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Chiefs-Texans preview: Travis Kelce’s status is crucial

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Kelce has been limited in practice this week.

On this week’s divisional round preview edition of the Arrowhead Pride Laboratory, we talked about three points on offense — and three on defense — to watch as the Kansas City Chiefs take on the Houston Texans and look to claim a spot in the AFC championship.

Offense

Los Angeles Chargers v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by David Eulitt/Getty Images

Travis Kelce

It was a little alarming to see Kelce show up on the injury report as a limited participant on Wednesday and Thursday after no indication that he was dealing with any injuries previously. The Chiefs tight end will likely be a critical component of the game plan with the Texans’ struggles in the short to intermediate. Kelce should be able to exploit those areas. You could also see him lined up as a single receiver in the Chiefs Y-Iso looks they like to run. Kelce’s health and functionality will be critical this week.

The supporting cast

We all know that Kelce and Tyreek Hill will get theirs, but the Chiefs will need a big performance from one of their role players this week as well.

Sammy Watkins came up big last year in the playoffs for the Chiefs, specifically the AFC championship game. Mecole Hardman has put his imprints on several games this season with an explosive play. Other candidates for supplemental production include Demarcus Robinson and Damien Williams — the Chiefs will need it.

Bunch sets

One of the ways the Chiefs can attack the Texans is with bunch formations.

Passing concepts out of bunch looks were creating communication errors for the Texans and leading to several open plays last week. Some issues can be attributed to late-season additions at the cornerback position like Gareon Conley and Vernon Hargreaves. The Chiefs could lean on similar looks this week to force good communication on the back end of the Houston defense. If not, players like Hardman could find themselves uncovered down the field, as he has at times this season.

Defense

Cincinnati Bengals v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by David Eulitt/Getty Images

What help can the cornerbacks get?

The loss of Juan Thornhill is significant for the cornerback group. The Chiefs may have to play more two-high structures to help protect their cornerbacks with coverage over the top of them. It may be more difficult to play single-high coverage without someone with the range, instincts and athleticism of Thornhill back deep. Kendall Fuller and Armani Watts have their strengths, but trying to provide enough as a deep safety could be a challenge. Anticipate more two-high looks.

Houston running against lighter boxes

If the Chiefs are indeed going to play more two-high safety looks, it will lead to lighter box counts in the run game for Carlos Hyde. The Chiefs will need to pick their poison, and the focus will likely be to limit explosive plays in the passing game. That means the defensive line and linebackers are going to need to get the job done in the run game with less help. The Chiefs offense can support this by lighting up the scoreboard and putting Houston into more pass-heavy scripts.

Chris Jones vs. Houston’s interior offensive line

The Chiefs had another scare on the injury report as Chris Jones was added on Thursday as a limited participant. His presence will be much needed and very likely felt in this game. Jones missed the first matchup of these two teams but could make up for lost time against the poor interior offensive line of Houston. Rookie Max Scharping and former Chief Zach Fulton should have difficulty handling the quickness and power that Jones possesses. If he can disrupt from the interior, it will help the Chiefs’ chances significantly.

Arrowhead Pride Laboratory

We went into further detail on these storylines — and listed players we’re looking forward to watching — on this week’s game preview edition of the Arrowhead Pride Laboratory.