Another week, another prime-time matchup; the Kansas City Chiefs travel into Houston to take on their old friend, the Houston Texans. The Texans and Chiefs will be meeting for the fourth time since 2015 (all at NRG Stadium), yet each of those three previous times, the Texans have displayed a different iteration of the Bill O’Brien offense. Despite the developing classic battle between the two AFC teams, no matchup is schematically the same. The offenses of both teams have evolved, as the Texans transition from pocket quarterback Tom Savage to personified firework Deshaun Watson. Meanwhile, the Chiefs are presenting a multi-dimensional offense firing on all cylinders. The ultimate test for both teams will come down to the defense; the Chiefs week five scheme will be tested as they attempt to bottle up the fast-paced Texans.
Kansas City Chiefs Week Five Scheme Breakdown – A Classic Battle
Control, Balance, Power
Despite both offenses having evolved and changed in now their fourth straight meeting, some things never change. For both the Chiefs and Texans, their defenses remain strong, developing a classic battle. Andy Reid knows O’Brien, and conversely O’Brien knows Reid. However, advantage goes to Reid as one of the most creative offensive minds in the NFL.
The emphasis of the Chiefs game plan starts with stopping a fiery pass rush. The Texans plan begins much like the Washington Redskins – stop the plays before they can develop. J.J. Watt, Whitney Mercilus, and Jadeveon Clowney bring different twists and blitz packages against the Chiefs. Furthermore, their athleticism makes them versatile in formation presentation through the tenure of a game.
However, a bit of an overlooked weak point on the Texans defense can be exposed by Kareem Hunt. In the Texans week one and week three losses to the Jacksonville Jaguars and New England Patriots, the linebackers point of attack was a major miscue. While the entire team looked asleep against the Jaguars, the pass rush came alive against the Patriots – a game the Texans could have won with less miscues in the secondary.
Both the Jaguars and Patriots showed that the middle section of the Texans linebackers have the propensity to be a consistent step behind their play call. Starting with the young Zach Cunningham and Mercilus, the Texans lack a true assignment backer. Benardrick McKinney has the sole onus of watching running backs and being able to combat motion sets.
The Chiefs offense has a unique advantage due to the utilization of multiple sets and motion. The principle of motion is two-fold: dedicate linebackers to expose their assignment, and subsequently confuse linebackers. When the Patriots played the Texans, 16 of 35 attempts went to tight ends or running backs. This is not how the Patriots scored, but those connections to ‘secondary’ routes paved the path for conversions on their way to the endzone.
Applying those lessons to the Chiefs, to overcome the aggressive pass rush, Albert Wilson, Travis Kelce, and Tyreek Hill will see a plethora of different sets and motions. The goal, coming back to Hunt, will be to throw off the Texans assignments, thus allowing Hunt to perceive the linebackers’ positions before a run. That creativity could launch Hunt to a (second) career day as he pounds the ball and launches for explosive runs.
The Texans have been solid against the run, yet have not played a rushing attack from an advanced offensive mind. Reid’s plan will be on display for the nation to scrutinize.
And from that point, the pass attack is also important to unleash. The same creative run game concepts that expose the middle of the field can be accomplished in the pass game. Alex Smith will most likely be targeting Kelce as he physically imposes himself on smaller corners and less talented linebackers.
The Texans have allowed a mere 211 passing yards per game; yet, point to the Patriots game for how to beat the Texans late. The bizarre decision to zone cover and free the middle of the seams on Tom Brady’s last drive was a likely reason Brady came back rapidly. Kelce has the ability and sets to burn those same routes.
The short passing game and hard-nosed running attack will hopefully default safeties to creeping up in the box. As safeties creep up, Hill’s speed will be unleashed and on display for the world to see on deep passes. More targets may come in the short field range, but Reid has been immaculate at setting up the deep pass attempts. Hence, Hill and Kelce will be the main deep targets to go up and over a beatable Texans scheme.
Bottling the Unpredictable
Watson has been an unpredictable firework on the field for the Texans. Even during his first drive takeover against the Jaguars, the clearest observation was his mobility. O’Brien’s advanced offense is full of nuance, technicalities, and is most likely the size of a phonebook. All being said, Watson is a quarterback who can expand the play call selection even further by his mobility. Despite his rookie inexperience putting a certain limit on the play calls, his athleticism unlocks unpredictable plays that create scenarios not originally schemed.
Foremost, the Texans offense is finally evolving to a new iteration, and maybe a stable iteration due in part to Watson. However, what fundamentally remains the same is the willingness and eagerness to pound the ball inside and outside with Lamar Miller.
With regards to formation, the Texans tend to run out of wider sets to string out the defense. Hence, linebackers Justin Houston and Dee Ford will become principled rush defenders as well as pass rushers this week. Last week Frank Zombo, playing for the injured Ford, showed that an outside linebacker in the Chiefs system can attack the rush-gaps effectively.
Fortunately, the Texans are weak running to the outside, and have had better success in-between the guards. Running between guards puts an onus on Bennie Logan and Allen Bailey to demand a double team, and create free tackling lanes for Ramik Wilson and Derrick Johnson. Putting it all together, the front seven must work cohesively to mitigate the threat of Miller. This part of the game plan is about as straight forward as they can come.
The challenging part for the Chiefs will be to ascertain the different sets used. As mentioned, O’Brien loves to vary his formations to keep defenses guessing and forcing linebackers to commit. These sets have allowed Watson to become a mix-master, audible king at the line of scrimmage. Since this game will be in Houston, the Chiefs won’t have the luxury of a raucous Arrowhead crowd serving as a distraction.
Crowd aside, the Chiefs defense will need to keep a spy linebacker in to prevent Watson from escaping the pocket. The more Watson is blitzed, as observed against the Tennessee Titans, the more he can escape without a contain man.
The Chiefs allowed Kirk Cousins and Carson Wentz to both get away from pressure one time too many – Wentz popped off for 55 yards, including a 24-yard run, while Cousins ran for 38 yards, including a 15-yard burner. Due to the inherit explosiveness of Watson, third-down could become an insistent point of frustration if the Chiefs fail to respect Watson’s mobility.
Deeper down field, the Chiefs will be facing a battle in the secondary that puts DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller against two cornerbacks who have been on the verge of great success. Terrance Mitchell and Marcus Peters both will be tested in their one-on-one combat skills.
The Chiefs aptly termed ‘dinner-plate’ secondary (they approach receivers late in the route) will be further tested due to the speed from Fuller. A quick misstep may result in a burning touchdown.
Moreover, the Chiefs need to honor the middle of the field not only to defend the running game, but also to mitigate the tight end and running back routes. The aforementioned wider sets split safeties out to honor the speed of receivers, hence, creating passing lanes in the middle of the field. Both Miller and tight end Ryan Griffin leak into quick routes in the open, short middle field.
The Chiefs will miss Eric Berry in this game, as his physical play often ended short, quick routes over the middle. Ron Parker and Daniel Sorensen will be queued to attack this section, force Watson to think twice, and hopefully throw an interception to Peters or Mitchell.
Summarizing the Plan of Attack
The Chiefs on offense will be facing a familiar, passionate, and aggressive foe in the Texans pass rush. Hence, the offensive line needs to give Smith time. Reid’s creativity can then open the quick game to expose a linebacker corps who has not been effective in playing upward. Hunt will consequently have the opportunity to have another successful rushing day.
On defense, the Chiefs will be facing the fourth iteration of an O’Brien scheme. With Watson at quarterback, the game plan must evolve. The onus will be on the double-team up front to stop the running game, forcing Watson to pass into physical coverage from Sorensen and Parker. Thus, destroying the Texans plan of attack, forcing costly mistakes by throwing into Peters and Mitchell downfield.