KC-HOU grades: Chiefs' defense, Alex Smith shine in shutout
Here are the top takeaways and highest-graded players from Saturday’s 30-0 Chiefs playoff win over the Texans:
Kansas City Chiefs
–With seven points on the board before he even touched the ball, and five turnovers from his defense over the course of the game, there wasn’t too much pressure on QB Alex Smith (+2.3 PFF game grade). The Chiefs responded with a fairly conservative game plan. Smith dropped back to pass 27 times, his second-lowest total of the season, and his 22 passing attempts tied for a season low. As usual, he kept mostly within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage (14 of 22 attempts), and avoided risk. His first-quarter interception wasn’t egregious or comparable to any of Hoyer’s four picks — Smith put the ball slightly behind his receiver on the play and LB Brian Cushing caught the tipped pass. Overall, it was a solid but unspectacular performance from Smith, who led second-half touchdown drives of 94 and 71 yards to put the game out of reach. He actually graded better as a rusher (+1.6) after averaging more than five yards per carry on the ground, not including a 60-yard scramble that was called back.
–Kansas City saw a well-rounded performance from their starting defensive line, with Mike Devito, Dontari Poe, and Allen Bailey each grading at +1.5 or above. Devito only played 19 snaps, but stalemated several Houston double teams at the point of attack and notched a defensive stop. In the middle, Poe had two stops to go with two pressures, one of which was a third-quarter play during which he destroyed center Ben Jones (-1.2) at the snap and got into the face of Hoyer to force an interception. He also added a fumble recovery in the first, courtesy of Allen Bailey, who bulled Houston’s left guard into Hoyer’s arm for his first of two sack-forced fumbles.
–In coverage, the Chiefs limited DeAndre Hopkins to six catches for 69 yards. CB Sean Smith (-0.2) drew the bulk of the work against Hopkins (six targets), lining up almost exclusively at the right outside corner spot, as he’s done all season. Those six targets resulted in four catches for 45 yards, including several first downs, but Smith also made a couple of positive plays, including cutting the WR off in the end zone on a fourth-quarter play. Against other receivers, he allowed just one catch for seven yards and ended with a 32.9 passer rating allowed against him, though two declined coverage penalties lowered his grade somewhat.
C Zach Fulton (+3.0)
RG Jah Reid (+2.8)
LG Jeff Allen (+2.4)
QB Alex Smith (+2.3)
DE Mike Devito (+1.8)
–It was a rough day for Brian Hoyer (-5.8), with four picks and two sack-fumbles (one lost). His second interception was probably the worst of the four, coming inside Kansas City’s five-yard line on second and goal in the second quarter. At that point, the Texans were in position to potentially go into halftime down by less than a touchdown, but instead Hoyer threw the ball right to LB Josh Mauga with Dontari Poe in his face. For the game, Hoyer completed just four passes that traveled more than 10 yards in the air. He tried to get the ball to DeAndre Hopkins often, sending 11 passes toward his top receiver, but the two connected on only six of those plays with a 35.8 passer rating.
–J.J. Watt (+3.1) only lasted 33 snaps, but up to that point he managed three pressures and a few other positive plays, giving tackle Eric Fisher (-2.0) in particular a tough time (check out the play at 3:44 of the second quarter for an example). That was about as well as he usually plays, even without Jadeveon Clowney in the lineup to draw blockers away. LB Whitney Mercilus helped pick up the slack once again and followed up his best pass-rushing performance of the season with another multi-sack game, this time getting three sacks to go with two other pressures (although it’s worth noting that Mercilus had the benefit of rushing against TE Travis Kelce (-2.0) for much of the game).
–Another Texans defender who played well despite the loss was linebacker John Simon, who finished with a season-high +3.4 game grade. He compiled three stops, and, as with Mercilus, most of his positive work came against Kelce in run defense, although Fisher was the victim on what was probably his best play of the game. Rookie Bernardrick McKinney (+1.0) also chipped in with four defensive stops, helping hold the Chiefs under four yards per carry rushing and making up for a struggling Brian Cushing (-2.0).
RT Derek Newton (+5.0)
LB John Simon (+3.4)
DE J.J. Watt (+3.1)
LG Xavier Su’a-Filo (+2.5)
LB Whitney Mercilus (+1.8)