Thanks to Brett Kollmann over at SB Nation's Texans blog, Battle Red Blog, for answering our Chiefs-Texans questions. Brett gave us some good insight on the Texans outstanding defense, stopping JJ Watt (good luck) what the loss of LT Duane Brown means to Houston.
Read our Q&A below and then hop over to Battle Red Blog to read my answers to Brett's questions.
1. How have the Texans changed since Week 1?
BRB: This team is entirely different than the one that lost the season opener. Brian Hoyer may be the quarterback again, but that hasn't seemed to impact production what so ever this season. Hell, despite starting four different men under center this year, Bill O'Brien's offensestill managed to cumulatively toss 29 touchdowns to only 12 interceptions, which ties a franchise record for most TD passes in a single season.
DeAndre Hopkins has of course been playing out of his mind to lead that charge, but Houston has even gotten some nice contributions out of Cecil Shorts, Nate Washington, and rookie wideout Jaelen Strong. Don't sleep on this offense to put up some points, with or without Duane Brown heading to IR.
Where the Texans have really gotten their strength from this year, however, is the defense. Casual fans may look at the Atlanta and Miami blowouts and dismiss Houston off hand, but what they may not realize is just how much this defense has changed since that fateful disaster against the Dolphins. Rahim Moore was promptly benched for giving up three 50-plus yard touchdowns in the first half alone in Miami, and Ryan Mallett was finally released in the next week for being a lazy, selfish teammate. As soon as those two personnel changes were made, this was a whole new squad.
In the weeks since, the quarterback situation has finally been stabilized, while Moore's replacement - Andre Hal - went on to lead the team in interceptions. The defense became extraordinarily stingy, giving up only 12.1 points per game in the second half of the season (tops in the league), while also having the best third down defense in over a decade at just 28.5 percent throughout the entire season. The team even set a new team record in sacks at 45, good for fifth in the NFL. Houston's offense may be average, but the defense is truly special. For that reason alone, nobody can count them out of any game in this post season.
2. Who has had success against JJ Watt this year and what did they do to slow him down?
BRB: Only two things have really slowed down Watt during his career - constant double and triple teams, and a broken hand. The JuggerWatt had a slow period during this season while his hand was in a cast where he was held without a sack for three straight games (two of those being losses to the Patriots and Bills), but wouldn't you know that as soon as that cast came off in week 17 he exploded for three sacks, five TFL, one FF, and two pass deflections.
That's just what he does, which is why Watt may be on track for his third Defensive Player of the Year award in his last four seasons. You can of course leave in extra blockers to help account for Watt, but in doing so teams have left themselves vulnerable all year long to Whitney Mercilus, Jadeveon Clowney, and the rest of the Texans fearsome pass rush.
Just like facing Justin Houston, there really isn't a way to win one on one against Watt outside of egregiously holding on every play and hoping the refs don't throw too many flags.
3. The Texans lost LT Duane Brown. How big of a loss is this? How do the Texans plan to prepare for the Chiefs pass rush?
BRB: It's a massive loss. Brown has been an anchor on the blind side of this line both in pass protection and as a run blocker, and his absence will surely be felt in obvious passing situations.
Between Brown's replacement, Chris Clark, and right tackle Derek Newton's mediocrity in pass protection, I can't say I have a ton of confidence in Houston's ability to shield Brian Hoyer from the likes of Justin Houston and Tamba Hali coming off both edges.
Their best hope might just be in the ill-timed injuries that Kansas City has amassed among their outside linebackers, as all three of their top edge rushers are at the very least banged up heading into this weekend. If those injuries can hamper any of their play what so ever, maybe...MAYBE Houston has a shot at generating some offense through the air.
4. Give me a Brian Hoyer scouting report. When he's playing well, what's he doing? And when he's struggling, why?
BRB: Hoyer is best when the offense is in rhythm and chewing up clock. If you need a 12 play, 75 yard drive for a touchdown to start a quarter he can get you there no problem. If you need a perfectly executed two-minute drill to send a game to overtime, however, that is where he struggles. High pressure situations simply are not his forte, which is why it has been so important for the defense to step up this season and take that pressure off of Hoyer in the first place.
They have been able to shoulder that load most of the time, but the NFL playoffs are rarely devoid of pressure-filled moments. If Hoyer can't get the job done when the Texans fall behind, then Houston's Super Bowl chances take a considerable hit.
5. Your score prediction?
BRB: I'll go Texans 13, Chiefs 12. Both defenses should have great days in this one, but I like Houston's chances for a DeAndre Hopkins touchdown reception more than I do Kansas City's chances at getting one from Travis Kelce. He's a phenomenal tight end, but this is a phenomenal defense. Edge, Texans.