In this weekly Opponent Scout series, we break down the Kansas City Chiefs’ upcoming opponent by examining their strengths, weaknesses and tendencies — and how those things affect the matchup.
For their Week 15 game, the Chiefs are traveling to play the Houston Texans. Here’s what to know about this year’s Texans.
In Houston, it’s the first season under the leadership of head coach Lovie Smith, who is best known for his tenure as head coach of the Chicago Bears. A mixed bag at quarterback has been part of the Texans’ 1-11-1 record; coming into Sunday’s matchup, they’ve lost eight straight games.
Houston ranks third-lowest in points scored and is tied for the fewest total yards gained. Only one offense has committed more turnovers. The Texans rank 31st in both third-down and red-zone conversion rate. Houston is ranked 31st in offensive DVOA.
The Texans have allowed the seventh-highest points allowed per game and the fourth-most total yards allowed. No team has allowed more rushing yards. The Houston defense ranks 17th in third-down conversion rate — but eighth in the red zone. The Texans rank 20th in defensive DVOA.
The Houston offense was being carried by rookie running back Dameon Pierce, who currently has the league’s fifth-most rushing attempts and seventh-most rushing yards. Unfortunately, an ankle injury is preventing Pierce from playing against the Chiefs; it’s the first game he will miss this season.
The absence will force veteran back Rex Burkhead to take the reins; he has been used as Pierce’s complementary back on passing downs.
Second-year quarterback Davis Mills has started most of the season, but was benched for two games in favor of career-backup Kyle Allen. Last week, Mills returned to start — but rotated snaps with Jeff Driskel. Each took 33 snaps during the team’s 27-23 loss to the Dallas Cowboys.
Davis Mills & Jeff Driskel split snaps down the middle last week v DAL. When it was Driskel, HOU had 5 designed runs for him. He gained 36 yards total— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) December 16, 2022
They also had a QB run look turn into a long TD pass pic.twitter.com/tPpQ462Dm0
Texans beat journalist Aaron Wilson has reported that Houston is expected maintain its two-quarterback system. Against Dallas, Mills did the majority of the work in the passing game, while Driskel used his snaps to rush for 36 yards on five designed runs. One running look, however, turned into a 28-yard touchdown pass by Driskel.
The team’s two leading pass-catchers are wide receivers Brandin Cooks and Nico Collins — but both were inactive in Week 14, and will miss this game as well. Without them against the Cowboys, Houston relied on wide receivers Chris Moore and Amari Rodgers.
Houston has a good duo of offensive tackles to help stabilize its quarterback situation. Left tackle Laremy Tunsil and right tackle Tytus Howard have allowed only one sack each this season; Tunsil has allowed the fewest pressures among full-time starting left tackles.
They’ll have packages with a sixth offensive lineman: tackle Charlie Heck, who is the son of Kansas City offensive line coach Andy Heck.
Houston has one of the NFL’s lowest blitz rates, sending five or more rushers on only 16% of their snaps. To get pressure on the quarterback, they rely on their defensive linemen.
Jerry Hughes leads the Texans in sacks with 8. He wins in the same ways he always has, speed and bend around the edge— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) December 16, 2022
Will be a mismatch when he's lined up over Left Tackle on Sunday in 1v1 true pass sets #Chiefs pic.twitter.com/RjMsskJtUA
The primary production comes from edge rusher Jerry Hughes, who leads the team with eight sacks. Hughes has the ability to penetrate the pocket with a speed rush and bend; he will rush from either side.
From the inside, defensive tackle Maliek Collins disrupts and makes plays as a pass rusher and against the run; he has a 10% pressure rate this season and is third on the team in tackles-for-loss.
In the back end, two former Chiefs have been in the mix during recent weeks. Former Kansas City kick returner Tremon Smith led the cornerback group in snaps against Dallas — and nabbed two interceptions! Cornerback Steven Nelson registered 19 snaps on the outside, but he suffered a foot injury that is preventing him from playing this weekend.
They are playing in relief of injured rookie Derek Stingley Jr. The third overall selection of last spring’s draft has been held out since Week 10 with a hamstring injury. He was ruled out for this week.
Houston rookie Safety Jalen Pitre was all over the place against Dallas. 2 PBUs and 10 tackles, including two 1v1 goal-line stops against Zeke— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) December 16, 2022
Flying around, playing like the explosive play maker that made him an exciting prospect out of Baylor pic.twitter.com/ARgvhPDr48
Backing up the cornerbacks is a rookie safety who has become one of the team’s most impactful playmakers: Jalen Pitre, who is a second-round pick from Baylor. He leads the Texans in tackles and interceptions and trails by only one in passes defended. He plays 94% of the team’s defensive snaps.
Against Dallas, Pitre broke up two passes and racked up 12 tackles — including some impressive one-on-one tackles at the goal line against running back Ezekiel Elliott. It was an impressive performance that was topped only by his Week 3 game against the Chicago Bears — in which he earned eight tackles (two for loss), a sack, two interceptions and even a recovered fumble.
The bottom line
When the Texans have the ball, it’s hard to know exactly what to expect from an already-underwhelming unit that could be missing all of its significant skill-position players. The two-quarterback system would demand discipline from all 11 defenders. The bookends on the offensive line will present a challenge for Kansas City defensive ends.
On passing downs, the Chiefs’ offense will have to account for Hughes — especially if his speed and bend are used against left tackle Orlando Brown Jr. When Mahomes is throwing over the middle, he will need to watch for Pitre, who can make a play on the ball or lay out a targeted receiver.