NFL Playoffs: Six Keys For The Kansas City Chiefs Versus Houston Texans

The NFL playoffs are finally here.

The Kansas City Chiefs will attempt to win their first playoff game since 1993 when they travel to face the Houston Texans in an AFC wildcard game on Saturday with kickoff slated for 4:30 p.m. (ET) The game will be televised on ESPN, as well as ABC in the Kansas City market, and on ESPN Deportes.

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The Chiefs (11-5) enter the game on a franchise record 10-game winning streak and with one of the top defenses in the league. Kansas City’s defense is ranked third in the NFL in scoring at 17.9 points a game and seventh in total yards permitting 329.3 yards a contest. The Chiefs also has recorded 46.0 sacks and has 29 takeaways, including 22 interceptions.

Offensively, the Chiefs are the ninth-highest scoring team with 25.3 points a game. However, they are averaging 27.8 points during their winning streak – outscoring their opponents by 150 points. Defensively, the Chiefs have limited their opponents to 12.8 points a game and have held their opponents under 20 points in eight straight games.

There is even better news as ESPN is reporting that Kansas City should have all of its top pass rushers available for the game as linebacker Justin Houston (knee), the team sack leader, is listed as probable and linebacker Tambia Hali (thumb/knee), as well as linebacker Dee Ford (concussion/wrist) are questionable. Hall and Ford, who has registered all four of his sacks in the last four games, practiced for the first time Friday. Starting center Mitch Morse (concussion) is the only player officially ruled out for the game.

Kansas City and Houston are meeting for the first time in the playoffs though the teams have met seven previous times during the regular season with the Chiefs holding a 4-3 edge in the series. Kansas City has won the past two games in the series, including their week 1 meeting in Houston (27-20).

The Texans (9-7) closed the season with seven wins in their last nine games thanks in large part to their defense. Houston finished the regular season tied for seventh in the league allowing 19.6 points a game but the Texans have been stingier in their last three games surrendering a total of 22 points.

Protect Alex Smith.

The number one key for the Chiefs is to protect quarterback Alex Smith and that will be difficult as the Texans have two premier pass rushers in J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus.

“Protection, protection, protection,”offensive coordinator Doug Pederson said of the key to Saturday’s game. “We’re going to use five, we’re going to use six (to protect). The Texans front is very active. They play a bunch of line games, they incorporate their linebackers and they’re moving [J.J. Watt] around—putting him as a ‘backer. We’ve got be aware of everything.”

To make matters worse for the Chiefs is that they will be without rookie starting center Mitch Morse (concussion). Second-year pro Zach Fulton will replace Morse as he did in week 13, according to SB Nation.

The Chiefs have allowed 46 sacks this season, which is the sixth most in the NFL and a big part of that is the fact Kansas City has been forced to start eight different offensive linemen. Kansas City has also allowed Smith to get hit 78 other times.

Quality on the offensive line is also an issue, as Fulton is not a true center and left tackle Eric Fisher, the team’s 2013 first round selection, has struggled, particularly against a strong pass rusher according to ESPN. Also, right tackle Jason Rah is probably better suited to play in a reserve role.

Watt, who may be the Defensive Player of the Year, led the league with 17.5 sacks and Wiley had 12.0 sacks. Add second-year linebacker Jadeveon Clowney (4.5 sacks) and third-year linebacker John Simon (5.0 sacks) and the Texans have a formable pass rush.

Smith is a very good scrambler and can negate a pass rush to a degree plus he has a habit of fumbling – Smith has been charged with two fumbles as a quarterback and four fumbles overall this year. Smith generally makes good decisions and does not throw interceptions.

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Get pressure on Brian Hoyer.

The Chiefs also possess a very good pass rush, though it has been semi-stalled due to injuries. But with everyone relatively healthy, Kansas City should be able to get pressure on Hoyer.

Houston, who will be without starting left tackle Duane Brown, has given up 36 sacks and allowed Hoyer to be hit 86 times.

Kansas City’s defense dominated the line of scrimmage in the first meeting. The Chiefs had five sacks, five tackles for losses, and five quarterback hits. Kansas City had six sacks last week against Oakland

In the season opener, Smith was sacked twice – by Watt – and hit three other times.

Turnovers.

Kansas City has protected the ball very well, as they only have given the ball away 15 times, which is the second fewest in the league. The Chiefs are second with a plus-14 in giveaway/takeaway as their defense has forced 29 turnovers, including a NFL-high 22 interceptions.

Houston has turned the ball over 20 times, but only twice in its last two games. The Texans have forced eight turnovers in their last two games and 25 overall.

Alex Smith.

This is one of the few times the Chiefs have an advantage at quarterback, so they need to take advantage.

Smith is 3-0 all-time against the Texans and has been very productive in his three career playoff starts. The 31-year-old has averaged 291 passing yards per game and nine touchdowns with no interceptions. He is 1-2 in the playoffs.

Contain Wide Receiver DeAndre Hopkins.

DeAndre Hopkins has become one of the top receivers in the NFL. He was third in the league with 111 receptions, third in yards with 1,521, seventh with 11 touchdowns, and fifth in receiving yards per game (95.1). He has been targeted 192 times this season, which is the third-most in the NFL. In 13 of his 16 games, he’s been targeted at least 11 times.

Rookie cornerback Marcus Peters will likely be matched up with Hopkins the majority of the game. In week 1, Hopkins torched Peters and the Chiefs for nine catches and 98 yards along with two touchdowns. Peters did pick off a Hoyer pass in the game, he finished with eight interceptions and 60 tackles during the regular season.

Run the ball consistently.

[Photo by Ed Zurga/AP]