The Kansas City Chiefs head into Week 7 having won their first six games to open the season. The Chiefs, led by their stunningly stifling defense, seem to have left the specter of last year's two-win season well behind.
Week 7 brings the Houston Texans, a preseason favorite of many pundits, to Arrowhead Stadium for an AFC showdown that on paper promises to showcase two premier defenses.
The Texans have the top yardage-allowed defense in the NFL, allowing a mere 252.8 total yards per game to their opponents. Kansas City, for juxtaposition's sake, allows 306.3 yards per game. The difference, however, is how many points are allowed. Kansas City allows only 10.8 points per game, while Houston allows a staggeringly bad 29.5 points per game.
The difference in the two teams can be found in two places: turnovers and field position. The Chiefs are one of the better defenses in the NFL at generating turnovers getting one nearly every five drives from their opponents, where the Texans only manage to force a turnover roughly once every 20 opponent drives.
Kansas City also plays a highly effective field-position game. It is No. 1 in the NFL in lowest yards allowed per drive (21.36) and average opponent starting field position (21.94 yard line). It is the only team in the NFL to average not allowing its opponents to cross the 50-yard line on a per-drive basis.
Stopping the Texans Offense
The Houston Texans offense is predicated on using a heavy dose of the zone running game to set up play action. Head coach Gary Kubiak was an offensive coordinator under Mike Shanahan and has brought the same basic philosophies to the Texans.
The Texans utilize a lot of inside and outside zone runs, as well as the stretch, to set up bootleg play-action plays for their quarterbacks. This particular style of play is effective in eating the clock (the Texans lead the NFL in time of possession) and baiting the safeties to come down into the box, leaving the cornerbacks on islands outside against the wide receivers and susceptible to big gains.
Houston employs a heavy dose of the Y-Stick concept on third down, targeting the tight ends to move the chains. With stalwart tight end Owen Daniels now sent to the injured reserve list, the Texans may now be relying more heavily than ever on star wide receiver Andre Johnson for production.
Production the Texans have, in terms of yardage anyway, points have been elusive for Houston. The quarterback situation is in a state of flux with injuries to starter Matt Schaub and uneven play by him and his backup, T.J. Yates. The situation has devolved to the point where Yates and third-string quarterback Case Keenum are splitting reps with the first team in practice.
Kansas City's defensive game plan should revolve around a high-pressure attack on first and second down, putting the Texans behind the chains then playing for the turnover on third down. The Texans lead the NFL in interceptions returned for touchdowns.
Attacking the Texans Defense
For Kansas City, I would recommend a different strategy. The Rams don't have a running back capable of outrunning Watt—the Chiefs do. Where bowling ball bruisers like Zac Stacy and Daryl Richardson of the Rams have their best chances of success running to the opposite side of the formation, the Chiefs' Jamaal Charles has an extra gear they did not.
Kansas City should run power to Watt's side early. Use tight end Sean McGrath and an offensive tackle to double up the blocking on Watt and tire him out early, throw in a counter or two to take advantage of Watt's high motor and get him to overpursue.
This tactic serves a dual purpose.
One, it helps negate one of the top pass-rushers in the league; and two, it helps Kansas City set up play action. With Kansas City's fledgling passing game struggling, this will put it in a more actionable position on third down, where the Chiefs are the sixth-worst team in the league in converting.
The Texans present Kansas City's toughest challenge thus far this season. For the Chiefs to succeed they will need to get better on third down, turn more of their field goals into touchdowns and neutralize a highly effective Houston rushing attack. I think Kansas City is capable of all of the above, and with the Texans quarterback situation and the home crowd, will likely win this game.