Houston Texans running back D’Onta Foreman (27) is tripped up by Tennessee Titans cornerback Logan Ryan (26) during the fourth quarter of an NFL football game at NRG Stadium on Sunday, Oct. 1, 2017, in Houston.
This week’s Q&A is with Brandon Kiley (@BKSportsTalk). He works for 101 ESPN in St. Louis and hosts an NFL pre-game show every Sunday from 9-11 a.m. He’s a great sports/general interest follow on Twitter, and you can find his work on the station’s website here.
Texans vs. Chiefs Q&A
Stephanie Stradley: What is different/same between this Chiefs team and previous ones?
Brandon Kiley: The biggest difference for the Chiefs has been rookie running back Kareem Hunt. He was the missing piece for this offense to reach its potential. It seemed like a big blow when Spencer Ware went down with a knee injury in the preseason, but Hunt’s already given the Chiefs more 20-plus yard runs through four games than Ware had the entire 2016 season. He adds a big-play threat that the Chiefs simply haven’t had since Jamaal Charles got injured two years ago.
The numbers Hunt has put up through four weeks are absolutely ridiculous. My favorite stat is this: Hunt leads the NFL in rushing yards through the first four weeks. What’s more impressive is that 372 of his 502 rushing yards have come in the second half.
To add some context on just how remarkable that is – Todd Gurley is second in the NFL in rushing this season with 362 yards. Hunt’s second-half yardage total would lead the league in rushing. Not too shabby.
Stradley: Any injuries of note for this matchup?
Kiley: The Chiefs have a few injuries that could play a key role in the outcome of this game. The Chiefs’ offensive line is really banged up, for one. Left tackle Eric Fisher is playing through a back injury. The entire interior offensive line is likely to be out for this game, as well. Left guard Parker Ehinger is still working his way back from a torn ACL, center Mitch Morse is a couple weeks from returning from a foot sprain, and right guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif sprained his knee last week on the first drive of the game.
On the defensive side of things, the Chiefs are without three key pieces in outside linebackers Dee Ford and Tamba Hali and safety Eric Berry.
The Chiefs’ offensive line doesn’t get much of a push in the running game when they’re fully healthy. Without three key pieces in the interior, it could be even worse.
One thing to keep in mind, though, is that backup center Zach Fulton has quietly played really well in Morse’s absence. It’s really the guards who will come into question this week against the Texans.
Defensively, the Chiefs really struggled to generate a pass rush last week against the Redskins’ offensive line without Dee Ford in the lineup. It’ll be interesting to see if they’re able to get home against Deshaun Watson. Eric Berry is a big loss as well, but the Chiefs safeties have played surprisingly well in his absence.
Stradley: What do you think are the strengths of the Chiefs?
Kiley: They just have so many ways to beat you. As an opposing team, you have to decide what you want to shut down. Do you take away Tyreek Hill’s big play ability over the top? Do you take away Alex Smith’s favorite target in Travis Kelce? Do you sell out to stop Kareem Hunt and the running game? You can take away one of the three. You might even be able to take away two of the three. But nobody has shown the ability to shut down the trio of Hill, Kelce and Hunt.
The other thing that gives the Chiefs offense a unique advantage in today’s NFL is the way Andy Reid is able to scheme things up. You’ll see the Chiefs run the speed option, the inverted wishbone, the wildcat, the zone read, bubble screens, tight end middle screens, etc.
If you’re a college football fan, you’ll recognize a lot of the concepts the Chiefs are utilizing. Reid has masterfully combined college concepts with his classic West Coast offense to create a playbook that best utilizes the Chiefs playmakers, and specifically highlights Alex Smith’s strengths.
Defensively, the Chiefs’ biggest strength is that they have three blue chip players. Defensive end Chris Jones, outside linebacker Justin Houston and cornerback Marcus Peters are all top 5-10 players at their respective positions. Jones completely dominated the game against the Eagles. Houston took over the second half against the Patriots.
Peters had a rough game on Monday Night Football, but if Watson targets him more than a handful of times, I would be surprised if he doesn’t come up with an interception.
Stradley: And the weaknesses?
Kiley: The Chiefs’ offensive line has given up quite a bit of pressure this season. Alex Smith has dealt with it pretty well for the most part, but his eyes tend to drop if the opposing defense gets home consistently. That’s something to watch in this game with the injuries on the Chiefs’ offensive line.
If J.J. Watt, Whitney Mercilus and Jadeveon Clowney are able to do their thing, Smith will start seeing ghosts in the pocket, drop his eyes, tuck the ball and run – sometimes into the defenders. For as much as Smith has improved this season, that’s still one weakness that hasn’t gone away.
The other thing that has hurt the Chiefs this year has been their run defense. Defensive coordinator Bob Sutton has leaned heavily on the nickel the last couple years, and it’s come at a cost in some areas. Derrick Johnson isn’t the same guy he was a few years ago, and the Chiefs really don’t have a run stopper opposite Justin Houston. If the Texans run opposite Houston consistently, they should have some success.
Stradley: What is the best way to beat the Chiefs?
Kiley: You have to play a clean game. I know that sounds simple, but it’s really the single most important thing you can do against this Chiefs team. Don’t commit turnovers, stay committed to the running game and take away the Chiefs’ big plays in the passing game to Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce. It’s easier said than done, but that’s the way you do it.
If the Texans are able to get some pressure on Alex Smith, they get Lamar Miller and D’Onta Foreman going in the running game and Deshaun Watson makes a few big plays, they’ll have a shot in this one against the best Chiefs team in nearly 15 years.
Stradley: What strategy do you think the Chiefs will use to defend a rookie mobile quarterback?
Kiley: It’s really hard to say because their defense is so multiple. Justin Houston is probably the guy to watch here. They’ve been using him in a variety of ways this season, which has frustrated fans at times. Houston has only come on the rush about 45 percent of the time. We could see him in some spy situations on Sunday, depending on the defensive look.
Stradley: Who are some Chiefs players that Texans fans may not know who may have an impact on the game either in a negative or positive way?
Kiley: I’ll give you a positive and a negative both offensively and defensively. On the offensive side of things, the player you probably don’t know much about who could have an impact on this game is wide receiver Albert Wilson. He’s been a frustrating player for much of his career in Kansas City, but he’s actually played pretty well through the first four weeks – including a 4 catch game on Monday night against the Redskins.
On the negative side of things, the guy to watch is tight end Demetrius Harris. Andy Reid loves to get him involved, but he always seems to drop a pass in a big time situation – especially in the red zone.
Defensively, the guy you need to pay attention to is cornerback Terrance Mitchell. He leads the Chiefs in tackles (22), pass deflections (8) and interceptions (2) through the first four weeks. He was somewhat of a revelation last season after he was promoted to the active roster from the practice squad, but nobody know if it was real or not. It sure looks like his play was real. He’ll get beat from time to time, but he’s aggressive and he’ll make plays on the ball.
The player who can be taken advantage of a bit is slot cornerback Phillip Gaines. He’s a long cornerback who can run, but opposing QBs have been able to take advantage of him in coverage. If the Texans are smart, they’ll try to get Hopkins lined up in the slot across from Gaines. That’s a matchup they should be able to exploit.
Stradley: Anything I didn’t ask that fans would like to know?
Kiley: A couple things. First of all, I think Texans fans should know that this Chiefs team is very different from what we’ve seen in years past. They’re not the boring checkdown charlie team. They’ll take some deep shots on you, and you’ll find yourself mesmerized by some of the moves Kareem Hunt makes in the hole. This team is actually pretty fun to watch, which is a far cry from the football we’ve seen from the Chiefs over the past decade or so.
The other thing about this game that stands out is that it’s a classic letdown game for Andy Reid. The Chiefs just played on Monday Night Football in a really physical game against the Redskins. Next week they take on the Steelers in a nationally televised 3:15 kickoff at home. This has all the makings of the Chiefs going into Houston and losing 24-20. The Texans should be taking advantage of the Chiefs’ offensive line injuries, and their offense should be able to have some success running to the opposite side of Justin Houston.
I’m expecting a good game, but one that ultimately ends with a Texans victory.
Please thank Brandon for taking the time to share this. So many times I will be watching a game and see the things that we discuss in these conversations. To me, it makes the games more interesting to watch, and I hope it does the same for you.
As for the Texans, I’m not sure I’m ready to say too many definitive things about them yet. Other than, whatever they were doing last Sunday, they should bottle it. Yes, please, I would like to watch a lot more of the Deshaun Watson show.
A less noted part of the 2017 Texans is the addition of uh, a kicker. Ka’imi Fairbairn has been a difference maker for special teams. One of the issues in the Texans in previous seasons was being burnt on kickoff returns, and his leg is strong enough to get touchbacks regularly. Opponents starting on the 25 is much better than giving up a big return/with a penalty tacked on perhaps.
The Texans special teams after Week 4 is rated 18th (!!!!) per Football Outsiders. This is huge progress given so many years of being near the bottom of the league by that standard. Kansas City typically has very good special teams over the years, last year ranked first, currently ranked 19th.
Not that you are likely too much into touchbacks versus that actually scoring lots of points deal but if we are looking for things to watch for this particular game, I’d add that one to the list.
Have anything else you wish to discuss? Please put it below or contact me with any questions per usual @StephStradley on Twitter.