Limiting DeAndre Hopkins
In the first meeting between the two teams, Hopkins had nine catches for 98 yards and two touchdowns. Rookie Marcus Peters had a hell of a time defending him and contributed to both of his scores on the day. His height and length proved difficult for the Defensive Rookie of the Year front runner. On both of his touchdown receptions, Hopkins jumped and high-pointed the football with Peters in the area. Hopkins was also a tough cover between the 20s. Precise route-running gave Jamell Fleming fits on comebacks and outs.
The answer: Physical play at the line of scrimmage
Press coverage is the Chiefs’ best hope of corralling Hopkins. He’s not the most imposing specimen at just 214 pounds. If Kansas City’s secondary can disrupt the timing routes and re-direct Hopkins, they’ll give their front seven a chance to bring play-altering pressure. Physical corners like the Bengals’ Dre Kirkpatrick, Carolina’s Josh Norman, and New England’s Malcolm Butler gave Hopkins trouble earlier in the season. If the Chiefs can limit free releases (off of the line) and contest catches, they could force Hoyer into having to make additional reads and look to significantly less dangerous targets.
Getting pressure on Brian Hoyer
Tamba Hali returned to the starting lineup last Sunday after missing one game due a thumb injury. They hope they’ll have their other starter at outside linebacker back by the weekend. Justin Houston did return to practice last week, but appears to have had trouble getting acclimated to a knee brace. Fortunately for Kansas City, they were still able to sack Raiders quarterback Derek Carr six times on Sunday. If that kind of momentum for the Chiefs’ pass rush continues into the wildcard round of the playoffs, Hoyer could be in for a long day. In their Week 1 meeting, Chiefs defenders notched a five-sack day against Houston quarterbacks.
The answer: Taking advantage of Duane Brown’s absence
Three-time Pro Bowler Duane Brown is expected to miss the playoffs with a torn quadriceps tendon he sustained in Week 17. That injury looms large over an offensive line group that surrenders an average of 2.25 sacks per game. While there’s some dropoff, Brown’s replacement Chris Clark is no slouch. As a member of the Denver Broncos, he held Justin Houston without a sack in a November game in the 2013 season. Bob Sutton will need to give Hoyer different looks and mix in the blitz (as he did masterfully on Sunday against Oakland). The Chiefs have had success when they’ve run overload blitzes on the right side of the defense (at opposing teams’ left tackles).
Next: The final key...