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Chiefs-Texans focus points: How will the Texans stop Travis Kelce?

In the latest Arrowhead Pride Laboratory podcast, the AP Nerd squad previews Thursday’s NFL opener.

Divisional Round - Houston Texans v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images

On this week’s game preview edition of the Arrowhead Pride Laboratory, we talked about three points on offense — and three on defense — to watch as the world champion Kansas City Chiefs kick off the 2020 NFL season against the Houston Texans in Arrowhead on Thursday night.


Offense

How will the Texans handle Travis Kelce?

As I wrote on Tuesday, the 51-7 run against the Texans in last season’s AFC Divisional round game wouldn’t have happened without one of Travis Kelce’s career-best performances. The Texans tried to man up with safeties, big corners, slot corners and double teams — and none of it mattered. Kelce’s impact was crucial to the Chiefs’ run. If the Texans are set on trying to play man coverage again, expect a big game from Kelce. Otherwise, the Texans will have to use a significant portion of their of resources to stop him — which will open things up for the rest of the Chiefs’ wildly-talented offense.

Clyde Edwards-Helaire’s debut

Thursday will mark the team’s most-anticipated rookie debut since Patrick Mahomes in 2017, when general manager Brett Veach’s only true first-round pick takes the field. Edwards-Helaire is tailor-made to play in Andy Reid’s offense; that’s why I compared him to Brian Westbrook in this year’s edition of the KC Draft Guide. Reid can drop this young running back into the offense and immediately become less predictable; Edwards-Helaire can do more than any running back the Chiefs had last season. Expect a fast start — and plenty of opportunities — in Edwards-Helaire’s debut.

A changing of the guard?

This season, the Chiefs have made a shift from athletic interior offensive linemen to bigger, more physical players. This doesn’t lend itself to the outside zone-heavy offense the Chiefs have run during Andy Reid’s tenure in Kansas City. So we could see more inside zone this season, featuring more physical, downhill football. Kelechi Osemele, Austin Reiter and Andrew Wylie aren’t the most fleet-of-foot trio of interior offensive linemen, but they should be able to change the line of scrimmage more effectively. It’s worth monitoring.


Defense

What does the secondary look like?

In Week 1, there are a lot of unknowns in the back end of the Chiefs’ defense. It starts with who starts opposite Charvarius Ward during Bashaud Breeland’s four-game suspension. Either L’Jarius Sneed, Rashad Fenton or Antonio Hamilton is likely to get the assignment first. It’ll be fascinating to see which of them gets the nod — and the logic behind it. It’s also worth monitoring what the safety position will look like. Juan Thornhill — injured in Week 17 last season — was a full participant in practice all week. Will he be a full go? Or will he start the season on a snap count?

Does Steve Spagnuolo get more exotic in year two?

With a year under his belt — and with it, more familiarity with his personnel — we could see more exotic looks during defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo’s second year. He has the reputation of a fearless play-caller — a reputation that he upheld last season. But he is capable of doing more — and we could see that as early as Thursday. It will be fascinating to see what comfort level Spagnuolo has with his unit — especially with some questions in the secondary.

Pressuring Deshaun Watson

Whether it’s through exotic pressures or a four-man rush, pressuring Deshaun Watson will be the key to slow down the Texans’ offense. Watson has not always seen pressure cleanly — but like Mahomes, he is capable of bailing himself out of a bad situation. When that happens, he will no longer have a trusted big-body receiver like DeAndre Hopkins to whom he can throw — but he does have a lot of speed at his disposal. If Watson is decisive against pressure and gets the ball to his receivers in stride, it could spell trouble for the Chiefs — especially after the catch.


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