The Houston Texans and Kansas City Chiefs are going in different directions.
The Chiefs have been one of the surprises of the league, starting the season with six straight victories behind a ferocious defense. The Chiefs sacked Oakland Raiders quarterback Terrelle Pryor 10 times and forced him into three interceptions, one of which was returned 44 yards for a touchdown by Husain Abdullah in a 24-7 victory.
The Chiefs now rank third against the pass (189.7 yards per game) because of that pass rush and a secondary that features safety Eric Berry, the fifth overall pick of the 2010 draft. The pass rush is anchored by the Chiefs’ 2006 first round pick, Tamba Hali. Hali had 3.5 sacks against the Raiders, giving him 10.5 for the season. Defensive tackle Dontari Poe, another first round pick (2012) has done a fantastic job clogging things up on the inside and has 4.5 sacks himself. Linebacker Derrick Johnson, yet another Chiefs’ first rounder (2005) leads the team with 44 tackles.
The Chiefs have been efficient on offense, mostly because they don’t turn the ball over. Alex Smith, who was acquired in the offseason, has completed 122 of 216 passes for 1,330 yards with seven touchdowns and three interceptions. Donnie Avery has become a reliable target for Smith, leading the team with 310 yards on 18 catches.
The Chiefs like to run the ball and they’ve been successful, boasting the 12th best rushing attack in the league. Jamal Charles had rushed for 475 yards and five touchdowns on 114 carries.
The Texans are an absolute mess. After starting the season with a pair of comeback victories over the San Diego Chargers and Tennessee Titans, the Texans have lost four straight games, including an embarrassing 38-13 loss at the hands of the St. Louis Rams Sunday.
In that matchup with the Rams, starting quarterback Matt Schaub with down with an injury.
Due to his ankle and foot injuries, Texans head coach Gary Kubiak has ruled Schaub out of Sunday’s contest.
When Schaub has played this season, he’s been awful. Schaub is 150-of-233 for 1,552 yards with eight touchdowns and nine interceptions. Texans fans have boo’d Schaub, celebrated his injury and have even made visits to his house.
With Schaub out, most believed T.J. Yates, who filled in for Schaub during the 2012 playoffs, helping lead the Texans to a first-round victory over the Cincinnati Bengals, would start in his place. In relief of Schaub this season, Yates is 15-of-22 for 113 yards with zero touchdowns and two interceptions.
Instead, former Houston Cougar Case Keenum will make his first start. Keenum threw for 19,217 yards and 155 touchdowns in college, both NCAA records, but he was mostly viewed as a system quarterback. Scouts must have agreed, because Keenum went undrafted in 2012.
Keenum’s promotion from third-string to starter is a shock to everyone – he has been inactive for every game so far this season and hasn’t attempted an NFL pass.
“We’re struggling, and we’re looking for a spark,” Kubiak told ESPN.com’s Tania Ganguli.
Veteran Andre Johnson remains the main target on offense is having another fantastic season, grabbing 44 catches for 495 yards. First round pick DeAndre Hopkins has shown flashes of becoming a dependable second receiver. He has 25 catches for 340 yards and a touchdown.
One thing the Texans did right in their loss to the Rams was running the football. Arian Foster, who has rushed for at least 1,200 yards in each of the last three seasons, had 141 yards on 20 carries. On the season, the five-year veteran has 531 yards on 117 carries.
Defensively, the Texans are built around two of the games elite players at their position, defensive end J.J. Watt and linebacker Brian Cushing. Both players have done their part, helping the Texans become the league’s best team against the pass (131.3 yards per game). However, the team has struggled against the pass, ranking 25th in the league (121.5 yards per game).
Turnovers and their struggles against the run have killed the Texans and the Chiefs are among the very best at getting to the quarterback and forcing turnovers and have done a nice job of establishing the run on offense. As bad as Schaub has been, the Texans need him behind center to hang with teams like the Chiefs. Without Schaub, the Chiefs should shut down the Texans’ offense and roll to victory.
Line: Chiefs -6.5
Prediction: Chiefs 31, Texans 13