The undefeated Kansas City Chiefs are making their annual trip to Houston on Sunday to face a dangerous Texans team. The Texans have a formidable defensive line, an elite WR, and an ascending rookie QB. The Chiefs will feature a banged up offensive line, and a trio of playmakers along with their own QB playing at a very high level.
There are plenty of reasons the Chiefs could win or lose this game, none of which would be too surprising. Regardless, it’s clear that the Chiefs are must-see-TV at this point, and among the most exciting teams in the league.
This week’s list of what to watch for is below. Let us hear your thoughts in the comment section.
1) Can the Chiefs contain the rookie QB?
The Texans, like the Chiefs, appear to finally have found their franchise quarterback in this year’s draft. Deshaun Watson has steadily gotten better each week, peaking against the Titans with a five TD performance. Kansas City has been very tough on opposing QBs in the passing game, with only Redskins QB Kirk Cousins having a rating above 100 and only Eagles QB Carson Wentz throwing for more than 300 yards (some of which was garbage time).
Watson is averaging eight yards per carry on the ground including a 49 yardTD in Week 2, so the Chiefs can’t afford to let him get out and run this week. While the sample size is pretty small, it appears the Chiefs are a bit vulnerable to QB runs, giving up 93 yards to Wentz and Cousins. I would expect Bob Sutton’s defense to drop more guys in coverage again this week and have the edge rushers contain Watson to keep him in the pocket.
2) Can the Chiefs protect Mr. Smith?
The most concerning development of the first quarter season are the persistent injuries to the Chiefs offensive linemen. They played the bulk of last week’s game without any of their original starting interior linemen, and with an ailing Eric Fisher. Mitch Morse and Parker Ehinger may be getting close to returning, but in the meantime, the Chiefs will likely line up a patchwork group against Houston. Alex Smith has been fantastic delivering under pressure. The sacks and hits will eventually wear on him. I said it before, his level of trust in the offensive line might be more important than the line’s actual performance. If he’s comfortable and confident, he’ll keep the offense rolling. If JJ Watt, Jadeveon Clowney and Whitney Mercilus live in the Chiefs offensive backfield, this could be a very long night.
3) Look for bounce back games from two Chiefs playmakers
Marcus Peters has been the talk of the town this week after a volatile Monday night. Teams other than the Patriots haven’t been afraid to throw at Peters in recent weeks. This week, watch to see if he can make them pay and flip the headlines. Peters can take over a game against a guy like Watson, who has been known to throw plenty of interceptions. Tyreek Hill was quiet, but productive against Washington. He’s basically scored a touchdown every other week, as he alternates big games with Travis Kelce and Kareem Hunt. Expect Hill to go off against the Texans. He’s due for a big touchdown on offense and past due for a return TD. If I were more of a betting man, I’d put money on Peters and Hill this week.
4) Where is the pass rush going to come from this week?
Dee Ford will miss a second game in a row and that probably means more Frank Zombo at OLB. Justin Houston has been playing at an elite level, as usual, being dominant against the run and the pass. Against Washington, the team registered no sacks, and didn’t pressure Kirk Cousins nearly enough. Bob Sutton’s defensive game plans have featured more players in coverage, and less pass rushers thus far. That trend might continue against Watson, who is a threat to run. This defense is solid when they bend-but-don’t-break, but they are dominant when they are able to get after opposing quarterbacks. They can take over games when pressure comes from inside and out, and they certainly have the talent to do so. Watch to see if they can get it done this week, and who asserts themselves by getting to Watson.
5) Which role player will shine in Houston?
It seems like each week, we are talking about a different, unexpected contribution from someone on the Chiefs roster. Charcandrick West burst through the New England defense to cap off the Week 1 win. Chris Conley came up big with a couple of clutch catches against the Eagles. Albert Wilson was the man against Washington. Newly acquired rookie kicker Harrison Butker burst onto the scene last week. Maybe De’Anthony Thomas makes a play in the return game or on offense. Maybe it’ll be Akeem Hunt, or Rakeem Nunez-Roches, or Phillip Gaines. Good teams get contributions from role players in addition to their stars. Watch to see who steps up Sunday Night.
6) Reinforcements on the way?
This Chiefs team has been missing Parker Ehinger, Steven Nelson, Spencer Ware, Eric Berry, Mitch Morse, Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, Dee Ford, Cairo Santos among others to injury/recovery thus far. This is also a franchise that, in recent history, has allowed rookies to work their way into the lineup later in the season rather than starting very many of them early on. Sometimes out of necessity, sometimes because of the rookie’s talent, guys eventually find their way into impact roles.
The 2017 Chiefs could use some reinforcements, and this might be the first week we see a wave of newly-acquired, or recovering players start to join the lineup and help. I’ve been impatiently waiting for Ehinger and rookie Tanoh Kpassagnon to get on the field. Reggie Ragland saw his first action since being acquired by trade. Perhaps his role continues to grow. Akeem Hunt seems to be on the verge of getting more opportunities. Over the next few weeks, this team could see a big infusion of talent as guys like Nelson, Morse, LDT and Tamba Hali may come back from their respective injuries. This is great news for a team that has been undefeated largely without them. It gives us hope that the best is yet to come.