The Kansas City Chiefs visit NRG Stadium this weekend, probably with a feeling much akin to that of being at Arrowhead. After all, they came to Houston twice last year and left with 2 victories. The second of those victories was a 30-0 evisceration of the Texans in the first round of the playoffs. The playoff game was a painful reminder of how inadequate the Texans were on offense last season, as Brian Hoyer threw 4 picks and lost a fumble.
This Sunday could be different. Both teams enter week 2 having won their opening games. Houston took care of Chicago, 23-14, while the Chiefs had to come back for a 33-27 overtime victory against San Diego. There is reason for Houston fans to be optimistic, and there is reason for KC fans to be a bit concerned.
Houston quarterback Brock Osweiler was very solid in his debut as a Texan. He threw for 231 yds. and 2 scores. He was picked off in the first quarter, but other than that, he showed a solid command of the offense and made some very accurate throws. There easily could have been 82 more yards and another score had Will Fuller not dropped a perfectly thrown ball. Despite that, Osweiler looked completely in control, and was able to find 8 different receivers on the day.
Running back Lamar Miller helped Houston control time of possession while amassing 106 yards on 28 carries. Perhaps the most pleasant surprise on the day was the performance of rookie first round pick Will Fuller (other than the aforementioned drop). Fuller finished with 5 catches for 107 yards and a score. Houston’s defense was stellar, forcing a couple of turnovers and sacking Jay Cutler 5 times. Outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus had 2 of those sacks, one of which resulted in a fumble.
As for the Chiefs, they were playing at home, and were expected to have little trouble with the Chargers. It wasn’t to be. San Diego, behind Phillip Rivers’ arm and Melvin Gordon’s legs, were leading 24-10 entering the 4th quarter. KC finally woke up, mounted a comeback, and ultimately won on the strength of an Alex Smith 2-yard run in overtime.
It was a reality check for a Chiefs team that is expected by many to contend for the AFC West title. So, even though they’ve beaten Houston twice in the last year, how much confidence will the Chiefs have this Sunday. Let’s remember, these teams are quite different now than when they last met in December. No team in the NFL has made more changes on offense than Houston, and the defense is now much healthier. This game should be much different.
Key Additions: Brock Osweiler, Lamar Miller, Will Fuller, Braxton Miller, Stephen Anderson
* Last time these teams met J.J. Watt was battling torn groin and abdominal muscles as well as a herniated disc in his back. He is now fully healthy and should be a much bigger factor.
* Jadeveon Clowney missed the playoff game, but is back at full health. He looked very disruptive against the Bears.
- Left tackle Duane Brown has yet to return from an injury he sustained near the end of last season. Veteran Chris Clark is his replacement.
- Also, rookie Nick Martin was expected to start at center, but he suffered a season ending ankle injury during training camp. UDFA Greg Mancz is filling in for him. The offensive line was decent last week, but this is still a concern.
- Brian Cushing went down last week with a strained MCL. He is expected to miss 4-6 weeks. That means Max Bullough will step in. Bullough played well last weekend, and will need to continue.
- Second year man Bernardrick McKinney will be taking the defensive calls, which is usually Cushing’s job. It’s his time to really shine. Main concern here is pass coverage.
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS
Key Additions: Chris Jones, DeMarcus Robinson, Tyreek Hill
- Justin Houston, one of the top edge rushers in the league, is on the PUP list.
- Jamaal Charles, one of the top running backs in the league, is doubtful for Sunday.
- Veteran corner Sean Smith left in free agency to sign with Oakland
- Both of the Chiefs starting guards are out for the game
This is a game where Bill O’Brien will try to control the clock with Lamar Miller, Alfred Blue, and Tyler Ervin. He will take some shots to DeAndre Hopkins and Will fuller, and hopefully get Braxton Miller a little more involved out of the slot. Osweiler needs to protect the football and make the right audibles when necessary. The KC defense is a bit banged up, but is still quite formidable up front.
Defensively, Houston needs to get after Alex Smith. KC’s offensive line should have a very difficult time dealing with Watt, Clowney, and Whitney Mercilus. That being said, look for the Chiefs to throw a lot of screens, and quick passes. Running backs Spencer Ware and Charcandrick West are more than capable of tearing off big chunks. Houston will need to set the edge, and the linebackers will need to be careful not to over pursue.
The Chiefs offense presents several big challenges. First of all, Smith is a very mobile quarterback. He can break the pocket and pick up first downs. Again, the linebackers need to be very disciplined in their reads. Smith was very efficient with his legs in both games at Houston a season ago.
Also, tight end Travis Kelce has killed Houston in the last couple of games. He is a very difficult matchup for a linebacker. If Smith has time, he will find Kelce down the field. The hope is that Houston doesn’t give up any back breaking plays to him. And we can’t forget about Jeremy Maclin on the outside. Maclin has great speed and is always a major threat.
Andy Reid is a good coach, and he gets the most out of his players. Alex Smith is very underrated despite putting together solid year after solid year. However, not having Charles in the lineup is a huge loss. Also, the fact that the offensive line is banged up is a major problem. The Chiefs will need to figure out Houston’s pass rush if they are to have any chance.
The Chiefs once formidable defense looked quite average last weekend. Defensive rookie of the year Marcus Peters was dominated by Keenan Allen (before Allen went down with an ACL injury). The absence of Justin Houston is glaring. Both Tamba Hali and Derrick Johnson have lost a step. Despite that, Alan Bailey and Dontarie Poe are monsters on the line. And Eric Berry at safety is one of the best in the business.
Houston should be able to run the ball effectively in this game. Brock Osweiler will again have enough time to find several different receivers. Look for Fuller and Hopkins to make an impact. I also like the possibility of Braxton Miller and Stephen Anderson working the middle of the field.
I think Smith is going to have a tough game. Houston’s pass rush is quickly turning into one of the most fearsome in the league. Watt has a game under his belt, and should be much stronger this time around. Clowney and Mercilus seemingly get into the backfield at will. If the inside linebackers can play a decent game, this should make if very hard for the Chiefs to generate a whole lot of offense.
I don’t see this being a very high scoring game, but I think Houston’s pass rush will make the difference in the end.
I predict a Houston victory, 17-13