The Texans (1-11-1) host the Chiefs (10-3) on Sunday inside NRG Stadium. It's the 12th time the franchises will meet in the regular season, and Houston's been victorious in five of those previous 11. Here are five things to watch when the game kicks off at noon.
1) 2 is better than 1 – For the second week in a row, all signs point to the Texans rolling with Davis Mills and Jeff Driskel each getting significant action at quarterback. The latter was on the practice squad all season long, getting pulled up in Weeks 1 and 2, and then again last Sunday at Dallas. On Wednesday, Driskel signed on to the 53-man roster.
While he played a handful of snaps combined in the first two contests, Driskel was under center for 33 snaps against the Cowboys. Mills, meanwhile, started last weekend. His final snap count was also 33.
The changeup provided a spark to an offense that has struggled. Houston lost a close one to Dallas, but raised the antennae of the Chiefs.
"They've got a good 1-2 punch that they're trying to work," Chiefs safety Justin Reid said. "You're preparing for two different quarterbacks. So a lot of focus ends up being 'Who's the guy under center?' That changes the way we're going to play, a little bit."
Mills, who completed 16-of-21 passes for 175 yards, explained the pluses of a 2-quarterback gameplan.
"Anything we can do to switch up the looks and keep defenses guessing, I think that's advantageous for us," Mills said. "Just going out there and moving the football is what we're trying to do."
The second-year signal-caller described the healthy communication he had during the game with Driskel.
"There's a lot of back-and-forth on the sideline, making sure we were seeing things the same, kind of bouncing ideas off each other," Mills said. "Obviously, our play calls weren't the exact same, so we're not seeing the exact looks. From the mind of the quarterback, a lot of times you can only relate to what other quarterbacks are thinking. When you have somebody to talk to who's also getting live reps, live bullets flying at them in the game, it helps."
2) Dang, no Dameon? – In the second half at Dallas, running back Dameon Pierce injured an ankle and wasn't able to finish the game. He didn't practice on Wednesday or Thursday, which isn't a good sign for his Sunday availability. The rookie's picked up 939 yards on the ground this season, and been one of the bright spots on the squad.
Mills is disappointed a "great player" like Pierce might not be out there.
"It's going to be tough not having him this week, but we have a lot of guys who are talented and ready to step up in that room and make plays," Mills said. "It's kind of that next man up mentality. We're ready for anyone to go up and start taking those touches."
Dare Ogunbowale and Rex Burkhead will have to pick up the slack if Pierce is absent. But they're not the only ones.
"If you talk to most other positions when you lose a great player like that, need more from those positions," Smith said. "Need more from our offensive line. All of those things. We're working through the game plan right now. We feel like we have a plan, so we'll go from there."
Ogunbowale has carried eight times this season for 27 yards and caught 13 passes for 95 yards. Bukhead's rushed for 80 yards on 26 carries and caught 29 passes for 169 yards and a score.
3) Pitre poppin' – In his last two games, defensive back Jalen Pitre has a combined 28 tackles, three pass breakups and an interception. He blasted several Cowboys receivers last Sunday at AT&T Stadium, and has fit in nicely at the free safety position since being moved there over the last few weeks.
"I've enjoyed it," Pitre said. "I think I've had some success at the free safety role. I'm just looking forward to continuing to build off of that."
Smith, too, has liked what he's seen from the young defender over the last month. Pitre's three interceptions this season lead the team.
"He knows how important it is to take the football away," Smith said. "He's getting more and more comfortable back in his position. I think he's going to be a great player in our league for a long period of time."
4) Mahomes back in Texas – For the first time as a professional, Patrick Mahomes will play a game in his home state. The Chiefs quarterback was a star at Texas Tech after a stellar high school career at Whitehouse in the northern part of east Texas. He was a backup to Alex Smith in 2017 when the Chiefs last played at NRG Stadium, and also at AT&T Stadium against the Cowboys. He played in the Texas Bowl in Houston at the end of the 2015 season for the Red Raiders.
The former MVP and Super Bowl champ is cruising perhaps towards another MVP season, and defensive line coach Jacques Cesaire knows his players face a mighty challenge.
"He's a dynamic player," Cesaire said. "One of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, he's won a Super Bowl. He's very, very experienced. He's very slippery in and out of the pocket, and he makes all the great throws. He has a great arm. It's going to be a tremendous challenge for the guys."
Mahomes has tossed 33 touchdown passes this season and completed 65.8 percent of his passes for 4,160 yards.
Maliek Collins explained what he and his fellow defensive linemen must do when facing a quarterback with such a unique skillset.
"You've just got to be willing to rush and stay in your rush," Collins said. "He's a guy that extends a lot of plays, so you want to try and keep him in the pocket. But he's also got a big arm, so the pocket might stretch 10 yards deep or however far no matter where he's at. You've just got to continue to rush. You've got to have a high motor and just lay it all out there."
5) Contain Kelce – Mahomes' favorite target is tight end Travis Kelce. He's caught 81 passes for 1,039 yards and 12 touchdowns. For his career, the 33-year old has 10,045 receiving yards and 69 scores. A 6-5, 256-pounder, Kelce's a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses, and Pitre and the defensive backs will get tested.
No tight end in NFL history has more 1,000-yard seasons than Kelce's seven. Smith said Kelce's as good a tight end as there is in the NFL, and PItre explained what separates Kelce from others.
"He's the full package," Pitre said. "He's a different player. You watch his motions, you watch the way that he runs routes, he improvises a lot out there. I think that helps the quarterback play as well."