It's finally here. The 2020 NFL season kicks off Thursday night at Arrowhead Stadium as the Texans face the Chiefs on the road. Houston won the AFC South and fell to the eventual Super Bowl champs in the Divisional Round in Kansas City last January. Here are five things to watch when the Texans and Chiefs lock horns at 7:20 p.m. CT on Thursday. First Glance is presented by First Community Credit Union.
1) Quarterback clash – In Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson, the two highest-paid players in NFL history will guide their respective offenses. The former is coming off a Super Bowl MVP performance, and the latter signed a new deal with the Texans on Saturday. Watson can't wait to get things going, and described how simple his objective is.
"Just doing whatever I have to do to make sure we come out on top on Thursday," Watson said. "It's going to be fun one. It's going to be a good one and a lot of great players on the field. We're looking forward to it."
Anthony Weaver makes his debut as the Texans defensive coordinator, and doing so against Mahomes and the Chiefs will be no small task.
"I think he's one of the best to have played the position," Weaver said. "He can make every throw. His arm talent is truly special. He's out there slinging balls like he's playing shortstop. He's an athlete. He's competitive. He's poised under pressure. He checks all the boxes you want in a quarterback."
But, Weaver pointed out, Watson is impressive in his own right.
"The thing that encourages me is I feel like we've got one of those guys too in Deshaun Watson," Weaver said. "I love Patrick. I have a tremendous amount of respect for him and his game. But I think you feel a little bit more confident when you know you've got one of those gunslingers on your sideline too."
2) Speedy WR corps – All-Pro DeAndre Hopkins is now a Cardinal, but Watson will throw to a group of pass-catchers flush with speed. Will Fuller, V and Kenny Stills are healthy and ready to go. Randall Cobb is set to be the slot receiver. DeAndre Carter and Keke Coutee provide depth with speed as well. It's a challenge for any secondary, especially one like Kansas City's which will be without starter Breshaun Breeland. Former Texans safety Tyrann Mathieu explained the challenge he and the Chiefs will face Thursday evening.
"They have the ability to wreck a football game," Mathieu said. "There's still a lot of speed out there. They removed Hop but they brought in Cobb, who is a veteran, who I'm sure is going to possess some of the same traits DeAndre possessed. Hop was able to come to the line and tell his receivers if it was Cover 2, man-to-man, or Cover 4, it kind of helped the other receivers play fast. They're still a dominant group. I think it's going to be a tough challenge for us."
General manager and head coach Bill O'Brien is confident in what that position group can do.
"I feel good about the wide receiver position," O'Brien said. "This will be the first time that a lot of those guys have played in a game with Deshaun, and Deshaun with them, so obviously there's some unknowns there."
There are unknowns on Kansas City's side in this matchup, too. Starting cornerback Breshaud Breeland won't play because of a suspension. So some younger corners will be pressed into action for the Chiefs. How they matchup up with Houston's speed, and how they deal with adversity is a question mark in the eyes of Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo.
"We try to give them as much adversity in practice but there's nothing like a game," Spagnuolo said. "That is going to be one of the things we'll focus on. When it doesn't go right, can we bounce back up and come up with a good play?"
3) David's Debut, too – Another new weapon for Watson is running back David Johnson. The running back looked crisp throughout training camp, and gives the Texans offense a big-bodied back who's also gifted at catching passes. In union with fellow running back Duke Johnson, the Texans backfield has capable pass-catchers.
Center Nick Martin saw Johnson's work in August, and is enthused by what the new Texan can do on offense.
"He's a special back," Martin said. "There's no doubt about it. He's so big, but he finds a hole and he hits it hard and he finds a way to somehow to get skinny through that hole and burst out. We're very excited to have him behind us and block for him and finish and let him really just do his thing back there."
4) Speaking of new backs…: The Chiefs made a splash in the spring when they took LSU running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire in the first round of the NFL Draft. The rookie's wowed coaches and teammates in Kansas City, and the Chiefs are excited to add another weapon to an already-potent offense.
"One thing that we do know, the kid has mentally and physically prepared himself for this point," Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy. But he does understand that when those lights turn on, it's time to go, and he'll be ready to go."
The Texans will face him without the benefit of any preseason tape. But either way, they think the rookie has a chance to be a special back.
"I've watched some college ball on him," linebacker Benardrick McKinney said. "Still watching more of him. He's a shifty back. Small, but compact."
At LSU last season, Edwards-Helaire rushed for over 1,400 yards and ran for 16 touchdowns. He also caught 55 passes for the Tigers.
5) Pass rush plus?: Defensive end J.J. Watt is back for season 10 as Texan. Joining him to help rush the passer is a combination of edge threats in Whitney Mercilus, Charles Omenihu, Brenna Scarlett and Jacob Martin.
Safety Justin Reid has high expectations for Martin.
"The guy has a motor that doesn't stop," Reid said. "I'd even say he's on his way to being one of those top tier pass rushers because every time he's in the game he makes an impact. I'm excited about what that's going to be able to do for us as a defense to be able to make more plays."
Martin notched 3.5 sacks in 2019, and also tallied a sack and a fumble recovery in the Wild Card win over Buffalo.
Weaver liked what he saw from Martin during camp, and thinks a year in the system, combined with 21 more pounds of muscle will do wonders.
"He's a guy that we ask to do multiple jobs," Weaver said. "He rushes off the edge. He drops into coverage. He's a guy that can absolutely be a playmaker for us on defense."