Prior to kickoff in Houston, we outlined five focus points to key. Let’s revisit those points and see how the Chiefs fared in each category.
It’s time to “Take Five” once again. Just as we do each and every weekend on KCChiefs.com, these are five areas worth watching heading into Sunday’s matchup.
When looking at the Texans win/loss chart over the past few seasons, a team of patterns appears. They’re one that seems to bounce on, off and around the .500 mark on a consistent basis. After winning their final four games to close out 2009, and beginning 2010 with a 2-0 record, Houston appeared to be turning the corner as a franchise.
But a 1-2 record over the past three games, including back-to-back lopsided home losses, now puts Houston teetering on the .500 mark once again. A team with dangerous play-makers on each side of the football, Houston’s current situation makes them as formidable as any foe.
At 3-1, the Chiefs travel to Houston with an opportunity to begin the second quarter of 2010 by banking a road win. But it won’t come easy. In order to keep a cushion from their own .500 baseline, these are five areas critical to Kansas City’s success on Sunday.
1) Explosive Plays
The Chiefs did an excellent job of making the Colts dink-and-dunk their passes throughout the game last weekend. Coupled with a swarming rush defense, Kansas City held Indianapolis to just one play over 20 yards. If they’re able to do the same thing on Sunday in Houston, it might be an even more impressive feat.
The Texans have multiple players who can go for 80-yard scores at any given moment. RB Arian Foster has already proven his big-play ability, going 74-yards for a rushing score and averaging nearly 6.0 yards per carry on just under 100 carries. Through the air, there’s perennial Pro Bowler Andre Johnson, a player who many argue is the best receiver in the league.
Keeping those two players under wraps the same way that Kansas City was able to hold Indy’s team-speed in check would prove to be a huge victory on Sunday.
Big plays played a substantial role in the downfall of Kansas City’s second-half defense. The Chiefs allowed five plays of 15 yards in the fourth quarter and Houston put up 21 points in the final period as a product of those explosive snaps. Overall, the Chiefs allowed 10 plays of 15 yards, which was far more than they had allowed in any game to date.
The Texans were never one-dimensional, averaging 6.0 yards per carry and totaling over 300 yards through the air.
“I’ve got to take my hat off to that group,” Todd Haley said on Monday. “That is a good offense, maybe the best offense we see, may really be the best offense we see from a multi-dimensional attack.”
2) Physical Play
Kansas City has prided itself on its ultra-productive offseason. The mojo from a spring of perfect attendance carried into training camp and the Chiefs continued to push themselves in the sweltering summer heat of St. Joseph. It was in St. Joe that the team practiced in full pads for some-34 practices in heat indexes that routinely eclipsed triple digits.
The result of Kansas City’s offseason and training camp labors has provided the Chiefs with a team that’s been able to out-hit and out-last opponents thus far. They’ve also stayed free from the in-season injury plague as well (knock on wood).
Houston head man Gary Kubiak said earlier this week that his team went to work this preseason on many of those same things, convinced that a lack of physicality has been keeping the Texans out of the playoffs. If the Texans come as advertised, it will be evident in the type of football game that we see this Sunday.
The “experts” expect this one to remain undecided until the fourth quarter. If that’s the case, the better conditioned, more physical team should have an edge.
Sunday’s game did indeed come down to the fourth quarter. In fact, it came down to the final minute. Around the seven-minute mark, when Kansas City had taken a 31-21 lead, Texans fans began to file for the exits. Those who left early missed one heck of an ending.
Physical football was present throughout this game, specifically at the line of scrimmage. The Chiefs offensive line, which seems incredibly underrated, once again successfully protected
Both teams played physical football and each seemed to be in shape down the stretch. Kansas City didn’t look out-gassed by any measure, but Houston showed the biggest late-game surge that the Chiefs have seen in quite some time. Gary Kubiak should be pleased with his squad’s off-season efforts.
As for the injuries…maybe we should have left that out of the pre-game discussion. All “questionable” players from Friday’s injury report were ruled inactive on Sunday morning. That included starters
3) Run the Rock
The Texans rank as one of the better rushing defenses in the league, but have been suspect against the pass with a 32nd league ranking. It’s something that we’ll take a closer look into before kickoff. Regardless, the Chiefs still have their eye set on running the rock based on comments from Todd Haley, Charlie Weis and Matt Cassel made throughout the week.
Both teams have been at their best when running the football in 2010. Days of shrunken rushing outputs have led to losses, while big ground gains have churned out victory. It’s no coincidence that the Chiefs produced their lowest rushing output of the season in Indianapolis and the final score resulted in a loss.
In today’s NFL, we’re all fooled into thinking that the pass rules all, but at the end of the day, you throw to score but run to win. What’s fact is that the teams with the best rushing differential own the best records, while those teams that have quarterbacks throw for 300-plus yards own a combined record of 8-25 (.242) this season.
Both teams ran. Both teams threw. Both teams scored. Unfortunately, only one team could win.
The final two quarters of Sunday’s game looked like video game football with the two teams combining for 530 second-half yards and 45 second-half points. Although the Chiefs turned in one of their finer performances through the air, the team stayed focused on running the football despite facing off against Houston’s fifth-ranked rushing defense.
The Chiefs found a monster performance in the ground game and, without argument, the offense turned in its best overall game of the season. Houston came back into this one through the air, but their ground game provided a well-balanced attack as well. Houston rushed for more yards than any other team that has gone up against the Chiefs in 2010.
4) Stop the Run
The term used in the above paragraph…“Run Differential”…that’s calculated by taking team rushing yards gained minus team rushing yards allowed divided by games played. For the Chiefs to win, they’ll have to continue their success in run differential.
The Texans have racked up 564 rushing yards over their three wins, but just 148 yards in their two losses. As a result, they’ll likely enter Sunday just as determined to run the football as the Chiefs.
Houston is a zone-running team that loves to cut block. The art of shedding cuts, staying up and providing run support is a difficult task to master. Kansas City will be put to the test with Houston’s blocking scheme and running game.
The play of Kansas City’s front seven will be a critical factor in this one.
Houston’s main rushing threat, Arian Foster, had a respectable day with 18 carries for 71 yards and two TDs. But the biggest ignition for the Texans rushing attack came via backup Derrick Ward. Ward ran the ball only three times, but finished with 58 yards and an average of 19.3 yards per carry. His 38-yard TD run was Houston’s longest rushing play from scrimmage and the biggest rush that Kansas City has allowed all year.
In fact, prior to Sunday, only one player had rushed for more than a 20-yard gain against the Chiefs (Mike Tolbert for 23 yards in Week One). Kansas City had also given up only five carries of 10 yards prior to Sunday, but the Texans came through with three such carries in the game; Ward had two of them.
5) No Negatives
The Chiefs have done a remarkable job at eliminating the negative plays this season. The squad is the third-least penalized team in the NFL, has allowed the fewest sacks in the league and, overall, has committed just 17 negative plays (the 2nd fewest in football).
That all amounts to one thing: smart football.
Kansas City has minimized its mistakes and capitalized on its opportunities, finishing each of the first four games even or positive in the turnover department and posting a 27-0 scoring differential off turnovers. Success has come this season by the Chiefs not beating themselves on gameday; a trend critical to winning games on the road.
The negative play chart took a hit on Sunday. Kansas City turned in 10 negative plays on the day; five penalties and five negative offensive snaps, including a sack on the final play of the game. Neither team committed any turnovers.
It wasn’t the negative plays that hurt Kansas City. Houston didn’t stage a comeback that sprung off an interception or a fumble return, although
At the end of the day, the Chiefs just didn’t make enough plays/stops down the stretch to win the game.