Both AFC heavyweights will matchup in the season opener after a slugfest in the playoffs that resulted in the Kansas City Chiefs defeating the Houston Texans down the stretch.
Previewing Houston Texans Week 1 matchup versus Kansas CIty Chiefs
Health is wealth
The Houston Texans are the clear underdogs in this battle as weird as that may seem with Deshaun Watson at quarterback. Watson would be enough to have the Texans in the conversation against almost any other team, but they are facing the team that overcame a 24-0 deficit to eliminate Houston from playoff contention.
The pundits view Houston as a team that has been served on a platter as a sacrificial lamb for the Chiefs to devour on the national stage, and show the rest of the NFL that nothing has changed heading into the 2020 season between two of the better young quarterbacks in the game.
However, the Texans aren't the same team the Chiefs played in the playoffs. Texans no longer have All-Pro wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins to turn to in the passing game after he requested a pay raise to expedite a trade in the offseason.
Despite the adjustments that will be made with Hopkins no longer in the picture, the Texans are expected to be almost at full health heading into their Week 1 matchup, and that was something that couldn't be said in the playoffs.
Health isn't an excuse for a team not to put their best performance forward, but Texans had their fair share of injuries that they couldn't afford to have in such a high stakes game.
The thin secondary took a hit when Tashaun Gipson was placed on the injured reserve with a back injury before the start of the playoffs. The offensive line also regressed after right tackle Tytus Howard missed the latter part of the season with a torn meniscus.
Texans were also without their athletic tight end in Jordan Akins (knee), and were relying on an injured Will Fuller that ended up getting surgery for groin discomfort that he was dealing with after the Texans playoff run. Meanwhile, an injured J.J. Watt (torn pec) beat the odds to return but he wasn't going to be the player prior to the injury for the remainder of the season.
The Texans had the odds stacked against them on the road, and playing the Chiefs merited almost a mistake-free game for Houston to come out with a win. A 24-0 lead gave the team and fans alike a sense of security, but the team had three more quarters to go step for step with one of the best quarterbacks in the game with Patrick Mahomes.
Having DeAndre Hopkins gave Houston a fighting chance, but suffering a rib injury limited his effectiveness for the second half. The Texans' opportunity to come back and put up a fight was already fragile with all the players dealing with their injuries leading up to the game.
Hopkins' injury was the nail in the coffin, as special teams blunders, and bad coaching decisions quickly erased the 21 point lead Houston had after the first quarter.
Fast forward to now, the Texans have one thing going for them, and it's their health. They've hit a few snags along the way with placing cornerback Gareon Conley on the IR to rehab his ankle after undergoing offseason surgery, but the Texans have other players that need to step up for the season opener.
Assessing Kansas City's Offense with YoungAriGold
The Kanas City Chiefs offense is loaded, but the most important matchup will be who will cover All-Pro tight end, Travis Kelce. Texans opted to go with their most physically imposing defensive back Lonnie Johnson to cover Kelce in their first matchup during the 2019 regular season, and he played extremely well with his solid 6'3 frame. He offered the physicality to stay with him throughout the game, but it was a completely different story in the playoffs.
Not only did Johnson reinjure his ankle in the worst time possible after initially injuring it against the Baltimore Ravens in the regular season, but Kelce went off for 10 receptions, 134 receiving yards, and 3 touchdown receptions.
Lonnie has had a great offseason and put in a ton of work in the areas he needed it most; he worked on his footwork and hip transitions and seems to understand how to use his height as leverage at the line and getting low.
He has everything you are looking for in a cornerback from a physical standpoint, and Lonnie was the perfect player to cover opposing tight ends prior to Conley's injury. However, Lonnie will likely be forced to step on the outside with Conley ruled out for the first few games, and it'll bring the obvious question of who matches up with Travis Kelce.
The challenge could fall to either Eric Murray or another safety with the physicality to stay with him. Kelce could be poised for a big game if left unchecked, and it is going to be a long night if Mahomes can connect with his favorite target throughout the night. Fast athletic tight ends are the weakness for a lot of NFL defenses and Houston may not be the exception if they begin to tread water early.
How Anthony Weaver dials up the pass rush will be an important part of the defense with the secondary losing a quality starter in Conley. The secondary has shown they can manage to take away speedster WR Tyreek Hill in the past after limiting him to 3 receptions and 41 yards in the Divisional Round.
The matchup to watch is how Lonnie Johnson fares against Sammy Watkins. The fellow Clemson receiver possesses the speed and route-running ability to pose problems for any young cornerback in the league.
There is optimism that Lonnie shows that all the offseason work will pay off, but it has to put into the football field before making any bold takes that he will shut down a seasoned veteran like Watkins.
Another component to not underrate is that the Chiefs offensive line is almost fully intact from last season, minus their right guard, Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, who decided to opt-out of the 2020 season. Their offensive line is necessarily a strength of their team, but due to their offensive scheme, they don’t need to be an elite offensive line.
The Texans will need to manufacture a pass rush from the interior of the defensive line to collapse the pocket if they want to have success against Mahomes. Pressure from the edge isn’t the answer as he has the ability to extend plays and throw it downfield with ease.
The biggest thing for the Texans is and always will be to limit the big plays. The Chiefs have one of the most lethal offenses in the league, and it will be important that the defense doesn't shoot themselves on the foot by playing undisciplined football.
The way the Cheifs utilize every player to the best of their abilities on offense will be exciting to watch as a fan of good football, but it will be a stress-inducing for any Houston viewer. It'll be fascinating to see how they utilize rooking running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire.
It'll be difficult to gauge how he will be used with no preseason film to watch, but he was chosen in the first at 32nd overall. First rounders see the field early and Edwards-Helaire could have a respectable role in the offense for the season opener.
Charles Omenihu had a productive rookie season a year ago, and it looks as if he is ready to burst on the scene. Charles will be the starting DE opposite of JJ Watt this season, which means we will likely see Brandon Dunn and Rookie Ross Blacklock on the interior. This is an interesting group, if you have listened to the podcast through the offseason you should know the pass rush is my biggest concern. But, with this young D-line, I feel more optimistic than I did during the offseason. We don’t know what we will see from Blacklock early on, but we do know against the run he should have an impact immediately.
Let’s hope Ross Blacklock is able to create some pressure on the inside, or maybe just maybe JJ gets some snaps on the inside. Could we see the return of the diamond formation?
Help is here for Houston's offense
If there was one thing the Houston Texans needed to address heading into the offseason, it would be to improve Watson's supporting cast outside of Hopkins.
The offense had run its course by only relying upon Hopkins to do all the heavy lifting in the passing game after two empty-handed playoff trips, and there needed to be more players that could help the offense.
It's unfortunate that Hopkins wanted out throughout the process, but the Texans added weapons in the running and passing game that will put Watson in the position to succeed. Despite the early struggles Houston may face, one receiver doesn't dictate the success of a player of the caliber of Watson.
The Texans added Brandin Cooks and Randall Cobb at wide receiver while acquiring running back David Johnson in the Hopkins trade with the Arizona Cardinals.
Media and fans alike will be ready to see the Texans fail early to poke fun of their decision to trade their former All-Pro receiver for a former All-Pro running back, but Houston has a real opportunity to come out firing early.
The Texans offense had a massive overhaul in regards to weapons this offseason and when looking at the matchups; you have to wonder how the Chiefs will cover all of these weapons. If anything I think this being the first time anybody has seen this Texans offense is going to be an advantage.
Cooks and Fuller on the field together are going to apply a lot of pressure to KC’s secondary as the speed and route running will open everything else up for the other offensive players. Randall Cobb is going to be a big part of this offense, Deshaun loves to throw to the middle of the field and Cobb has been an exceptional slot over the last couple of years.
Texans have lacked a back that could pick up where Arian Foster left off as the last great third-down back the Texans had in franchise history.
It'd be unjust to compare David Johnson to Foster but it's easier to compare him to an upgrade over Carlos Hyde. They're two different styles of runners, but Johnson can benefit from a better quarterback situation and offensive line like Hyde did, and that makes it very interesting to watch.
David and Duke Johnson are the perfect blend of modern backs that can contribute on all three downs for an offense. This will be the area that creates mismatches for opposing defenses, specifically the Chiefs as they don’t have a linebacker that can consistently cover either Duke or David, which means they could drop a safety down into coverage freeing up either Cooks or Fuller
This revamped offense looks like it can put 50 points in the playoffs, but things will have to fall into place with Watson working a lot of new skill players.
Houston is expecting to have everyone on offense with the only exception possibly being Cooks. Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle reported that Cooks has dealt with a quad injury in training camp, so it's entirely feasible that Houston goes at least a game without Cooks.
The Texans have Will Fuller, Kenny Stills, Randall Cobb, their tight ends, and the running backs that they can deploy in the passing game. Despite minor setbacks like Cooks' injury, the most important thing the Texans possess moving forward is their depth.
Houston's depth is solid on paper and it will be interesting to see how they look in Week 1 against the current Super Bowl LIV Champions.