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Chiefs-Texans, what to watch for: More rookies, please

NFL: AFC Wild Card-Kansas City Chiefs at Houston Texans John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Will we continue to see the new Alex Smith?

We saw a version of the Chiefs QB last week that we’ve never seen before. Trusting his receivers, throwing jump balls, passes in to tight coverage, sticking throws on the run, and bringing his team back from a big deficit to win a shootout. Who was that guy?And will we see him again this week?

Alex Smith doesn’t need to be the guy that brought the Chiefs back in Week 1 in order to win at Houston. But he can’t be the guy that struggled in the first half either. It’s fair to believe that the chemistry he’s begun to build with his receivers will continue, and that he might take a few more chances than we’re used to seeing. To beat a team like Houston, Smith doesn’t need to be Aaron Rodgers. He needs to be a hybrid of new and old Alex Smith. Take care of the football, keep the chains moving, but take some shots and rally the team if needed.

How will the Chiefs o-line depth hold up to the Texans front seven?

The good news: Eric Fisher, Mitch Morse and Mitch Schwartz were expected to be the strength of the KC offensive line ... and through one week, they have been good. The bad news: guards were expected to struggle, and at times they did. The scary news: both starting guards are injured, and will sit out this week leaving backups Jah Reid and Zach Fulton to go against JJ Watt and company. Reid and Fulton are likely the most capable backup guards that the Chiefs have fielded in a while, and both are powerful, nasty blockers so it’s possible they’ll fare just as well as the starters. It’s certainly something to watch: changes on an offensive line that has been built on continuity this year.

Will the Chiefs be able to generate a pass rush?

Perhaps Dee Ford is turning the corner into a competent pass rusher? He held up against the run, got one tackle for loss and one sack. All I want to see from Ford is two impact plays per game, and not embarrass himself in between. If he can do that, and the Chiefs get good play from their other OLBs, they’ll at least hold down the fort until Justin Houston is back.

Tamba Hali got on the field, and was mostly doing what he always does. He played solid on the edge and generated some pressure. As the season goes along, keep an eye on his playing time. He should become more productive in the coming weeks in a limited role.

A problem in Week 1 was Frank Zombo. He’s a limited veteran who should at least avoid giving up big plays. Last week he wasn’t particularly effective in that regard. The team brought back Dezman Moses, who may have a chance to play this week. Or perhaps we’ll see the debut of promising rookie Dadi Nicolas? The Chiefs are relying on hope when it comes to their edge rush at this point.

Will the Chiefs rookies Tyreek Hill and DJ White get increased roles?

DJ White played one snap, and it was glorious. Tyreek Hill played 10 snaps on offense and scored a touchdown. It’s an easy case to make that both should see more playing time this week, and have an opportunity to really contribute.

The Texans boast an improved WR group by adding their own promising rookies, Will Fuller and Braxton Miller. The Chiefs young CB group will have their hands full this week, and from what we’ve seen so far, DJ White can help.

The debate continues regarding De’Anthony Thomas. He kept his spot on the roster, but was inactive on game day in favor of Tyreek Hill. Assuming that hasn’t changed this week, I would expect Hill to get even more opportunities out of the slot this week.

How will Marcus Peters respond after a tough Week 1?

Listen, Peters wasn’t bad last week. He did struggle to cover the Chargers’ best WR Keenan Allen. Prior to Allen’s injury, he was on pace for a monster game. Not all of it was Peters in coverage, but he was noticeably beaten and frustrated in Week 1. He bounced back to defend a big pass late in the game ... though, that’s a pass he typically intercepts.

This week, Peters will find himself with an even bigger challenge than Allen. DeAndre Hopkins is one of the five or six best receivers in the NFL. We’ve come to expect Marcus to be a playmaker who takes some chances in coverage. He’ll always give up some yards, but typically gets his share of big plays to make up for it. This week, we want to see Peters play like he did last year.

Will the front seven be able to close the gaps and defend against the run?

Whether it was the inconsistent play of Justin March, or DJ was having a bad game, or the defensive line wasn’t nearly as dominant as we expected, the interior run defense was a major issue against San Diego. It’s hard to pinpoint the exact reason for the porous run defense, but it’s something that has to get fixed this week. Look for Poe, Howard and Bailey to play better, for Chris Jones to get more involved, and for the ILBs to have a strong bounce-back performance this week. If they don’t, it could be a long day against Lamar Miller and the Houston running offense.

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