(CBS DFW/CBS Local) — The Houston Texans seemed to be leaning into the off-season for the first half of last Saturday’s Wild-Card win over the Buffalo Bills. By midway through the third quarter, after a DeAndre Hopkins fumble essentially gave the Bills another field goal, the Texans trailed 16-0. It was another Houston playoff no-show in the making.
The Bills’ meager 16-point lead looked insurmountable for a Texans team that couldn’t do anything right on either side of the ball. Meanwhile, Buffalo seemed destined for their first playoff win in over two decades after scoring on four of their first six possessions. One concern, as Josh Allen moved them up and down the field, was that they only found the end zone once.
Allen’s failure to convert touchdown opportunities would come back to haunt the Bills. Deshaun Watson got hot in the third quarter, scoring on a 20-yard, defender-dragging run and then taking in the two-point conversion. Two more possessions and the Texans led 19-16. Buffalo tied it late in the fourth quarter, but Houston won it in overtime on a field goal set up by more Watson heroics. The Texans quarterback avoided a sure sack just inside his own territory to find running back Taiwan Jones, who rumbled down inside the Bills 10-yard line.
Will Watson have more tricks up his sleeve when the AFC South champion Texans meet the AFC West champion Kansas City Chiefs this Sunday? Patrick Mahomes, Watson’s counterpart in this divisional round matchup, certainly might. Mahomes has also built his young career, in part, on mind-bending plays. The Chiefs went 12-4 in the regular season to secure a first-round bye. After missing two games mid-season, Mahomes piled up 446 passing yards and three TD passes in a return loss and followed that with six straight wins. Mahomes, like Watson, ended the season among the league’s better passers in terms of average yards and completion percentage. Both also amassed 26 touchdown passes along the way.
Three of Mahomes’ TDs came in these teams’ Week 6 matchup. But it was Watson’s one-yard fourth-quarter run that gave the Texans the 31-24 win. The Texans QB ran for 42 yards total on 10 carries (and passed for another 280 yards) on an afternoon that saw the Texans pile up 192 yards on the ground. The Texans rushing attack averaged a healthy 125.6 yards per game in the regular season, among the best in the NFL for teams that don’t play home games in Baltimore. Carlos Hyde, who picked up 116 yards against the Chiefs previously, finished the regular season with 1070 yards and a 4.4-yard-per-carry average.
The Chiefs have struggled to find yards on the ground all season long. Their rushing attack, 23rd in the NFL averaged 98.1 yards per game. Neither Damien Willams nor LeSean McCoy surpassed 500 yards on the season, though each posed somewhat of a threat out of the backfield as a receiver. Half of Williams’ rushing yards came in the the team’s only two 100-yard games of the season.
But in NFL On CBS analyst Dan Fouts’ view of the Chiefs, “I don’t think they need much [from the running game], I really don’t. I think that the offense is so creative. They have extended running plays with short passes and screen passes. They have a tight end that is so dominant. And the speed of their wide receivers, and the creative mind of Andy Reid. Sure, they’d like to run the ball 40 percent of the time. But, they don’t need to. You have Mahomes and you have all those weapons around him. I have talked to Andy Reid about this and he said, ‘I’m not concerned.'”
Every defense facing the Chiefs knows Mahomes is the focus of their offense. Stopping him is another story. And the Texans, with one of the NFL’s worst pass defenses, could struggle. Houston gave up 7.7 yards per pass, 267.2 yards passing per game and 33 passing touchdowns in the regular season, placing them near the bottom in all three categories. And in this Week 6 rematch the Texans will have to handle Sammy Watkins, who was injured before, in addition to Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce. Pressure upfront from the recently returned J.J. Watt could shorten the time Watson has to reach his receivers.
“You look at the pass rush, and you look at J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus and you say, ‘this has got to be the antidote for that offense,’ says Fouts. “That is a good place to start. If you can pressure Mahomes with four and coming off the edges to keep him in the pocket or at least stepping up in the pocket, then you can play more coverage. You can double-team Hill or double-team Kelce. The four-man rush is absolutely huge for Houston.”
The Chiefs pass defense is better than the inadequate Texans unit, giving up a more modest 6.7 yards per pass, 221.4 yards per game and 21 passing touchdowns on the season. Kansas City struggles to slow the run, however. They allowed 4.9 yards per carry and 128.2 yards per games this past regular season, both among the NFL’s worst. Five of the remaining playoff teams played the Chiefs in the regular season and averaged 166.8 rushing yards in those games. For a little context, the Cincinnati Bengals, the league’s worst rushing defense, allowed 148.9 rushing yards per game this season.
Can Mahomes and the Chiefs ramp up the passing game again after their first-round bye? Will Watson and the Texans ride their momentum into the AFC Championship?
The Texans play the Chiefs Sunday @ 3:05 ET on CBS.