The first place Kansas City Chiefs will take on the Texans in Houston Sunday afternoon as they try to hold onto their two game lead in the AFC West.
The Texans are trying to recover from an embarrassing 34-10 loss to the New York Giants, knowing that with every team in the AFC South tied they have to start winning at Reliant Stadium.
Here are the three players from each team that you will need to keep your eyes on.
Offense: Matt Cassel
When you are owners of one of the weakest passing games in the league, there is no better way to snap out of your funk than going against a team that is dead last against the pass. So when the Chiefs take the field on Sunday, it will tell a lot about what Todd Haley really thinks about his quarterback.
While it would seem like a given that Kansas City would come out and sling the ball all around the field, remember that Cassel has struggled in every game this year, even the 31-10 over San Francisco. There have also been reports that Haley changed his game plan last minute due to his frustration with Cassel and decided to keep the Chiefs offense grounded.
If the Chiefs stick to the ground game against one of the toughest rushing defenses in the league, it will tell us all we need to know about Cassel’s long term future as the starting quarterback in Kansas City.
Defense: Tamba Hali
Following his bloody performance against the Colts in which he pressured Peyton Manning all day long, Hali has a chance for an even bigger game in Houston. Last week the Texans were unable to block the Giants front 7 and Hali is more difficult to stop consistently than Osi Umenyiora or Justin Tuck.
If the Chiefs defense continues to push the pocket effectively and Hali gets a little help from the officials, he should add to his team leading 4.5 sacks.
Special Teams: Dustin Colquitt
Colquitt is coming off a game against the Colts in which he didn’t put any punts inside the 20, but still managed to have his best day of the season. Not only did he average 53 yards per punt, but more importantly a net of 52 and only 4 total return yards.
With the Texans once again having Jacoby Jones returning punts, Colquitt will have to have a repeat performance if the Chiefs want to win the battle of field position.
Under normal circumstances I wouldn’t worry about Colquitt stepping up to the challenge, but he missed practice time this week after falling ill. He is expected to be at full strength by kickoff, though you should still watch his first couple of punts closely to see if he has his normal power.
Offense: Andre Johnson
Houston’s offense against the Giants was mostly non-existent. Yet there was Johnson, playing on a bum ankle, pulling in 5 passes for 95 yards. It also shouldn’t be forgotten that the Texans and their superstar receiver led the league in passing yards in 2009. They are capable to rip off a big game every single week.
The Chiefs were able to hold Reggie Wayne to just 75 yards without assigning Brandon Flowers to play him exclusively. It’s hard to believe the Kansas City defense will be able to repeat that success with Johnson unless Flowers becomes his best friend.
Defense: Kareem Jackson
Think about the vitriol slung at Matt Cassel this week and then multiply that by 10 and you might start to understand how Texans fans feel about Jackson. He has been getting exposed every week and is a big part of Houston’s defense ranking dead last against the pass.
How well Jackson plays could help determine not only what the rest of his season looks like, but also Cassel’s. It will be hard for Haley to keep defending his quarterback if he is unable to take advantage of the same weakness that the immortal Bruce Gradkowski was able to.
Special Teams: Jacoby Jones
The Chiefs might be bringing two of the top 10 punt returners into Houston, but they will be welcomed by another member of that group, Jacoby Jones. He is expected to return after missing the Giants game due to a calf injury.
Jones currently ranks 7th in the NFL with 10.8 yards per punt return and will be looked to save a Texans return game that has been floundering.
Before his injury, Jones only returned 2 kickoffs, but the complete lack of any consistent returns from Steve Slaton could force him into action on that unit as well. In the perpetual battle for field position, Jones has the potential to be the deciding factor.