Ethan Hewett | January 12th, 2020
The Kansas City Chiefs will be hosting the Houston Texans at 3:05PM ET on Sunday, January 12th. The game will feature a rematch between the two teams who squared off earlier this season in week six where Houston emerged victorious 31-24.
Line: Kansas City -9.5
Houston enters this week’s divisional matchup fresh off a comeback, overtime victory in the AFC Wild Card Round against the Buffalo Bills 22-19. While they did emerge victoriously, Houston struggled for the majority of this matchup and if not for the miraculous abilities of star quarterback Deshaun Watson, the Texans would most likely not be here in the Divisional Round.
While the run defense struggled late in the regular season, the presence of J.J. Watt against Buffalo made a huge difference late in the game. In fact, in the nine games Watt has played this season, opposing offenses averaged 95 yards a game compared to the 156.75 average in the eight he has not. Houston even played two more top-15 and top-10 run offenses when Watt was on the field.
To go even further, according to NFL Next Gen Stats, Houston’s defense averaged 6.3 yards per carry outside the tackle box without Watt and 4.8 yards with Watt in 2019. Coincidence? I think not.
Houston on offense will rely, as always, on their star power in Watson, DeAndre Hopkins, and if healthy, Will Fuller. The Texans will also need a strong performance from running backs Carlos Hyde and Duke Johnson to try and create some balance and attack a defense that is just starting to prove themselves.
The Chiefs have found their stride as they finished with an impressive five-game winning streak including a stunning victory in Foxborough against the New England Patriots. In that five-game stretch, the Chiefs allowed an average of just 10.4 points per game. Steve Spagnuolo is notorious for having a complex scheme and since the team’s bye week, the defense has settled into it and has become extremely creative on that side of the ball.
Just as the defense has changed a lot since these two teams’ last meeting, injuries plagued the Chiefs in the first half of the season. Most notably missing from the week six matchup between these two teams were DT Chris Jones, LT Eric Fisher, WR Sammy Watkins, LB Anthony Hitchens, and OG Andrew Wylie. Tyreek Hill was limited and Patrick Mahomes was on a bad ankle. Simply put, this is not the same Chiefs team we saw early in the season. However, they will be without their star rookie safety Juan Thornhill (knee).
Kansas City Keys to the Game
Contain Watson – We all know how good the Chiefs secondary has looked recently. However, to truly slow down this Houston offense, you have to control Watson. Both in the pass and run game. Watson is dangerous off the edge on the read-option, and if Kansas City’s edge players can’t hold containment, it’s going to be a long day in Arrowhead Stadium.
Establish a Big Lead Early – The Chiefs need to establish a big lead early in this game. Controlling the clock and establishing a 14-plus point lead would be just the cushion that Kansas City will need facing a Houston team who are 4-5 when trailing at halftime. Getting creative in how they run the ball on offense using pre-snap motion will help isolate a weaker Houston secondary.
CLOCK. MANAGEMENT. – While I don’t personally think this game will be close in the end, Andy Reid and the Chiefs need to manage the clock at the end of the halves. No silly mistakes that end up costing them a crucial first down or even the game.
Shut Down Hopkins – Whatever creative designs that Spagnuolo may draw up should be based around double-teaming Hopkins. Great defenses take away what you are good at, and the Chiefs need to take away Houston’s number one target.
Houston Keys to the Game
Possession and a Close Game – As they always say, a good offense is your best defense. How do you beat the Chiefs? Time of Possession (T.O.P.). In three out of the four Chiefs losses, they were dominated by a total of 40 minutes and 32 seconds in T.O.P. The Texans also need to keep it close early as the Chiefs are 3-0 when leading by 10 or more points at the half.
Man Coverage – Back in week four, the Detroit Lions showed how to slow down Mahomes. Houston relies a lot on cover 2 and cover 3 schemes, which Mahomes will pick apart all day. Attempting to implement some man defense looks and well-timed blitzes will be a necessity if Houston wants to slow down a powerful Chiefs offense.
Player Health – There are two Texans who make a huge difference on their respective sides of the ball. Watt and Fuller. Watt as we discussed dramatically strengthens Houston’s run defense and pressure on the quarterback. Whereas Fuller adds the vertical stretch for the Texans offense and would keep the Chiefs defense honest and free up Hopkins to make plays underneath.
Houston is 0-3 in the Divisional Round and were held to less than 17 points in two out of those three. Houston is also 1-2 against the spread in games where they were underdogs by six or more points in January.
For Kansas City, the under is 13-7 in games played during the month of January and is 3-1 where the over/under was 50 or more. As the total for this game has continued to go up, the value on the under has also increased.
This is by no means a lock for the Chiefs. A rough playoff history and a Texans team that can dig themselves out of holes late stand in the way of the Chiefs breaking a 50-year dry spell of making it to the Super Bowl. However, the weather is looking rough with Kansas City, MO projected to be cloudy and windy sitting around 38 degrees. Kansas City is now healthy and looking for revenge. The Chiefs should be able to jump to an early lead and never look back.
Chiefs 31 Texans 20
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Main Image Credit:Embed from Getty Images