KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Kansas City Chiefs are coming off a surprising 19-13 loss to the Indianapolis Colts in prime time.
The Colts further exposed some weaknesses in the Chiefs football team, including KC’s continued inability to stop the run.
Kansas City struggled to protect the reigning league MVP, quarterback Patrick Mahomes, and were unable to beat man coverage for a second straight week.
The New England Patriots created this formula for beating the Chiefs, establish the run and rely on man coverage, in last season’s AFC Championship game.
The Detroit Lions recreated it and Indianapolis abandoned its typical zone-heavy defensive scheme to copy it.
Kansas City has reached a point in the season where teams have adjusted to the loss of wide receiver Tyreek Hill and left tackle Eric Fisher.
Now, coach Andy Reid’s tem has to respond and show it has some solutions that force teams to adjust, while Hill and Fisher return to full strength.
The game plan this week is a little different, because it revolves more around how the Chiefs will have to adjust rather than how they can attack the Houston Texans at noon Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium:
1. Protect your franchise QB
Mahomes is the most important piece in a Super Bowl puzzle.
HIs ankle sprain during the season opener and the aggravation last week should convince the Chiefs to protect their star quarterback at all costs.
The Texans boast an aggressive and powerful front seven, so KC likely will need to keep two additional defenders in to block or help chip on the edge.
That will mean fewer routes, but hopefully will buy Mahomes more time to survey the field and limit the times he is forced to run around on his ankle.
Multiple tight end sets could be effective, as Travis Kelce and Deon Yelder still can be receiving threats if needed while Anthony Sherman and Blake Bell can be the primary blockers.
Bottom line: Kansas City has to slow down the rush, so Mahomes doesn't feel the need to scramble and buy time to create a play.
Even with extra help, it’s critical that the offensive line step up in pass protection so such measures aren't needed on a long-term basis.
The Chiefs also have to be mindful with another road game four days after this physical battle.
2. Run blitz, shoot the gaps
The Texans are going to give the Chiefs a steady dose of running backs Carlos Hyde and Duke Johnson.
Hyde, who was acquired in a training camp trade with Kansas City, has been Houston’s lead back during the past few weeks. He’s also looked quicker than he did with KC.
The Chiefs are becoming predictable in their run defense and teams are attacking it by double teaming the defensive tackles to the second level before linemen peel off to block the linebackers.
Kansas City is going to have to eliminate that ability to double team by shooting gaps, changing gap responsibilities and run blitzing to take away the immediate double teams.
It’s a strategy that can backfire on the team against the play-action pass or if a defender misses his gap, but the run defense hasn’t been good already this season and maybe some unpredictability with help the Chiefs turn things around.
3. Wide nines with five rushers
Opposing defenses have found success rushing DeShaun Watson with five defenders. They attack the pocket with wide nine rushers and the defensive tackles in pinched three technique positions or a one tech and three tech.
The fifth defender is usually a blitzer — either a linebacker, safety or corner — that teams change up and often bring on a little bit of a delay after the defensive line opens up the desired gap.
That strategy has allowed teams to control where Watson moves in the pocket and serves as something of a spy.
4. Clear out for underneath routes
Houston has changed up its coverage throughout the season with a blend of man and zone, but the common theme that seems to work is putting three receivers to a side with two routes that clear out for an underneath option.
If the Texans are getting to Mahomes quickly, the Chiefs will need those underneath routes to be open quickly.
5. Double DTs in run game
The Texans will allow 4 to 5 yards per run play if the Chiefs double team the defensive tackles up to the second level.
Essentially, this is a throwback to the Chiefs’ run-blocking style in 2015, which proved to be an effective strategy and gave KC a reliable run game.
Kansas City can have success with that short- and long-term, but some offensive linemen must stick with the double team rather than abandoning blocks too quickly when the second-level defender comes down.
It won't be exciting or explosive, but the Chiefs may need to keep the chains moving with a solid run game that allows the defense to rest and Mahomes to be selective taking deep shots off play-action.
Kansas City needs to build its confidence back up this week while also trying to shorten the game with a short week against Denver on the horizon.
The Chiefs can beat Houston on Sunday but it may take a different approach than the last few weeks.