The Playoffs are back in Kansas City as the Chiefs take on the Houston Texans on Sunday at 2 P.M. This is a rematch of the Week 6 matchup that saw the Chiefs lose their second consecutive game at Arrowhead. However, nearly three months later, the makeup of both of these teams is entirely different. The Chiefs were without several key players, including Chris Jones, Eric Fisher, Sammy Watkins, Anthony Hitchens, and Andrew Wiley. The team was also playing with a Tyreek Hill who only played about half the snaps. While it will be a different game both teams will reference the week six contest when trying to build a plan to win. It will also show how much of a difference a few key players can make on the outcome of the game.
The Chiefs tried to start the game with a Bang!
Even with a Patrick Mahomes who was clearly injured in the previous week vs Indianapolis, Andy Reid still wanted to start the game out going deep and for good reason. Tyreek Hill was back in action for the first time since Week 1 and appeared to be revved up and ready to go. The Chiefs give Mahomes more time by leaving in extra blockers and rolling him out. Hill splits the corner and safety but the throw is a little offline. Houston has had problems in their secondary all year long and it was apparent the Chiefs wanted to take advantage of them early. Later in the drive, we would see why it was Andy Reid was taking deep shots so early.
Mahomes’ cadence mastery was under the full display on this play. Several Texans defensive linemen jump offsides causing the Chiefs to have a free play. Mahomes appears to have options here as Demarcus Robinson comes free and Mahomes glances his way for a brief moment. Incredibly enough, a split second later, Mahomes fires a ball from the Space-X testing facilities to Hill who makes it quite clear he is very healthy. With jawdropping speed, vertical leap, and strength to finish in the endzone Hill scores the game’s first points.
The Texans had a nightmare start to this game as after the long score Hyde is stripped by Frank Clark, who is able to pick it up and put the Chiefs in business deep in Houston territory. Clark, who at the time was in severe pain due to a neck injury, showed a great burst and awareness on the first play, a kind of burst we have seen more out of him in the last few weeks and one the team will need to win on Sunday.
The Chiefs couldn’t capitalize on the Texans turnover and settled for a field goal. Houston would come out and try to establish their ground game in the absence of Chris Jones.
The Texans wasted no time trying to establish their ground attack coming out in 12 personnel and running tackle power. The Texans use a great play side double team and good backside blocking to create a crease for Hyde to power through for a gain of around six yards. After this game, the Chiefs would sign Mike Pennel who has been a rock for the interior defensive line ever since. The Texans would take a field goal to shorten the KC lead.
The chiefs continued to work on the Texans secondary when they got the ball back. This crossing pattern resulted in a big chunk of yards and a first down. The cross gives Kelce a bit of separation and as a rusher crashes down on Mahomes he throws a dart to Kelce. Interestingly enough the Houston pass rush might have prevented a touchdown here because if Mahomes had another second Demarcus Robinsons man trips and he is wide open up the seem.
A few plays later in the red zone the Chiefs catch Houston blitzing and run a perfectly timed screen pass to Damien Williams. Good seal blocking by Austin Reiter and Laurant Duvernay-Tardiff creates the initial space and Martinas Rankin gets a nice kick out to ensure Williams would score. The score was 17-3 that point and it looked like the Chiefs were on their way to a blowout.
Deshaun Watson would get into a groove on the next drive and the better he played the better the Texans looked. In the five-wide set and the Chiefs having six on the line of scrimmage, it made for an easy mismatch for Watson to deliver a strike for a first down. There appeared to be some miscommunication by the Chiefs as Dan Sorensen back peddles pre-snap causing Darron Lee to have to cover a lot of ground before he is able to make a tackle.
The Texans would finally get into the endzone early in the second on a pass from Watson to Duke Johnson. The Texans started to take advantage of the flats and on this play, as the TE gets vertical it causes Damien Wilson to hesitate for just a moment giving Johnson the separation he needed to make the catch and score. This is one aspect, Steve Spagnolo has countered in the weeks since by playing more safety heavy sets and changing up the Chiefs looks on defense. The Chiefs were still in control and lead 17-9 after a missed PAT.
Something that hurt the Chiefs was their inability to run the ball. The team only tallied 53 rushing yards all game. On this play, the nose pushes Reiter back and gets to the A gap causing LeSean McCoy to try for a cut back lane but the Texans were playing for a cut back as the defenders paly the backs side of the Offensive Lines blocks and make the tackle. In recent weeks the Chiefs run game seems to have some life back in it and to be able to control the game the Chiefs will need to find ways to run it this week.
The Chiefs were headed into a score when a bizarre play resulted in Mahomes’ first interception of the year. With three wideouts to the left Demarus Robinson and Tyreek Hill both run toward the post while Kelce stays center when he is contacted by a Texans defender causing him to fall down. It is unclear whether Mahomes thinks it is a free play or not but he throws up an easy interception to Tashaun Gipson. This would give the Texans back the ball with a lot of momentum.
Houston again attacks KC using play-action to slow down the backers and again it results in a first down. They use the same flat concept to get a man open and a missed tackle from having to catch up leads Houston to move the ball down the field on a 12 minute 80-yard drive to cut the Chiefs lead down to one point. The below zone play is just another one of Houstons runs that they used to gash the Chiefs with. This time they go with a big zone concept bringing the tight end to block up the backside linebacker. Having Anthony Hitchens back should give the Chiefs help in run support. Here it appears the Chiefs are waiting on the blocker and Hyde to play before they make a move. Lately, we have seen them attack gaps on these types of runs. Playing passive on Sunday won’t be the way to win.
The Chiefs got the ball back with 32 seconds left in the half when disaster would strike.
On the Wide view, it is apparent that Kelce finds a soft spot in the middle of Houston’s defense and Mahomes seems to see him but at the same time Charles Omenihu sacks Mahomes knocking the ball out and it is recovered by the Texans deep in KC territory with little time left on the clock. Reiter was beaten in another long pass pro as now the Chiefs are in hot water after the quick start.
Watson would make the Chiefs pay minutes later this time showing why his legs make him so dangerous in the first place. The Chiefs, who didn’t record a sack all-day struggle to pressure Watson who sees the backers playing zone and head for the pile on and the score. At half time it was 23-17 Texans.
The Texans would come out of halftime drive down and miss a field goal giving the Chiefs decent field position. 10 plays and 64 yards later Tyreek Hill was in the endzone with his second receiving touchdown of the day.
Mahomes steps up in the pocket and makes the defenders choose between guarding Kelce or Hill who is coming over on a crossing route. As the corner reacts toward Kelce, Hill comes free in his zone for an easy pitch and catch. This would give the Chiefs the lead but also be their last score of the game.
The Texans would waste no time coming back to the ground game as Hyde goe up the gut for 26 big yards, further wearing on the Chiefs and burning clock.
Once again, the Chiefs fail to get any penetration play side, the backers are washed out of the picture, and Ogbah is caught playing for Watson on the read, as the sea parts for Hyde in what was a revenge game of sorts for him. The Chiefs D was starting to show signs of fatigue at this point in the third and Houston was on their way into score when a rising star made an incredible play.
Big time. With the toughest test of his career yet Ward got physical with Hopkins and came down with a 50/50 ball to get the Chiefs back the ball. Watson was forced to speed up because of the incoming blitz. Ward jammed off the line and then at five got his eyes up and came down as Hopkins was off balance.
4th Quarter 24-23 Chiefs
The Chiefs lead was small and they needed to convert on a big third down to keep the game out of Houstons reach.
The Texans were playing man here and waiting for the slant to Kelce as it was knocked away for a 4th down. Interestingly enough it appears as though Hill had more separation than Kelce, and even though he was short of the sticks given his speed it would have been an easy conversion. This would force a punt. With the game in the balance, the Chiefs would be mauled by Houston as they worked their way down the field.
As the Texans moved the ball more and more on the ground it opened up the play-action even more as AGAIN Watson dumps it to the flat, this time to Will Fuller who was tackled by Tyrann Mathieu. The play-action froze Mathieu for just a brief moment and allowed Fuller time to catch and pick up another first down. This 12 play, 93 yards, eight-plus minute drive resulted in a Watson rushing touchdown and a two-point conversion for the lead. The Chiefs would get the ball back but the offense seemed out of rhythm after being on the sideline for so long.
First, LeSean McCoy gets stuck between two defensive linemen as the Chiefs appear to go to the screen well one too many times. The play resulted in a loss of four, setting up a second and long. If McCoy is able to get out cleanly there was a lot of space down the field. Another example of excellent Defensive line play by Houston bailing out the secondary. The very next play doesn’t appear to be much better.
Rankin steps the wrong way on a zone… letting his man come untouched holding McCoy to a single yard. At this point in the game, it started to become clear Andy Reid’s play-calling was to protect Mahomes who after being hit several times again this game was starting to not look like himself. Throwing the ball.
The Chief’s last offensive play had no chance and was blown up by J.J. Watt who got the B gap on Mitch Schwartz forcing Mahomes to scramble and throw the ball away. There weren’t many men open down the field either as the Texans secondary was able to hold long enough for the pass rush to get to Mahomes. The Chiefs would not see the ball again as they were forced to punt.
The Chiefs defense had been on the field nearly the entire second half and was getting gashed. The fatigue was seen when a simple hitch route to Hopkins resulted in a missed tackle and a gain of 18 yards another first down. The kind of clock possession the Texans had heavily resembled what the Colts did to the Chiefs a week prior, by holding the ball for long periods of time while running all over them. The Chiefs would start calling timeouts and eventually get the Texans into a third down. This is where we would see some semblance of what the Chiefs have done to stop the run since then.
Reggie Ragland who had been a starter on last year’s team had barely played at this point in the season. However, given a chance late vs the Texans he stepped up to earn more playing time. This stop showed Ragland’s ability to blitz the run well, which Spags has utilized ever since this game, especially in key run downs. Despite getting the Texans to a 4th down it was not meant to be.
A simple mistake, but a costly one. On a game that appeared to be more about the Chiefs’ mistakes and shortcomings rather than the Texans, who also played sloppy at times, successes it was fitting a miscommunication sprung open Hopkins for the winning play.
This game was the turning point of the Chiefs season. The defense would no longer be able to give up close to 200 rushing yards and give the other team the ball for 40 minutes a game. No matter how potent the offense was it was not good enough to overcome such a deficit. And it would need to be improved as a week later the Chiefs would lose Mahomes for about three games. Now that three months have passed a lot of things have changed. Primarily the Chiefs will be able to field a fully healthy team having NO injuries coming out of the first-round bye. The signing of Mike Pennel and the emergence of Ragland as a run-stuffer will help the Chiefs combat the running attack they faced early in the season. Patrick Mahomes and Tyreek Hill are full go and I fully expect the Chiefs to challenge the Texans secondary early and often. Eric Fisher being back should sure up the pass protection. The Texans hung their hat on this win, and after the first round, they were lucky to escape with a win over Buffalo. All in all, despite the Loss the Chiefs are clearly the more talented roster, and given that Andy Reid has had over a week to prepare his team I expect them to come out and win. This will certainly be a test that will show whether this team is the real deal or not. Whether the D has improved, and whether last year wasn’t a fluke, and this team can win big games in January.