Despite success in 2015, Chiefs won’t take Texans for granted
HOUSTON — Kansas City Chiefs coach Andy Reid avoided the trap of the easy narrative.
His team defeated Houston twice last season, ending the Texans’ season with a thorough 30-0 victory in the wild card round of the postseason that initiated a complete reconstruction of the offensive personnel for the 2015 AFC South champions.
And now, with the teams meeting for a third time in 19 months, the kneejerk response would be to acknowledge that the Chiefs’ defensive personnel should feel a level of comfort preparing for Sunday’s game at NRG Stadium. Instead, Reid noted what was different and how those changes might influence an alternate outcome.
"Yeah, they are a different team," Reid said. "Offensively, they’ve got new people there. They looked sharp on Sunday.
"I mean, that’s a good football team. We understand that. We understand we have to have a good week of practice here."
With so many new faces on offense for the Texans (1-0), from quarterback Brock Osweiler to running back Lamar Miller to rookie receivers Will Fuller and Braxton Miller serving as complements to standout DeAndre Hopkins, it might be wise to disregard what unfolded on Jan. 9, when the Chiefs limited the Texans to 226 yards while forcing five turnovers — all charged to then-Texans quarterback Brian Hoyer.
Three of the four skill newcomers enjoyed solid debuts for the Texans in their 23-14 home win over the Bears. Osweiler passed for 231 yards and two touchdowns. Lamar Miller amassed 117 yards from scrimmage on 32 touches. Fuller had five receptions for 107 yards and a fourth-quarter touchdown that put the Texans ahead to stay.
The Texans addressed most of the issues that plagued their offense last season, concerns that led to that thud in the playoffs. It was just one game, but on the surface those moves appear to have paid dividends that were both immediate and will also be lasting.
"I mean, it’s a new season," Texans offensive coordinator George Godsey said. "They’ve got new players. They’ve got players that are injured; we’ve got players that are injured. We’ve got new players. It’s a player’s game and there is new personnel out there. That’s the way we look at it."
One of those injured players for the Chiefs (1-0) is running back Jamaal Charles, who practiced Wednesday after sitting out last week in the overtime home win over the San Diego Chargers. Charles is recovering from his second ACL injury, but even without him the Chiefs have maintained their offensive balance running the football.
Spencer Ware rushed for 70 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries against San Diego. Because the Chiefs were forced to attack the field vertically after falling into a 21-point halftime deficit, the Chiefs’ ground game didn’t play a significant role. But Ware and Charcandrick West rushed for a combined 1,037 yards and 10 touchdowns last season after Charles was sidelined. Their credentials are legitimate, and with Miller enjoying a breakout of his own in Week 1, the Texans understand how critical running the football is to both offenses.
"Absolutely," Texans coach Bill O’Brien said. "Just look at the Kansas City Chiefs and what they did with their running backs last week, I mean, Ware had a big game. West had a big game. They ran the ball. They caught the ball well. I know Jamaal Charles wasn’t in there, but that guy is a really good player too.
"Obviously with Lamar Miller and Jonathan Grimes on special teams, Tyler Ervin on special teams, Alfred Blue and what he’s done for us in the past. I believe that running backs are very important to your roster."
While the Texans fretting over the Chiefs’ defensive prowess is understandable, they will field a stifling defense of their own led by defensive end J.J. Watt and linebacker Whitney Mercilus, who was named AFC Defensive Player of the Week after producing four tackles and two sacks that helped Houston smother the Bears.
Watt missed the preseason after July back surgery and was slow to find his rhythm against Chicago. He did in the second half when the Texans turned up the pressure on Bears quarterback Jay Cutler, who absorbed five sacks and was hit an additional 13 times. A healthy Watt and his capable teammates are the obvious concern for Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith.
"Turn on the tape and turn on the defense, the front jumps out right away," Smith said. "Obviously, I think every guy up there is really, really talented and can bring it."