Texans vs. Chiefs Review

 

Chiefs Alex Smith

By: Shasky Clarke

Kansas City (7-0) 17, Houston (2-5) 16

In Houston Texans undrafted quarterback Case Keenum’s first start, the Texans passing game found some spark. But despite their efforts, the cumulative effect of injuries, liabilities and lack of execution remained too much to overcome on the road at Kansas City.

Houston Offense vs. Kansas City Defense

Houston only averaged three yards per carry. While the Texans had more success on the ground in the first half, Houston’s finesse line had an issue versus Kansas City’s stout defensive line and front seven. Center Chris Myers, in particular, had a tough game handling emerging nose tackle Dontari Poe.

The Texans are also suffering from an extremely banged up backfield. Running back Arian Foster, dealing with an aggravated hamstring injury, exited the game in the first quarter after just four carries. Backup Ben Tate carried the load against the Chiefs. But apparently he suffered four fractured ribs on Sunday.

Pass protection remains a primary offensive problem. The offensive line largely held up against four-man rushes early on. But as the game progressed, Houston failed to have success on third down due to the Chiefs’ overload blitz packages.

The Chiefs consistently sent defensive backs on blitzes and Houston quarterback Case Keenum, sacked five times, anticipated pressures poorly.

The most critical offensive sequence of the game was a third quarter first-and-goal opportunity at the Chiefs one yard line. The Texans failed to get in and had to settle for a Randy Bullock 21 yard field goal.

Nonetheless, outside of its inability to handle the blitz, the Texans passing game had its most efficient game of the season. Up against one of the elite defenses in the league in his first start, Keenum completed 15 of 25 passes, averaged almost 11 yards per attempt and boasted three receivers with greater than 22 yards per catch.

The Texans utilized more three and four receiver sets, getting more speed and playmaking, spreading out the defense and replacing injured tight end Owen Daniels.

Until Sunday, the passing game suffered from a horrible dearth of explosiveness all year. Wide Receivers Andre Johnson and DeAndre Hopkins each completed their longest receptions of the year.

And the offense had three passing plays of over 35 yards. When the Texans combine big play capability in the passing game with their top ten running game, the offense may finally resemble the great unit people expected it to be.

There is enough here, despite the injuries, for some optimism. Keenum lacks size and some arm strength but his performance both in the preseason and in week seven at Kansas City probably warrants some more starts as Matt Schaub recovers from an ankle injury.

Houston Defense vs. Kansas City Offense

The Texans defense continues to play fairly well although it now appears to be flawed. Future Hall of Fame safety Ed Reed is a liability as a tackler in the open field. Nickel cornerback Brice McCain is still a liability in man coverage.

Outside linebacker Brooks Reed is failing as an edge rusher, giving the Texans one of the least overall productive four man rushers. Effective safety Danieal Manning is out for the season. And now, finally, excellent inside linebacker Brian Cushing is out for the season, leaving Houston with subpar inside linebacker play.

Kansas City quarterback Alex Smith continued his consistent efficiency, carving up Houston’s early zone defensive looks and then hitting pass catchers on drags and crosses against man coverage over the course of the game. The Texans sacked Smith only twice and couldn’t get to him enough without blitzing.

The Chiefs also found some success on the ground, even on designed quarterback runs. Once Cushing had to exit the game, replacement Daryl Sharpton proved himself to be a poor option against both the run and the pass.

He was too often sealed on outside runs, missed open field tackles and allowed receptions in coverage over the middle of the field. He did not fill running lanes with the power and aggression of Cushing or even partner Joe Mays.

The team will miss Cushing dearly as he was their most effective blitzer, combining size, physicality and explosiveness. The Texans run defense has been troubling so far this season. And without Cushing, the unit could be even worse.

The most critical defensive sequence occurred in the third quarter as the Texans had the Chiefs in a 3rd and 21 in Chiefs territory. Kansas City simply ran a screen play to the left for Dexter McCluster but converted the third down, gaining 43 yards and prolonging a scoring drive. Too often the Texans could not get off the field on third downs.

On the plus side, the defense is still top five in the NFL in yards per play given up. The unit remains physical and, led by the best defensive player in the league in J.J. Watt, still showcases a high effort and intensity despite the team’s recent fortunes.

Next Up for Houston

Bye week then Sunday night home game vs. Indianapolis.