Momentum Can Sting

Houston Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson hauls in a pass ahead of the coverage by Kansas City Chiefs cornerback Brandon Flowers (24) during their NFL football game in Houston October 17, 2010. REUTERS/Richard Carson (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)
Ouch! That one still hurts. (Source: Yardbarker)

The surprisingly solid defensive play of the first four games for the Kansas City Chiefs has spoiled their fans. After proving their tenacity in Indianapolis, something happened to the defense in Houston. While it’s true the Texans have a high-powered offense, the Bolts and Colts have the two best offenses in the NFL and the Chiefs defense did not wilt in those games. So what happened?

There weren’t any significant injuries on the defensive side. The Chiefs need Kendrick Lewis back in the lineup, but there weren’t any noticeable patterns of the Texans picking on any one Chief in his absence. Houston seemed to spread the ball around fairly evenly to their tight end, running backs, and wide receivers. Tyson Jackson was still inactive, but the defense didn’t fall apart with him out of the lineup the previous week. So what was it?

Did Houston make adjustments for which Romeo Crennel had no answer? If so, it would be the first time this year. He had more luxury that day then he has had so far this year to cover any mistakes. The Chiefs should be able to win any game when the offense puts up 31 points. There has to be another explanation.

Football analysts often talk about momentum swings which can change the outcome of a game. The more I try to pinpoint where to place the blame for the meltdown by the Chiefs against the Texans, the more I think there must be something to this theory.

The reason why after the jump:

The Chiefs were up two touchdowns in the third quarter when the tide started to turn. In just three plays the Texans would cut the lead in half. Aided by a missed holding penalty which Houston used to seal off the left side, the Texans reeled of a 38-yard rushing touchdown. It took just over a minute to score. Although the Chiefs had been moving the ball “at will” against the Texans throughout the game, the biggest rushing play against the Chiefs this year shifted the momentum in the favor of Houston. This was the turning point in the game.

After the Chiefs continued to move the ball on their next drive and added to their lead with a field goal, the momentum turned back to the visiting team, right? Wrong. Since Houston’s defense kept the Chiefs out of the end zone, the momentum continued to escalate for Houston. After the field goal, Todd Haley threw gasoline on the fire by calling for a short kickoff which went to the Houston 28-yard line. The Texans took the gift and returned the kick to midfield. Less than five minutes later the Texans were closer to the Chiefs than they had been at any other point in the game.

But when the Chiefs answered with a touchdown of their own, it quieted the crowd and squashed the home team’s momentum, right? Not so fast. The Texans are used to watching teams score touchdowns on their defense, so it didn’t phase them. They knew then they could score quickly on the Chiefs, and that’s all that mattered at the time.

Eight plays later the Texans were, once again, within three points, and they did it without Andre Johnson making a completion. Crennel took away their best player, so they put together a scoring drive by getting their tight end wide-open on multiple occasions, and by causing mismatches with Chiefs linebackers trying to cover their running backs on passing routes.

After the Chiefs three-and-out, which included a pathetic throw from Matt Cassel, the Texans called on Johnson to eat up chunks of real estate. Yes, Johnson pushed off on Brandon Flowers on the game winning drive, and Flowers had every right to object to the call – but it was only one play. The right call would have made the next play second-and-20, but it probably wouldn’t have been enough to stop the momentum of the Texans. There was still plenty of time.

In his press conference, Haley spoke about the explosive momentum the Texans can switch on at any time:

the receiver is really good, really good. The back obviously is good and they had a couple of them, as I knew. I think it was more just when you have explosive players like they have, things can happen that can hurt you because they’re capable of making plays even when you do a lot of things the way you have to do them.

Someone had to make a play on defense to stop the momentum late in the game. This time it didn’t happen. Although the offense put up a lot of points, the Chiefs didn’t have game-saving play that day. Haley summed it up after the game:

There were multiple plays in that game offensively, defensively and special teams-wise where had we made a play or not allowed them to make a play that I think it would have just been at a point with how we were playing, how we were running the football, doing some of those things that it would’ve just been impossible for them to come back. But we left just enough room there, obviously 28 seconds worth of too much for them to recover from where we had them.

Earlier this week, Haley described the team as still “stinging” from the loss. He said he felt his young team can learn from the bad experience. I think they learned how important momentum swings can be, especially when playing on the road. They should now know how quickly things can get out of hand, even when they apparently have a commanding lead. A good team has to have the ability to shut an opponent down. As the Chiefs continue to develop into a good team, they will soon realize the mindset they need to consistently put teams away – unlike they did last Sunday.

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Tags: Andre Johnson Chiefs Defense Meltdown Houston Texans Kansas City Chiefs Todd Haley