pass options. Each play is a Choose Your Own Adventure novel that has quarterback Alex Smith flipping around twenty pages back and fourth at a time as he reads the defense.

I can’t stop thinking about this play.

The touchdown run Tennessee had against Houston was a simple zone read. It’s a play with one or two less layers than the ones that Kansas City will run at times. Marcus Mariota holds the hand-off inside. Jadeveon Clowney watches. Because the left guard pulls and the fake is done so well, Clowney crashes inside more than he should. Mariota keeps it and runs around the edge for the score.

This weekend, everyone has to be disciplined and patient against the Chiefs. They can’t get excited and jittery. They’ll have to maintain their gaps, contain the edge, and tackle well.

4.) SPEED

As great as the Texans’ defense has been the last four years, it has always had issues with speed. Houston’s inside linebackers have hobbled after running backs and tight ends in the flat like a damsel running away from a masked man right after hitting a perfectly placed hole in the ground. Their secondary has taken poor pursuit angles in surrendering obscenely long touchdowns. Safeties have been unable to affect deep passes while standing in the middle of the field.

The Chiefs have the fastest offense in the NFL. Chris Conley, Albert Wilson, Kareem Hunt, Tyreek Hill, De’Anthony Thomas, Charcandrick West, Travis Kelce all have wheels. Houston’s defense is now better suited at the second level to get in foot races. Gone our the days of redundancy, with Zach Cunningham replacing Brian Cushing’s biceps. Whitney Mercilus and Jadeveon Clowney are here. The Chiefs can scheme to single out Benardrick McKinney, who will always be a liability in coverage. The bigger problem for the Texans will be in the secondary. Kareem Jackson has never been the fastest man around. Johnathan Joseph is veteran savvy but he isn’t chasing anyone down. Andre Hal is the Texans’ fastest player in the secondary, and he has tackling issues.

I can close my eyes and see Hill running and wagging his finger at a defender fifteen yards away. I can see Kareem Hunt picking up 50 more yards in his chase for 2,000 in one run. I can see little screens slicing and dicing the secondary up.

5.) Stop The Run

Last week, Houston went up against the Titans’ run offense. Tennessee was down 21-0 before they got their first first down. They tried to mash against this Texans’ front seven and weren’t able to. On their second possession, Tennessee attempted to attack Houston head on to “set the tone” and prove their machismo. The Titans proceeded to give the ball to Demarco Murray three times. He had runs of 5, 2, and 1 yard before punting. Marcus Mariota was the Titans’ best running back last week. Houston’s front seven took exotic methmouth to the dentist and held the second best rushing attack in the NFL in check.

The Chiefs have the best rushing attack in the NFL. They are first in run DVOA at 41.5%. That’s absurd. That’s better than 27 other teams’ passing attacks. For reference, second is Tennessee at 26.7%. Kareem Hunt is first in DVOA and DYAR with 56.1% and 171. He has 502 yards on 68 carries, a nice long of 69 yards, and four touchdowns. He’s going to get all the carries. Reid likes to use only one running back. Alex Smith has 89 rushes on 18 attempts. Oh, and Tyreek Hill has 24 yards on six carries.

The Texans passed the second toughest test you could take as a run defense last week. This week they get to take the toughest test when they take on a rushing attack that is on pace to be an all-time great one.