The Kansas City Chiefs (4-1) seek to get back on track after a disappointing 19-13 loss to the Indianapolis Colts in Week 5, but they won’t find the going easy against the Houston Texans (3-2) in Week 6.
While the matchup will focus on the quarterbacks — Patrick Mahomes against Deshaun Watson — the AFC South-leading Texans provide ample challenges on both sides of the ball.
Houston enters the contest ranked ninth in yards per game (381.8), fifth in yards per play (6.24) and tied for ninth in points per game (26.2). Defensively, the Texans are tied for ninth in the league in sacks (15) and 12th against the run (95 yards allowed per game).
Here are four key areas to monitor for the Chiefs:
1. Chiefs’ defense against Texans’ ground game: Once is a fluke, twice or more is a habit. The Chiefs’ defense falls in the latter category when it comes to their inability to stop the run.
Over the past three games, the Chiefs have allowed an eye-popping 569 total yards rushing and five touchdowns and now host the league’s 10th-best run offense (129.4 yards per game), which is anchored by running backs Carlos Hyde and Duke Johnson.
Watson can also hurt a defense with his ability to make plays out of the pocket with his legs. The last time the Chiefs faced a dual-threat quarterback came in Week 3 against Baltimore Ravens signal-caller Lamar Jackson, whose 46 yards rushing with a touchdown contributed to Baltimore’s 203 yards on the ground at Arrowhead Stadium.
The Chiefs’ glaring weakness against the run is further magnified by the potential absence of defensive tackle Chris Jones, whose groin injury prevented him from practicing Wednesday and Thursday.
Kansas City must plug the leaks against the run, especially considering how the Colts dominated time of possession in Week 5 with a punishing ground attack.
2. Chiefs’ RT Mitchell Schwartz against Texans’ DE J.J. Watt: Schwartz is accustomed to facing some of the NFL’s premier pass rushers, considering the likes of Von Miller and Melvin Ingram III, among others, are in the AFC West.
Now, the battle-tested right tackle gets to face Watt, a player Schwartz labeled as the “gold standard’ when it comes to the elite sack artists in the league.
Watt, a three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year, enters Sunday with four sacks and 13 quarterback hits this season. The Texans often provide Watt the luxury to move along the defensive line to exploit a matchup, but he mostly lines up over the right tackle. The Texans also have Whitney Mercilus, whose five sacks this season currently leads the team.
Ultimately, though, slowing down the Texans’ pass rush often falls on finding a way on containing Watt, who is capable of taking over a game.
3. Chiefs’ WRs against Texans’ CBs: One of the many themes in Week 5’s loss surrounded the Colts utilizing man coverage on the Chiefs’ wideouts, a matchup that should favor the offense.
Unfortunately, the Chiefs’ wide receivers couldn’t consistently beat the one-on-one coverage, and it wouldn’t surprise if the Texans utilized the same defensive approach given the copycat nature of the league.
The Chiefs could be without Sammy Watkins, who didn’t practice Wednesday and Thursday while nursing a hamstring injury, and it remains to be seen if this is the week Tyreek Hill returns from his shoulder injury.
If Watkins and Hill are down, the Chiefs need Demarcus Robinson, Byron Pringle, rookie Mecole Hardman and DeAnthony Thomas to step up in a big way against a Texans pass defense led by cornerback Jonathan Joseph and Bradley Roby.
Houston has been suspect against the pass, though, and enters the game ranked 25th in the league, allowing 270.4 yards per game.
4. Chiefs’ secondary against WR DeAndre Hopkins: Cornerbacks Bashaud Breeland, Charvarius Ward and Kendall Fuller have the Chiefs ranked a respectable 13th against the pass (237.2 yards allowed per game), but that standing will face a test whenever the Texans elect to throw.
Houston ranks 11th in the league in passing (252.4 yards per game), and Watson has an elite wide receiver to throw to in two-time All-Pro DeAndre Hopkins, who has 31 catches for 347 yards and two touchdowns so far this season.
Hopkins has enjoyed success against the Chiefs in four previous regular-season meetings, totaling 23 catches for 336 yards and seven touchdowns, which includes a three-touchdown performance during a 42-34 loss on Oct. 8, 2017.
The Chiefs shouldn’t enter the weekend thinking they should focus solely on Hopkins, though. Will Fuller currently leads the Texans with 400 yards receiving and Kenny Stills is a viable deep threat with a team-high 17.1 yards-per-catch average.