Offensive, defensive and special teams keys for the Kansas City Chiefs (10-5) in Saturday’s wildcard game against the Houston Texans (9-7) starting at 3:35 p.m. CT at NRG Stadium.
The Chiefs have won their last four games by a total of 37 points or just a bit more than nine points per game. It was not an especially productive time for Alex Smith and the offense that scored eight offensive touchdowns in those games, averaging 41 yards a game less than in the previous 12 contests.
In the last four weeks, the Chiefs held an average lead of 10 points at halftime, but in the second half, they were outscored 20-19.
One of the keys to beating Houston will again be grabbing the early lead. But they have to produce something offensively in the second half as well. The first game between these teams saw the Chiefs jump to a 27-9 halftime lead with three offensive scores, two by tight end Travis Kelce. They’ll need similar execution on Saturday.
Ball security, balanced play-calling by Andy Reid and solid pass protection are the foundation stones of a winning offensive effort. They face a Houston defense that ranks No. 3 in average yards allowed (310.2) and No. 3 in average passing yards given up (210.4). D
efensive end J.J. Watt led the league with 17.5 sacks; he’s a headache that must be dealt with by the Chiefs offense.
Coordinator Bob Sutton’s defense has been among the league’s best over the last two months. In the 10-game winning streak, the Chiefs allowed an average of 12.8 points per game.
In the season’s last 12 games, they gave up 20 points or more just twice, and only once did they allow three offensive touchdowns in a game (Buffalo.) They finished No. 7 in yards allowed (329.3 yards per game), No. 8 in rush yards given up (98.2) and No. 9 in passing yards allowed (231.1). They were No. 2 in the league with 22 interceptions and their 47 sacks ranked No. 4 among league defenses.
They’ll need to perform at that level against a Houston offense that’s not dynamic in the ground game. Alfred Blue was the leading runner with 698 yards on 183 carries. Injuries and poor play led head coach Bill O’Brien through starting four different quarterbacks, but Brian Hoyer had the most starts (9 of 16.) He’s a solid passer, hitting 60.7 percent of his passes, 7 yards per attempt, 19 touchdown throws and seven interceptions.
Hoyer looks first for wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, who finished with 111 catches for 1,521 yards and 11 touchdown receptions. His catch and yardage totals rank third among all NFL receivers in the regular season. Hopkins caught two touchdown passes against the Chiefs in the season opener. The Texans also got a big day in that opener from veteran Nate Washington. Those are the key receivers that Sutton’s guys must blanket in coverage.
With the Texans losing their starting left tackle Duane Brown to a quadriceps injury, the Chiefs need to take advantage with the pass rush.
Through the last month, the Chiefs have been able to overcome kicking game miscues that evened out positive contributions made by the special teams. Last Sunday they blocked a punt for a safety, but screwed up a pooch punt and gave up a 70-yard kickoff return. Both mistakes cost them field position.
The teams are comparable with the production from special teams this season. The Chiefs are stronger on punt returns (7.9-yard average), but the Texans have the edge in kickoff returns (23.9 yards.) Houston’s Shane Lechler is among the top five punters in the league with a 47.2-yard average. But Dustin Colquitt has a big edge in net punting with an average at 40.8 yards.
In coverage, the Chiefs are better against punt returns (6.5 yards), but the Texans are slightly better on kickoff returns (24.4 yards.) Houston blocked a 53-yard field goal try; the Chiefs blocked a 51-yard FG attempt and they stopped a punt for a safety last Sunday. They also saw a 27-yard FG was blocked.
Cairo Santos is 81 percent on field goal attempts (30 of 37), while Houston kickers have been 85 percent (23 of 27.)
Field position and opportunities in the kicking game are very big pieces of the puzzle for victory in the playoffs.