Coming off a stunner of an overtime victory against the San Diego Chargers in Week 1, the Chiefs face one of the toughest defenses on their schedule in the Houston Texans. The Texans’ front seven defenders have been one of the most vaunted units in the NFL over the last few years, and present a challenge to a Chiefs offense that will be without both of their starting guards. Head coach Andy Reid will have to scheme up a creative gameplan this week in order to move the ball against the Texans.
The most well-known player on the Texans is defensive end JJ Watt, who is joined on the line by nose tackle Vince Wilfork and end Christian Covington. Watt is the cornerstone of Houston’s defense, and is complemented by outside linebackers Whitney Mercilus and Jadeveon Clowney, both of whom are threats both as pass rushers and run defenders. Inside linebackers Brian Cushing and Bernardrick McKinney round out the Texans’ front seven.
In terms of running the ball, the Chiefs will probably be served best by utilizing spread option runs. Doing so will allow Kansas City to neutralize Watt by making him the read defender; this strategy was used to great effect in the 2016 Wild Card game between the Chiefs and the Texans. Quarterback Alex Smith is athletic enough to make a quarterback keeper a threat on the read and force Watt to stay at home, which should make things easier for running backs Spencer Ware and Charcandrick West.
The Texans secondary is a solid but not spectacular group headed up by cornerbacks Johnathan Joseph and Kareem Jackson. Safeties Quintin Demps and Andre Hal cover the deep half of the field. The third corner on the field for the Texans will probably be Kevin Johnson, a solid man coverage defender.
Kansas City’s passing attack looked deadly in their comeback last week as Smith targeted tight ends Travis Kelce and Demetrius Harris along with Ware on a variety of intermediate and deep routes. Since the Houston front gets so much pressure on quarterbacks, the coverage linebackers will be sitting on shallow routes. Therefore it is imperative that Kansas City’s line hold up long enough for Smith to throw deeper routes and stop the defense from poaching quick passes. Ware looked especially effective on vertical routes out of the backfield; he should be a huge part of the passing game for the Chiefs. McKinney and Cushing also struggled to cover Kelce last season, so he will probably be targeted early and often.
To mitigate the damage caused by the Texans pass rush, Reid should have Alex Smith leave the pocket on bootlegs where he has space to run if his receivers are covered. If the Texans run a lot of straight man-to-man coverage, Smith will look to gain yards with his feet. On the other hand, if Houston sticks to zone the tight end and running back option routes should exploit the holes in coverage.