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The Kansas City Chiefs are (still) better than the Houston Texans

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Hello, AP. It's good to be back for another season. Today, I've got narratives only a homer could love, followed by some stats for you more "objective" types. Oh, and Kwon Yuri. Hope you enjoy!

30-0

Do you remember how you began your morning on January 9th, 2016, the biggest Sunday of the Andy Reid era, when our Kansas City Chiefs entered Houston on a 10-game win streak, looking to end their playoff woes? I was up still from the previous night, late into that very morning, writing a game preview here at Arrowhead Pride, which began:

"The Kansas City Chiefs are a better football team than the Houston Texans. Full stop. This is a game they should win. Full stop."

Not much has changed since that day. The Chiefs are in year four of the Reid era, have their quarterback position locked up and have built an offense around it, have won 11 straight regular season games, have persevered through major injuries and loss of talent on both sides of the ball, and have three straight winning seasons. Kansas City possesses, in a word, continuity. Houston does not. That's partly why the Chiefs have beat the Texans twice in a row in Houston, and will look to make it three in a row this Sunday.

It's the continuity, stupid

The value of continuity to an NFL team is simple: while others are fundamentally changing their vision or identity, and playing catch-up as a result, you have your center of balance and are now tinkering at the margins, replacing or rearranging small, or sometimes larger, parts while maintaining the structure and course. This means Kansas City can lose their No. 1 CB, lose their No. 1 RB, lose their No. 1 LB, and still win. A lot. This means Reid can start opening things up to Alex Smith more, trusting him more. And Smith, in turn, can start throwing more back-shoulder touchdowns to Jeremy Maclin, and far sideline "go up and get it" darts to Travis Kelce. Little things that were missing can be added when the big stuff is figured out and you have time to explore the margins. The Chiefs have figured out how to win. We got that covered. Now it's time to win better.

It's the reliable center plus the tinkering that lets Bill Belichick be immensely frustrating for almost two decades. It's what allows him to make Matt Cassel and Jimmy Garoppolo into short-term winning quarterbacks. It's why the Lamar Hunt Trophy goes through New England every single season, and why it is only our continued tinkering that could bring that honor home again. #continuedtinkering (okay, you don't have to trend that...)

The Chiefs started 2013 with nine wins in a row after being the worst team in football. The Chiefs came back from a 1-5 start to make the playoffs. The Chiefs lost year after year to Peyton Manning, and then finally beat him in stupendous fashion. The Chiefs quit exercising their playoff demons and instead started exorcising them. The Chiefs were down 17 points with under 12 minutes to go this past Sunday and won.

January 9th, 2016, was a day for breaking narratives. This past Sunday against San Diego was a day for breaking narratives. The Chiefs have spent three seasons breaking narratives. Now, maybe we can enjoy some continuity. Maybe we can start establishing narratives.

Déjà vu

In that spirit, let's see some more copy+paste from the playoff game preview:

"The Kansas City Chiefs are a better football team than the Houston Texans. Full stop. This is a game they should win. Full stop."

Worth repeating.

"It feels only right that playoff victories over Houston should bookend the curse. Just like Marcus Peters interceptions should bookend Houston's season."

Nice.

"Peters Peninsula is not just the name of an adult club in Tijuana..."

Very nice.

"And the Chiefs, as a team, lead the league over the last nine games with 16 interceptions. So I cannot tell you when Hoyer's lucky ways will end. It's entirely possible he survives another game with a high average Depth of Target and low interception percentage. But I can tell you that Hoyer's luck will run out at some point, and Kansas City is statistically the most likely team to make that happen."

Make it so!

"Win the turnover battle. Win the sack battle. Proceed to celebrate."

Meet the new boss

Now, I suppose it's not accurate to say that nothing has changed. The Kansas City pass rush, through one week, looks worse than 2015. And the Texans went and got themselves Brock Osweiler, who we do not know too much about, but have to assume is better than Brian Hoyer (or do we?). Let's take these in order.

The Chiefs will be without Justin Houston, their top pass-rusher, this Sunday. But this is nothing new from the previous seven games. Along with Week 1 this year, the Chiefs also missed #50 for the entire month of December last year, and had an injured version of him struggling to stay on the field in their two playoff games.

In his absence, the Chiefs committed to a pass-rush-by-committee that produced pressure throughout the season. Kansas City was the only team in 2015 to have seven guys with at least four sacks. Safety Ron Parker (end zone-deflection hero against San Diego and last year against Buffalo, too) had five sacks himself. Defensive Coordinator Bob Sutton has found ways to keep quarterbacks on their butts with blitzes and with depth. Over the last five weeks of the regular season, when Houston was out, the Chiefs amassed 17 sacks. That is over three per game: a rate that would have led the NFL last year. Against the Texans in the Wild Card round, Allen Bailey and Jaye Howard combined for three sacks.

So while earning only one late-game sack against Philip Rivers last week, and zero sacks in the playoff game against Tom Brady, are both worrying, these are not your normal weeks for Kansas City's pass rush -- with or without Justin Houston. Facing a younger quarterback, in a new system, should improve the pressure.

From the FanPosts

To support this, I reference two FanPosts from this week.

The first, by saintschiefsfan, goes through the first-half snaps of last week's game, and analyzes both sides of the ball. I'll quote the relevant bit for us below, but I encourage you to check out the whole thing:

"This idea that Rivers had all day to throw [is] a myth. Lots of quick reads/throws under two seconds. There was no way KC could have mustered a pass rush under those circumstances. There were a few times that had Rivers held onto the ball a little longer... he would have been in some trouble. ... The coverage was a disaster. You can tell SD watched the NE game from last year and had the same game plan. They slanted routed us to death. That is disturbing."

Can the Texans' new QB execute the kind of game-plan Rivers and Brady, two of the best in the league, needed to have success? The quick passing game has proved useful against the Chiefs, but it requires just-as-quick reads and execution. Ball placement, timing, and the team being on the same page are all critical. Again, the Kansas City pass rush should fare better against a new offense lacking all those qualities which come, in part, from continuity.

The second post is by The_Red_Arrow. This AP member took the time to look at Osweiler's film from his first game this year. What he observed is encouraging to me:

Brock showed time and time again he is not afraid to let it loose. There were some deep balls to Fuller that were either over-thrown or under-thrown.

What doomed Brian Hoyer last year in the playoff game was that he had a very high average Depth of Target (aDOT) all season long. This means he was throwing the ball further downfield on average (for reference, Alex Smith, historically, has a very low aDOT -- lots of short passes).

A downfield game can look really amazing within a small sample size (see: Nick Foles, Colin Kaepernick), but it inevitably leads to more picks as more passes are thrown, and as defenses compensate for your vertical game, especially if it is your only tool in the shed. (Unless your name is Aaron Rodgers. Then you can do whatever you want.) The more you throw the ball downfield, and the further downfield you go, the more likely the ball is to be intercepted.

If Osweiler is unafraid of pressing things, this is the opposite of what gave Rivers and Brady success, and also the opposite of what kept them clean. The Chiefs' pass rush, and ball hawks, will have a good day against a quarterback who thinks he has both the time and talent enough to challenge downfield.

What else do we know?

Speaking of Mr. Osweiler, the Texans' new signal-caller has only 310 "real" career passing attempts (by "real", I mean not entering a game when his team is winning and it's over, but playing and throwing to win). Most those attempts came behind a Denver offense that was bottom third in the league. This tells us very little. And while I would like to use the fact that he couldn't jump Peyton Manning on the depth chart against him -- given that the latter was arguably 2015's worst quarterback -- this is still Peyton Manning we're talking about, and I doubt Osweiler really had much of a chance outplaying Peyton's politics, even if he did outplay his football.

One thing the two had in common was their collectively miserable outing against these very Chiefs. After the future Hall of Famer threw his fourth interception, Osweiler took over. In relief, he was sacked three times for 20 yards, and completed 14-of-24 passes for 146 yards, with one pick and one meaningless touchdown late in the fourth quarter. (Then again, the pick was probably meaningless, too.)

On their best days, the Kansas City defense can make any quarterback look really bad. They imposed on Denver the nadir of their 2015 campaign; same to New England the year before. They also cost Houston their season, and Brian Hoyer his job. Osweiler's few snaps tell us very little. But we know, by virtue of his opponent, that the ceiling is limited, and the floor is bottomless.

Still better

Now, whereas (let's let Seth handle all the "wherein") we cannot predict the degree of incompetence of the Houston offense, we can still say the unit as a whole is inferior to Kansas City's. This is where continuity is clearest. During the course of this ongoing, regular season streak, the Chiefs have simply been better on the offensive side of the ball. Will that change tomorrow?

Bonus round

Here's an eerie excerpt from the Football Outsiders preview of last season's playoff game:

"Left for dead at 1-5 with only that Houston win under their belts, the Chiefs rallied to win 10 straight. No 1-5 team had ever done that before. The closest turnaround should be a team very familiar to both cities. In 1993, the Houston Oilers started 1-4 with only a 30-0 win over Kansas City [emphasis added] before entering the playoffs on an 11-game winning streak, holding every opponent in that streak under 21 points. As fate would have it, the Chiefs were their playoff opponent, and Joe Montana led a classic fourth-quarter comeback, scoring 21 points in the fourth quarter alone. That was January 16, 1994, a day neither city has really moved on from football-wise."

So much dark magic in that paragraph. It's like playing the Bills every year. (And there's another broken narrative.)

Go Chiefs!