KC Star Chiefs beat writer Terez Paylor analyzes the Chiefs' Week 5 matchup in Houston against the Texans, with four keys to a KC win and his prediction. David Eulitt deulitt@kcstar.com
KC Star Chiefs beat writer Terez Paylor analyzes the Chiefs' Week 5 matchup in Houston against the Texans, with four keys to a KC win and his prediction. David Eulitt deulitt@kcstar.com

Red Zone

The Chiefs and NFL by beat writer Terez Paylor

Red Zone

Chiefs-Texans scouting report, key players to watch, and a prediction

By Terez A. Paylor

tpaylor@kcstar.com

October 07, 2017 08:27 PM

UPDATED October 08, 2017 10:45 PM

Here’s The Star’s weekly game preview detailing the key players and matchups for the Chiefs’ game against the Houston Texans, 2-2, at 7:30 p.m. Sunday at NRG Stadium. The game will air on NBC (Channels 27, 41).

Scheme

Head coach: Bill O’Brien, 28-22, is in his fourth season as the Texans’ head coach. O’Brien, 47, is a former college linebacker at Brown who is actually known for his offensive resume. After serving in a variety of roles with the New England Patriots from 2007 to 2011, he spent two years as the coach at Penn State before he was hired by the Texans.

Offense: O’Brien dismissed his offensive coordinator, George Godsey, in January and now calls plays himself in lieu of an offensive coordinator. Houston ranks 25th in passing offense (193.0 yards per game) and fifth in rushing offense (139.8). Houston is passing the ball roughly 52 percent of the time, making for one of the most balanced offenses in the league.

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Defense: Romeo Crennel, 70, is the assistant head coach while Mike Vrabel, 42, is the defensive coordinator. The Texans have a unique defensive setup because they wanted to prevent Vrabel leaving this offseason. Crennel is a highly-respected defensive mind who engineered one of the league’s best defenses last season, while Vrabel is regarded as an up-and-comer in coaching circles. Houston runs a 3-4 defense that ranks ninth in the league in pass defense (196.0) and 14th in sacks (10). The Texans’ run defense ranks 14th in the league (95.5).

Special teams: Larry Izzo, 43, is in his second year as the Texans’ special-teams coach. A former All-Pro special teamer with the Patriots, Dolphins and Jets, Izzo commands lots of respect from his playing days. Kicker Ka’imi Fairbairn has made all nine of his field goal attempts, while punter Shane Lechler has dropped seven of 20 punts inside the 20, which is 14th in the league. Houston ranks 15th in kickoff returns (22.6) and 16th in punt returns (6.7). It also ranks 30th in kick-return coverage (27.3) and 30th in punt-return coverage (16.1), so this could be a big week for whoever is returning kicks and punts for the Chiefs, be it Ty Hill, Akeem Hunt or De’Anthony Thomas.

Four keys to a Chiefs victory

1. Target Travis Kelce

This was a key last week, too, and Kelce broke out for a seven-catch, 111-yard performance. Kelce has had some huge games against the Texans in the past, and the man responsible for locking him down last year — cornerback A.J. Bouye — is now a Jacksonville Jaguar. Against a Texans team that doesn’t excel against underneath routes and might not have anyone capable of guarding him, Kelce could have a big game.

2. Go at this secondary

Teams have had success targeting the Texans’ safeties, so much so that their starter to open the season — Corey Moore — has been benched. His replacement, Marcus Gilchrist, is a better cover player, but the Chiefs might still be wise to test Gilchrist and fellow starter Andre Hal vertically, especially if Ty Hill somehow gets matched up with one of them. One of the Texans’ best corners, Kevin Johnson, is hurt, too. However, quarterback Alex Smith will need time to throw against a nasty defensive front. That means the offensive line will need to find a way to neutralize an effective Texans rush.

3. Make Watson prove he can go up top

Deshaun Watson is an exciting young player to watch, someone the Chiefs vetted thoroughly during their predraft process before selecting fellow quarterback Patrick Mahomes. He’s elusive, tough and a gamer. But his deep-ball accuracy leaves a little to be desired. Make him prove he can connect with the likes of Will Fuller V or DeAndre Hopkins, lest you open up room for the Texans’ solid ground game.

4. Mix up coverages

For all his college heroics, Watson struggled with interceptions at Clemson in 2016, often because he didn’t always spot the underneath defender. As a rookie in the NFL, he still has to prove he can identify the exotic coverages and blitz schemes defenses employ at this level. This is a game where, if the Texans get in third-and-long situations, Chiefs defensive coordinator Bob Sutton might be able to get creative against a Houston offensive line that can be beaten in pass protection.

Four Texans to watch

No. 4, QB Deshaun Watson, 22 years old, 6-2, 221, 1st season

Has completed 64.9 percent of his passes for 811 yards, seven touchdowns and four interceptions this season. Was selected by the Texans with the 12th overall pick in this year’s draft. Led Clemson to the national championship as a true junior in 2016. Throws a catchable ball. Has enough arm strength to make all the throws, despite low velocity at the combine. Tough and competitive; gamer who has traditionally come up big on the biggest stages. Good athlete who can create on his feet and shows comfort throwing on the run. Must polish his accuracy on deep balls and continue to work on spotting the underneath defender.

No. 10, WR DeAndre Hopkins, 25 years old, 6-1, 215, 5th season

Has caught 31 passes for 311 yards and two touchdowns this season. Caught 78 passes for 954 yards and four touchdowns last season despite poor quarterback play. Super-competitive receiver who creates separation out of his breaks with impressive burst. Plays bigger than his size; also boasts solid ball skills and can win in the red zone. Also wins contested catches and can is widely regarded as one of the league’s most consistent receivers.

No. 99, DE J.J. Watt, 28 years old, 6-5, 295, 7th season

Ranked No. 35 on the NFL’s top-100 list for 2017. Has recorded 13 tackles, five quarterback hits and zero sacks this season. High-effort player who is still working his way back into his iconic form following a back injury that marred his 2016 season and limited him to only three games. Long, strong, high-effort player who still flashes the ability to be very disruptive. At his best, was a monster against the run and the pass. Shed blocks with ease and consistently shut down any run concept in his direction. As a pass rusher, did a great job using his natural length and strength to overwhelm blockers and consistently effect quarterbacks. Will transform Houston’s defense into a truly scary unit should he round into his old form this season.

No. 90, OLB Jadeveon Clowney, 24 years old, 6-5, 270, 4th season

Ranked No. 49 on the NFL’s top-100 list for 2017. Has recorded 13 tackles, four quarterback hits and three sacks this season. Recorded 40 tackles, 17 quarterback hits and six sacks in 2016. No. 1 overall pick in 2014, boasts an impressive combination of size, athleticism and length. Has put it all together in the NFL after a slow start to his career. Has the raw tools to beat any offensive lineman one-on-one and has done a better job lifting his effort to the level necessary to dominate. Needs to improve his run discipline.

Chiefs face another top-notch defensive line in Texans

KC Chiefs tackle Mitchell Schwartz and offensive coordinator Matt Nagy discuss the challenge of playing yet another premium defensive line in the Houston Texans on Sunday night.

David Eulitt deulitt@kcstar.com

Projected Chiefs two-deep depth chart

KEY: Bold=Player to Watch, C=Captain, PB=2016 Pro Bowl, AP=2016 All-Pro, Q=Questionable

QB

No., Name, Ht., Wt., Years

11 Alex Smith (C, PB), 6-4, 220, 13 | 15 Patrick Mahomes, 6-3, 230, R

RB

27 Kareem Hunt, 5-11, 208, R | 35 Charcandrick West, 5-10, 205, 4

FB

42 Anthony Sherman, 5-10, 242, 7

X-WR

17 Chris Conley, 6-3, 205, 3 | 14 Demarcus Robinson, 6-1, 203, 2

Z-WR

10 Tyreek Hill (C, PB), 5-10, 185, 2 | 80 Jehu Chesson, 6-3, 203, R

Y-WR

12 Albert Wilson, 5-9, 200, 4 | 13 De’Anthony Thomas, 5-9, 176, 4

TE

87 Travis Kelce (C, PB, AP), 6-5, 260, 5 | 84 Demetrius Harris, 6-7, 230, 4

LT

72 Eric Fisher, 6-7, 315, 5 | 75 Cameron Erving, 6-5, 313, 3

LG

70 Bryan Witzmann, 6-7, 320, 3 | 79 Parker Ehinger, 6-6, 310, 2

C

73 Zach Fulton, 6-5, 316, 4 | 75 Cameron Erving, 6-5, 313, 3

RG

65 Jordan Devey, 6-6, 320, 4 | 79 Parker Ehinger, 6-6, 310, 2

RT

71 Mitchell Schwartz (AP), 6-5, 320, 6 | 75 Cameron Erving, 6-5, 313, 3

DEFENSE

LDE

95 Chris Jones, 6-6, 310, 2 | 95 Rakeem Nunez-Roches, 6-2, 307, 3

NT

96 Bennie Logan, 6-2, 315, 5 | 98 Roy Miller III, 6-2, 318, 8

RDE

97 Allen Bailey, 6-3, 288, 7 | 94 Jarvis Jenkins, 6-4, 300, 7

LOLB

50 Justin Houston (C), 6-3, 258, 7 | 92 Tanoh Kpassagnon, 6-7, 280, R

WILB

56 Derrick Johnson, 6-3, 242, 13 | 57 Kevin Pierre-Louis (Q), 6-0, 230, 4

MILB

59 Reggie Ragland, 6-2, 252, 2 | 53 Ramik Wilson, 6-2, 237, 3

ROLB

51 Frank Zombo, 6-3, 254, 8 | 92 Tanoh Kpassagnon, 6-7, 280, R

LCB

22 Marcus Peters (PB, AP), 6-0, 197, 3 | 23 Phillip Gaines, 6-0, 193, 4

FS

38 Ron Parker, 6-0, 206, 7 | 21 Eric Murray, 5-11, 199, 2

SS

49 Daniel Sorensen, 6-2, 208, 4 | 30 Steven Terrell, 5-10, 197, 5

NCB

23 Phillip Gaines, 6-0, 193, 4

RCB

39 Terrance Mitchell, 5-11, 190, 4 | 25 Kenneth Acker, 6-0, 195, 4

Projected Texans two-deep depth chart

KEY: Bold=Player to Watch, C=Captain, PB=2016 Pro Bowl, AP=2016 All-Pro, Q=Questionable, *=See “additional notes” section below for more info on player

OFFENSE

QB

No., Name, Ht., Wt., Years

**4 Deshaun Watson, 6-2, 221, R** | 3 Tom Savage, 6-4, 230, 4

RB

26 Lamar Miller, 5-10, 220, 6 | 28 Alfred Blue, 6-2, 225, 4

FB

45 Jay Prosch, 6-1, 255, 4

WR

**10 DeAndre Hopkins, 6-1, 215, 5** | 12 Bruce Ellington, 5-9, 200, 4

WR

15 Will Fuller V, 6-0, 180, 2 | 13 Braxton Miller, 6-1, 205, 2

SLOT WR

12 Bruce Ellington, 5-9, 200, 4

TE

84 Ryan Griffin, 6-6, 265, 5 | 89 Stephen Anderson, 6-2, 230, 2

LT

74 Chris Clark, 6-5, 305, 8 | 63 Kendall Lamm, 6-6, 310, 3

LG

71 Xavier Su’a-Filo, 6-4, 320, 4 \

C

66 Nick Martin, 6-4, 300, 2 | 65 Greg Mancz (Q), 6-4, 310, 3

RG

79 Jeff Allen, 6-4, 306, 6

RT

68 Breno Giacomini, 6-7, 318, 10 | 75 Jah Reid, 6-7, 325, 7

DEFENSE

RDE

93 Joel Heath, 6-6, 300, 2 | 95 Christian Covington, 6-2, 305, 3

NT

98 D.J. Reader, 6-3, 335, 2 | 92 Brandon Dunn, 6-2, 310, 2

LDE

**99 J.J. Watt, 6-5, 295, 7** | 91 Carlos Watkins, 6-3, 309, R

OLB

59 Whitney Mercilus (AP), 6-4, 265, 6 | 94 Ufomba Kamalu, 6-6, 295, 2

MLB

41 Zach Cunningham, 6-3, 234, R | 52 Brian Peters, 6-4, 240, 3

MLB

55 Benardrick McKinney (AP), 6-4, 260, 3 | 51 Dylan Cole, 6-0, 220, R

OLB

**90 Jadeveon Clowney (PB), 6-5, 270, 4** | 57 Brennan Scarlett, 6-4, 260, 2

LCB

24 Johnathan Joseph, 5-11, 185, 12 | 20 Marcus Burley, 5-10, 190, 4

RCB

25 Kareem Jackson, 5-10, 185, 8 | 20 Marcus Burley, 5-10, 190, 4

FS

29 Andre Hal, 5-10, 195, 4 | 21 Marcus Gilchrist, 5-10, 200, 7

SS

43 Corey Moore, 6-2, 200, 2 | 35 Eddie Pleasant, 5-10, 200, 5

NCB

33 Johnthan Banks, 6-2, 185, 5

SPECIAL TEAMS

K

7 Ka’imi Fairbairn, 6-0, 190, 2

P

9 Shane Lechler, 6-2, 230, 18

KR

22 Jordan Todman, 5-10, 200, 5

PR

14 Chris Thompson, 6-0, 175, R

LS

9 Shane Lechler, 6-2, 230, 18

Additional scouting notes

▪ Lamar Miller is a solid NFL back. He’s a traditional slasher with good burst and top-end speed. The Chiefs can’t let him and the rest of the league’s fifth-best rushing offense get rolling; if they do, it will make things much easier for Watson, the rookie quarterback, to move the ball through the air.

▪ The Chiefs better keep an eye on Will Fuller V. Fuller occasionally has focus drops, but there’s no doubting his game-breaking speed and vertical ability. Both of the Chiefs’ top corners – Marcus Peters and Terrance Mitchell – will have to respect his speed. In certain situations, help over the top wouldn’t be bad, either.

▪ Whitney Mercilus is a very underrated player who might be the Texans’ most consistent defender. Is disruptive as a pass rusher and can win with speed. Has been battling an ankle injury but is expected to play.

▪ Benardrick McKinney is an old-school, high-cut thumper at middle linebacker who has some third-down pass-rush skills. He’s started to come into his own as a player, earning an All-Pro nod last season after leading the Texans in tackles with 129 — nearly double the next closest player, Brian Cushing.

▪ Kareem Jackson has been very productive this season; he’s second on the team in tackles and has also recorded a forced fumble, pass deflection and quarterback hit. He’s helped absorbed the loss of starting corner Kevin Johnson due to injury.

Prediction: Chiefs 28-24

The Chiefs again find themselves on national television, in prime time, no less. After a 29-20 win over Washington on Monday, however, they find themselves facing a tough Texans team on short rest. This game will be difficult. The Texans typically play well at home, and they proved they could beat the Chiefs there last season. But the Chiefs are the better team, and they should be motivated to avenge their 19-12 loss to the Texans last September at NRG Stadium.