The No. 2 seed Kansas City Chiefs host the No. 4 seed Houston Texans in the Divisional Round of the AFC playoffs. This game is a rematch of week 6 when Houston traveled to Kansas City and won 31-24.
During the week 6 loss for the Chiefs, the Texans rushed for 192 yards and 3 touchdowns on the Chiefs defense. During that game, the Chiefs pressure on Watson was non-existent as Houston ran 83 offensive plays, with the Chiefs defense tallying up 0 Sacks, 1 TFL, 2 QB Hits. The key for the Texans victory was the time of possession battle, with the Texans out possessing the Chiefs 39:48-20:12.
This game features a Houston team that came back from a 16-0 deficit to defeat the Buffalo Bills 22-19 in the Wild Card Round. Houston showed resilience through Deshaun Watson’s 2 touchdowns in the second half and the miraculous escape from two Bills defenders to hit running back Taiwan James, who took it down to the 10-yard line, setting up the game-winner for Ka’imi Fairbairn.
This game also features the reigning NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes, who leads one of the most dangerous offensive attacks in the league with Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce, and Sammy Watkins. Mahomes and company went 12-4, grabbing the No. 2 seed week 17 after a win of the Los Angeles Chargers and a Miami Dolphins victory over the New England Patriots. The storyline for the Chiefs this season is the Chiefs defensive improvements as the Chiefs went from the 26th ranked defense to the 13th ranked defense, according to DVOA (Defensive Value Over Average). According to DVOA, the defensive unit led by Chris Jones, Frank Clark, and Tyrann Mathieu ranked 6th in pass defense and 14th in points allowed.
There are 5 keys for the Chiefs to secure a berth in their second consecutive AFC Championship games.
Come Out Swinging
In the week 6 game, the Chiefs came out and traveled down the field and little more, with Mahome tallying 116 yards and gaining an early lead. With the growth of the defense, scoring early gives the defense an edge and motivation early on with an early lead. The defense can play loose and play their game, knowing they have a lead, instead of having pressure on their backs as they did in Week 6.
For the offense to come out early, it also puts pressure on the Texans, who have struggled in every playoff game in the first half under head coach Bill O’Brien. In the two games with O’Brien and Watson together, they have been outscored 34-0- in the first half. If you remember, O’Brien has three bad starts to playoff games, dating back to 2015 when the Chiefs went into Houston and jumped out early on their way to a 30-0 shutout win in Houston that snapped Kansas City’s playoff win drought.
If the Chiefs want to ensure a win this week, they need to come out firing, giving Mahomes and company confidence, the defense a lift, and to put pressure on the Texans offense.
Throw The Ball
The Chiefs have to use their playmakers on offense. They have one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL in Mahomes, the most explosive receiver in the NFL with Hill, who had 80 yards and 2 touchdowns in Week 6, and the best tight end in the NFL through Kelce. They’ve given up the third-fewest sacks in the NFL, despite all of the injuries to the offensive line this season. Each time the Chiefs have gone against the Texans with Eric Fisher, he has surrendered zero sacks to J.J. Watt. Andy Reid is one of the best offensive minds in the league, and this week, he needs to make the game plan focused around Mahomes, Hill, and Kelce.
Remember the threats of Sammy Watkins, Mecole Hardman, Demarcus Robinson, and Damien Williams as well. Watkins has the ability to have a huge game, for example, week 1 against the Jaguars. The Texans can not game plan for all of the weapons at Mahomes disposal. Robinson played well and stepped up in wake of Hill injury, and Hardman has the big play ability receiving and returning the ball. The Texans allow the fourth-most passing yards in the league at 267.2 per game. Throwing the football will put pressure on the Texans secondary, giving the Chiefs the best chance to win the game.
During the regular season, the Texans offensive line surrendered 49 sacks, then add the 7 sacks they surrendered to the Bills last week. Chris Jones and Frank Clark are going to be tough to handle for the Texans line, along with Terrell Suggs and Derrick Nnadi. Tyrann Mathieu’s ability to blitz will be key for the defense to get pressure on Watson. Over the last 10 games of the season, the Chiefs defense averaged 3.4 sacks per game.
In the four games the Texans lost with Watson at quarterback, he was sacked on average 5.5 times per game. A big reason for the slow start in the Wild Card game against the Bills was the early pressure, including 6 sacks in the first half. The Chiefs have done a great job of pressuring the quarterback in recent weeks, and this week can not be any different.
The Chiefs need to be all over Watson throughout the whole game often if they want to force him to make ill-advised throws against the 6th best pass defense in the league, according to DVOA.
The biggest difference from their first meeting this season is the inactive list. Here is a list of key inactives from the Week 6 meeting between these two teams:
Eric Fisher, OL
Anthony Hitchens, LB
Chris Jones, DT
Sammy Watkins, WR
Andrew Wylie, OL
Adding on to that extensive list, Tyreek Hill only played half the snaps on offense as it was his first game back from the shoulder injury he suffered in Week 1 against Jacksonville. Don’t forget about the Mahomes as he played in the game with a lingering ankle injury, which he initially suffered against Jacksonville Week 1.
Now, the Chiefs are healthy (outside of the Thornhill injury) and have all of the team practicing in full this week. Having a fully healthy offensive line will make life easier for Mahomes, who is feeling healthier each week. Hill and Watkins are fully healthy and are primed to be big parts of the game plan against the Texans secondary. A huge part was the loss of Chris Jones and Anthony Hitchens in Week 6. Jones brings pressure against any quarterback that the defense faces, which is need after the team sacked Watson zero times in Week 6. Adding Hitchens helps drastically as he has led the team in tackles the past two seasons and is solid stopping the run, which is huge for the Chiefs as the Texans ran all over the defense the first time.
Having a healthy Chiefs team is going to make it more difficult for Deshaun Watson and company to defeat a Chiefs team, who is playing their best football of the season.
Keep Your Foot On The Gas
Every Chiefs fan knows Andy Reid and his tendency to take it back a notch once they gain a big lead. For example, Wild Card Game 2017 against the Titans. The Chiefs had a 21-3 lead that would be evaporated as the Titans would go on to win 22-21. Another prime example is the week 6 game once again, as the Chiefs held a 17-3 lead in the first quarter, scoring only 7 points the rest of the game, losing at home for the second week in a row.
With the other four keys to winning this game, the Chiefs should have the ability to gain an early lead on the Texans. The Chiefs have to play a full 60 minutes of football on offense. Deshaun Watson has proved that he can lead a team to late game-winning drives in both college and the NFL. Whether it is against Alabama in the National Championship or against the Bills in the playoffs, Watson can put together game-winning drives. The Chiefs can prevent this by keeping their foot on the gas pedal and not giving the Texans any hope of a comeback by continuously moving the ball and putting points on the scoreboard.
The Chiefs has not put teams away this year after getting a lead, and that needs to change this week. Do not go conservative this time! Forget about the AFC Championship Game! Focus on what’s at hand right then and put the Texans away if the opportunity presents itself.
The Chiefs have a chance to not only get revenge on the Texans but also get back to the AFC Championship, where the fell in overtime last year. This team is motivated and wants it more than ever! The road to the Super Bowl starts this week. Kickoff is at 3:05 ET on Sunday, January 12th.