The Chiefs didn’t need to erase a 24-point deficit again to dispatch the Texans in the NFL’s 2020 season-opener Thursday night. Kansas City did spot Houston seven points at home, but it still easily won the divisional playoff rematch, pulling away for a 34-20 rout.
Patrick Mahomes and the reigning Super Bowl 54 champions looked every bit like the heavy Super Bowl 55 favorites. After a slow start, Mahomes and the Chiefs did whatever they wanted on offense to light up the scoreboard and dominate time of possession.
It’s only one game, but we learned a lot about where the Chiefs and Texans might be headed in the 2020 season. Here are the four most important takeaways from the result:
Clyde Edwards-Helaire is the perfect running back for Mahomes
When the Chiefs plucked Edwards-Helaire, who was fresh off his own championship run with LSU, in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft, it was seen as a luxury pick. That pick quickly became a necessity when unsung Super Bowl hero Damien Williams opted out because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Edwards-Helaire was explosive as advertised in his NFL debut. A prolific pass-catcher at LSU, his receiving role may be limited at first because Mahomes has plenty of other established weapons and the team trusts backup Darrel Williams more in third-down pass protection.
It didn’t matter that Edwards-Helaire wasn’t one of six Chiefs who caught Mahomes passes against the Texans. He did plenty as a runner, busting through and around defenders for 138 yards on 25 carries, including a 27-yard scoring burst. The Chiefs rushed for 166 yards as a team.
The Chiefs also had to replace guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, who opted out to answer a higher calling and work on the front lines as a doctor in his native Canada. They were fortunate that two-time Pro Bowler Kelechi Osemele was available.
Osemele had a monstrous Chiefs debut opening up holes for Edwards-Helaire and Williams from his left guard spot. Andrew Wylie shifted to replace Duvernay-Tardif on the right side. Between Osemele’s added power and Edwards-Helaire’s upgrade in speed and quickness, the Chiefs are just as dangerous on the ground as they are in the air with Mahomes.
At some point, Edwards-Helaire will catch passes from Mahomes and have a big receiving game. But however he touches the ball, he makes the Chiefs’ offense somehow even more balanced, explosive and downright dangerous.
The Texans’ defense is bad and J.J. Watt can’t do much to change that anymore
Houston overachieved early under new defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver, but then the wheels came off as expected, with Watt, the three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year, having little impact with limited help up front and a struggling secondary behind him. Cornerback Bradley Roby and inside linebacker Bernardrick McKinney are also good players, but there was way too much for Mahomes, Edwards-Helaire, Andy Reid and Eric Bieniemy to exploit.
The Texans couldn’t put together an effective pass rush. When they went into bend-but-don’t-break mode, protecting against being burned by the deep ball to wide receiver Tyreek Hill, Mahomes picked them apart with a lot of tight end Travis Kelce and No. 2 wideout Sammy Watkins underneath, or he simply handed off to Edwards-Helaire or Willams against softened fronts.
Houston has had some historically bad defenses during its time in the NFL. The 2020 unit is bound to rank right down there.
The Texans could be looking at 0-4 and cause Bill O’Brien more problems
The Texans will host the Lamar Jackson-led Ravens next week and then finish up the first month of the season against the Ben Roethlisberger-armed Steelers and the Dalvin Cook-powered Vikings.
Jackson, Roethlisberger and Cook should see their teams have plenty of offensive success against the Texans. All three clubs are loaded with good rushing attacks and skilled downfield receivers, and they’ll present personnel challenges that differ from the ones the Chiefs posed.
The Texans have won two consecutive AFC South titles and the rest of the division will need to play the Ravens, Steelers and Vikings, too. But they are the only ones who have to face those teams in a stack after a tough loss to the Chiefs.
O’Brien has gotten more heat as general manager for trading away wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins in the offseason, but after blowing that big lead to the Chiefs in the playoffs and the potential for a terrible follow-up start, O’Brien may soon start to feel hotter than expected under his coaching seat.
The Texans look like they at least will get the best of David Johnson
The Texans did miss Hopkins, even with new No. 1 wide receiver Will Fuller catching 8 of 10 targets for 112 yards. Brandin Cooks, banged up with a quad injury, did little in his Houston debut, as did new veteran slot man Randall Cobb.
On the bright side, the Texans saw the Johnson who was a backfield superstar early in his career with Arizona. The player acquired from the Cardinals for Hopkins rushed 11 times for 77 yards, including a 19-yard TD, and showed off his wideout hybrid skills with three catches for 32 yards on four targets.
Quarterback Deshaun Watson is adjusting to the offense no longer running through Hopkins and his short, intermediate and deep routes, but the Texans need to be more run-oriented with Johnson to move the ball better and try as hard as they can to limit their defense’s exposure. Unfortunately for them, the Chiefs flipped the script, staying on the field for almost 35 of the 60 minutes.
The Chiefs can win with Mahomes dropping back often. But they can also win with him throwing for only 211 yards, like he did on Thursday, because of the running game and defense. The Texans need too much from Watson’s arm and legs to win games and that won’t change all season.