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Texans-Chiefs Preview: Five Things To Watch For

Is this real life? Is this fantasy? Is this actually football? Here are five things to watch for when football kind of sort of begins.

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at Houston Texans Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Football is kind of sort of happening tomorrow. It’s not entirely happening. It’s fake football like those chicken nuggets that come in a green package. But if you put enough ketchup on it then it kind of sort of tastes like football. Regardless, I’m hungry and that’s all that’s available. The ceiling fan has turned enough. The cicadas have buzzed enough. The refrigerator has hummed enough.

Let’s get on with it.

1.) Who Will Actually Play?

It’s been eight months since the Texans played football, and it’s been longer than that since we’ve seen guys like Deshaun Watson, J.J. Watt, and Whitney Mercilus play. Watson is expected to play, but nobody knows how long or in what role after recovering from his ACL tear. Watt wants to play, and will probably play in one preseason game. Mercilus is out with something undisclosed, but not serious. Oh, and Jadeveon Clowney is still getting in football shape.

Now, I know it’s fun to watch the kids run around and play arm chair general manager. But most of it doesn’t matter. It’s a distraction. 99% of these preseason prodigies will never have an impact on a NFL game. Hopes and dreams are all things will ever be. They only exist in August. And if they do exist in October you’ll end up hating them and dreading every sight of them on the field, see James, Charles.

I’m just craving to see the starters do some running and jumping without getting hurt. The offensive line moving some guys. And for some kids to run really fast. That’s all.

2.) New New Offense

Come on Bill. Pull it out. Let’s see what you have been working on all summer. Don’t be shy.

If you forgot, O’Brien announced this summer that he’s making dramatic changes to the offense, or something along those lines. This is good. This is something he has to do. No matter how great Deshaun Watson was last year, that ain’t happening again. Watson had a touchdown rate of 9.3%. He can win three superbowls and put on a golden Shooter McGavin jacket, and he still probably won’t break 8.0% for the rest of his career. The Texans blindsided defenses with their new offense filled with interesting run plays with a variety of options and playfakes off these plays that set up some lovely downfield throws. Things like that usually work for one year. Defenses get a year to prepare. It’s up to the coach to clench his forehead and add some wrinkles. Although we probably won’t see anything brand new, I want to see something. I want to see the shadow of what we could possible see once September is here.

If not, this is a good defense for the Texans to do what they had done previously. Put the car in drive and gently let it roll into the garage door for three yards a carry. Throw the ball into the flat or to an outside receiver running isolated routes against man coverage. The Chiefs had the worst run defense in football last year. If you block the first level you can run forever. They hate Alex Smith, but people forget about Derrick Johnson hobbling after Derrick Henry in last year’s epic can i haz cheeseburger that was the bacon of all playoff comebacks.

And even then, that would be fun to see. I want to watch what the new trio of Senio Kelemete, Nick Martin, and Zach Fulton can do in the run game, even if I can only watch the side view of it. Kelemete is fine. He’s a little too inconsistent and has trouble with stunts and getting to the linebacker. Martin is a good and solid center. He’s best at pass blocking. And Fulton has Pro-Bowl potential. Hell, they could have anyone playing guard here and I would be excited. I’m so glad Jeff Allen is out of our lives forever. You can’t trust anyone who intentionally and earnestly grows out a bad beard.

Additionally, Alfred Blue is still on the roster. I don’t want to watch him waddle for three yards a carry in a regular season game ever again. This preseason will give Tyler Ervin more carries, who was a better running back in college than can opener/wine opener camping combo, and some other unknown depth chart bottom dwelling running back. D’Onta Foreman isn’t back yet. Oh my! I just am fainting with nausea thinking about Blue getting ten carries in a single game ever again. Give Ervin 15 carries this game instead against a bad run defense and see what he can do.

3.) Romeo’s Secondary

It’s going to be cool to watch the Texans’ defense actually play defense that matches the opponent they play. I was sick of watching Mike Vrabel do things like play press man against the Jaguars. Or soft deep zone against the Patriots. Crennel won’t let this happen.

The defense is going to be better with him around. His big dilemma is how to make the secondary work. He’ll probably do what he’s done before, play either 4 or 6 defensive backs, and use his defenders in a variety of roles. This defense is set up perfectly for it: Kareem Jackson, Justin Reid, Tyrann Mathieu, Jadeveon Clowney, J.J. Watt, Whitney Mercilus, Zach Cunningham, and Aaron Colvin are all players who can line up at a variety of different spots and do different things. The blitz packages will be outrageous. The run defense will be a top ten unit as long as everyone is healthy. The coverage is a question mark.

The preseason doesn’t lend itself to seeing much of this though. Blitzes are secret. The front seven will rest and hang out and not be used in situations where they could get injured in August instead of October. We could see something from the secondary though. I’m excited to see what roles the Reid-Mathiue-Jackson Triceratops have, where Colvin lines up, if Kevin Johnson is still one of the worst defensive backs in football, how often Johnathan Joseph will play outside and if they will help him over the top, if Johnson Bademosi will be used as a cornerback at all, and who’s on the field in Dime packages.

4.) Tight Ends

The Texans released their depth chart last week. The biggest surprise to me was the tight end depth chart. Ryan Griffin is still number one because either, Brian Gaine is bad at evaluating talent, or he’s the only one in the world who knows what’s really inside of Bill O’Brien’s chin. He’s one of the worst blockers I’ve ever seen. He can only run out into the flat. He can’t make anyone miss. He makes my heart yearn for the days of Garret Graham.

The other surprise was last year’s starting tight end Stephen Anderson was fourth on the depth chart. Like Griffin, he can’t block. But unlike Griffin he offers some value as a big tall slot receiver. Sure, he does need to get better at using his voluptuous frame. He should be a much better redzone receiver. But fourth! Crazy.

The cheese and mayonnaise between them are the kids, Jordan Akins and Jordan Thomas, and 26 year old had a cup of coffee MyCole Pruitt. Now I don’t know much about any of these guys. Akins was tall and big and caught a lot of touchdowns on a football field where he was like five years older than everyone. Thomas is big and ran fast in a straight line at the combine, but it was impossible to even find sideline broadcast footage outlining his play. Pruitt is just a guy on the roster that has been on other professional football rosters.

Regardless, I’m excited to see what these guys can do. Griffin isn’t safe. Anderson could end up being claimed by the Broncos in six weeks. Hopefully the kids can play, and Houston finally ends up with a decent tight end for the first time since Owen Daniels. During the O’Brien era they’ve struggled throwing the ball to the middle of the field, and have relied on six offensive linemen sets they have ranked in the bottom of the league in DVOA in. Tight end is the most wide open battle on the roster. And Houston desperately needs one.

5.) NFL Football Ruining Committee

To be honest with you Shelly, I’m super worried about this new helmet rule. I read about it. I watched the NFL’s videos. And I really have no idea how they could enforce something like this without bogging the game down with flags in an attempt to corral a high speed collision where the head is sometimes going to be used. What’s a running back to do on 3rd and 1? Not use his entire body to go through a defender and pick up the first? Not lower his shoulder and head to plummet ahead? Heaven forbid his helmet drives into the belly of the defender as he picks up the two yards he needs. I have no clue how short yardage situations are going to work. What about quarterback sneaks? Actually, if Tom Brady gets called for this and the Pats lose the whole thing would be worth it.

One on one tackle situations is going to be a side picking. Tackles are going to be more like penalty kicks than actual football plays. Then, on top of all of it, you have referees who struggle to adequately call simpler penalties like pass interference or helmet to helmet hits on a defenseless receiver, who are already constantly lauded by fans and players, who will now have to make an even more subjective and difficult to see in real time call.

I understand this has happened before. A new rule comes out and everyone thinks it’s going to ruin the game. I remember when referees moved from the linebacker position to behind the line of scrimmage and people were worried it was going to ruin no huddle hurry up offenses. It didn’t. Peyton Manning still did what he always did. I remember when helmet to helmet penalties and defensive holding penalties were going to ruin the game. They didn’t. The game has just been changed to make it safer, and allow the passing game to flourish. Football is different, but it isn’t ruined. But changing the foundation of tackling and going into tackles, and messing with something players have done their entire lives is entirely different. This isn’t changing a light bulb. This is cracking the concrete.

The refs will be more stringent calling these penalties in the preseason. However, the ones they called in the preseason game were so absurd that I’ve lost any thoughts that this is just preseason whining. Games are going to be swung by the stupid rule either directly or indirectly. Those 15 yards will extend a drive. A linebacker is going to pull up on a tackle and watch the ball carrier zip on by to score. It’s dumb. It’s going to be bad. It’s looking like it’s going to be a disaster.

Until I know for sure that it isn’t, I can’t be entirely jazzed up for some FOOTBAW. It’s going to be the main discussion about the game to go along with all the other external nonsense someone has to sift through to enjoy the game. It’s exhausting. I want to consume the game and think about the players and the plays and the playoff race. I don’t want to hear anymore non-football talk that has been swirled into the game. I just want to waste my life for a few hours every Sunday. That shouldn’t be a difficult thing to do.

The kickoff rule I still don’t fully understand. My heart is already a little broken they are trying to remove kickoffs. Kickoffs rule. Azir Hakim’s returns from 108 yards are my favorite plays the game has ever produced. As someone who’s never been fast, I love watching players run really fast, and the kickoffs is when they run the fastest. I did hear they will lead to more and better kickoffs. Hell yeah. They needed to do something. Watching pea leg kickers putting the ball 15 yards into the stands sucked. Bring back kickoffs. We need more of them.

Enjoy the game on Thursday everyone.