Here are Five Things to Watch when the Texans face the Chiefs during their Week 7 matchup at Arrowhead Stadium.*
1. Lucky 7?- It's Week 7. Case Keenum--who wears jersy number seven--will be the eighth Texan to start at quarterback in the franchise's history. Six of the previous seven were victorious in their debuts, with Dave Ragone being the lone signal caller to see a loss come on his watch.
Keenum's play will go a long way in determining how the Texans fare at Arrowhead. Head coach Gary Kubiak made the decision to go with the second-year quarterback on Thursday morning.
"We're looking for a spark," Kubiak said. "I think he deserves an opportunity to go out there."
Keenum spent all of 2012 on the practice squad, and was inactive through the first six games of 2013. A star at the University of Houston, he knows he's facing a salty Kansas City defense.
"This is going to be the best NFL defense I've ever played," Keenum said. "I think it's going to be a big test."
It will be a big test, and keep an eye out to see if the Texans line up differently at all with Keenum in the game. Kubiak and Keenum's teammates have talked about his ability to move outside the pocket.
2. The Right stuff- Derek Newton is the starting right tackle, and he'll likely see a steady dose of defensive end Tyson Jackson and outside linebacker Justin Houston. The latter of the two leads the NFL with 9.5 sacks in 2013. Kubiak said that while Newton has struggled some, there have been some positives as well from the third-year lineman.
"We've got to hang in there with him and continue to do everything we can to make him better," Kubiak said. "He's got the ability. We're just looking for the consistency. We've got to trust him and he's got to keep working and doing his job."
Veteran Ryan Harris started a pair of games in place of left tackle Duane Brown earlier this season. He's also subbed in at times on the right side for Newton. Kubiak said that will continue to be the case.
"I think Ryan will continue to take some snaps off of Newton, some series off of Newton because Ryan has played pretty good for us," Kubiak said. "I don't see us being any different going into the game right now."
Newton's been flagged twice this year for a false start, and twice for holding.
3. Work, not words- Defensive end J.J. Watt speaks with the media once a week, and typically does so on Wednesdays. This week, he stalked up to the podium, delivered a 75-second statement, and stalked off to the locker room. The first part of his statement was very
complimentary of the undefeated Chiefs, but the main thrust of his brief time with the press was: the Texans need to focus on work, and not words.
Watt's having another terrific season. He's tallied 3.5 sacks, but more importantly, is disrupting the pocket on passing downs and penetrating the offensive line on run plays. While the stats may be off his 2012 pace, anyone with eyeballs has seen how much of a force he's been in September and October.
His heroics will be needed Sunday, because Kansas City running back Jamaal Charles leads the conference in yards from scrimmage with 129.9 per game. He's a weapon running and catching the ball, and Watt can help cool off the 6-0 Chiefs' offense.
"Hopefully I'll answer all your questions with my play on the field and if there are any further questions, I will see y'all Sunday after the game," Watt said.
4. Coverage is key- Safety Danieal Manning is on the injured reserve, and so is cornerback A.J. Bouye. The former had resumed returning kickoffs in Week 6 and the latter was a key on
coverage units for both punts and kicks. Cornerback Elbert Mack was signed to the roster, and linebacker Mike Mohamed was called up to the 53-man roster from the practice squad.
All those changes will certainly have an impact on how the special teams units perform. The Chiefs are a Top-10 team in both kickoff and punt returns, averaging 25.6 and 11.7 yards per, respectively. Field position will be important in helping Keenum and the offense operate more efficiently, so watch what happens in coverage.
5. Run strength- If Keenum is to have any chance, he'll need another big game from running backs Arian Foster and Ben Tate. Last week, Foster was a bright spot in the loss to the Rams,
rumbling for 141 yards on just 20 carries. But he's only scored a combined two touchdowns-one on the ground, one through the air-in 2013, compared to a comined eight at this point last season. He knows the importance of gaining yards on the ground.
"I think it'll be beneficial if we have that element of our offense going," Foster said. "Just being there for him. Handling our business in the run game because, when you run the ball well, it obviously opens up things in the passing game. I think it's important."
Foster has an AFC-best 531 rushing yards this season. Getting yardage and setting up the bootleg play-action pass for Keenum can help this team come home from Kansas City with a victory.