KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Kansas City is the only NFL team to return to the Divisional Round from the 2018 campaign.
The Chiefs also can be the only team to make a return trip to Conference Championship Weekend with a win Sunday against the Houston Texans by effectively executing on these keys to the game:
1. Contain, maintain and delay blitz
Texans quarterback DeShaun Watson is a dangerous player outside of the pocket. He can extend drives with his legs, both as a runner and to buy time for the passing game.
The best tactic for the Chiefs will be to have the edge rushers contain him in the pocket and have the defensive tackles maintain their rush lanes in the middle of the pocket.
Watson loses some of his effectiveness when he is kept in the pocket. He holds onto the ball longer when contained, which creates opportunities for more hits or sacks.
The Chiefs also can sprinkle in some delayed blitzes by collapsing one of the lanes then having a delayed blitzer fill that lane.
The defensive tackles and blitzing player essentially would serve as spies, keeping Watson in the pocket.
2. Hands up in passing lanes
Watson appears to have a little bit of a higher launch point than some quarterbacks with his throwing motion, similar to Colts quarterback Andrew Luck last year in the AFC Divisional Round.
There is an opportunity for the defensive line to put their hands up in some of his throwing lanes and bat the ball down.
3. Destroy Houston’s read-option
The Texans’ run game revolves around some zone runs and the read-option. Ideally, it is a one-cut-and-go style.
Houston’s running backs lose effectiveness when they have to run toward the sidelines.
The Texans love to run the read-option with a tight end or wide receiver motioning on the backside of the run. It allows Watson to essentially run a bootleg off of it and give him a pulling blocker for protection.
Houston ran this play at will against the Chiefs during a 31-24 week-six win on Oct. 13 in Kansas City. If the Chiefs can adjust and have defenders account for the motion player and Watson, the Texans are likely to use the read-option with less frequency on Sunday.
4. Utilize play-action
The Texans’ defense leaves a lot of space on intermediate routes off of play-action, especially for tight ends.
Play-action also could hold Houston’s safeties just enough to give speedsters Tyreek Hill and/or Mecole Hardman Jr. a few chances to get over top or a create a clearing underneath those deep safeties.
5. Make use of crossers, flats and delays
The Texans’ linebackers struggle to cover the flats on a regular basis, because they prefer not to get beat deep and try to hold the middle of their defense.
That often leaves the flats open and, combined with poor tackling for their back seven defenders, opens the door for some significant conversions.
Houston’s defenders want to keep plays in front of them. They don’t want to get beat deep.
Most of the time, the Texans prefer to keep safety Justin Reid deep when possible and force teams to throw short of the first-down marker.
But Houston’s biggest weakness is well-timed delayed routes. Their linebackers and secondary want to make initial reads to go with those options, which leaves voids, especially with clear-out route designs, for delayed routes by the tight ends or running backs.
The Texans are an aggressive defense, especially against the run. They want to get to the point of attack and stop the play.
Teams can find success on the edge with misdirection in both the running and passing games.
The Chiefs were able to take advantage of some windows they created in the passing game last meeting, and they should be there again. But an effective run game would help create more explosive plays off play-action as would attacking the flats and underneath.
Kansas City must account for Reid and linebacker Zach Cunningham, who are the engines for Houston’s defense.
Offensively, the Texans are more aggressive deep down field when a healthy Will Fuller, who missed the AFC Wild Card win against Buffalo with a groin injury, is on the field with fellow wide receivers DeAndre Hopkins and Kenny Stills.
Keke Coutee is capable of moving the chains on intermediate routes, too. Jordan Akins also can be a difference-maker on those read-options, check downs and underneath routes by racking up significant yards after catch.
Sunday won’t be an easy test for the Chiefs. But if they play to their potential, they should find themselves on the winning end of this rematch.
The Chiefs and Texans kick off at 2:05 p.m. Sunday from (snowy?) Arrowhead Stadium.
Nick Jacobs can be found on Twitter: @Jacobs71. You can also download the weekly "4th and 1" podcast on Apple, Google Podcast, Spotify and Stitcher.