By Sam McPherson
The defensive breakdowns that the Kansas City Chiefs suffered in their last playoff game could have been written off to a tired, wounded defense. So as the Chiefs once again venture on the road in the AFC playoffs in an attempt win in the postseason for the first time since January 1993, the “wounded” defense concern is at the forefront of the team’s mind once more as it prepares to take on the Houston Texans.
Linebackers Tamba Hali and Justin Houston both appeared on the injury report this week, with varying degrees of concern. Hali is the bigger question though, He missed workouts on Wednesday with knee and thumb injuries. After missing Week 16, this isn’t a good sign for Hali. He had only 6.5 sacks this year after averaging 11 sacks a season from 2009-13. The Chiefs need him at his best for any playoff run they want to make this month.
As for Houston, he was a full participant in practice on Wednesday and is listed as a probable for Saturday’s game. Houston missed the last five games of the season, just like he did in last year’s playoffs. If he’s ready for this game, that’s a plus for the Kansas City defense. After posting 41.5 sacks in his last 39 games, Houston is the key to the pass rush for the Chiefs.
Remember, when the Indianapolis Colts overcame a 28-point deficit against Kansas City in the 2013 playoffs, Houston had the defense’s only sack. If both Hali and Houston can play effectively, it gives the Chiefs their best chance to pressure Texans quarterback Brian Hoyer into some passing errors. The Kansas City secondary is just waiting for that chance. With linebacker Dee Ford (concussion) listed as questionable as he tries to work through the NFL’s protocol for clearance, the health of Hali and Houston becomes even more important. Ford also has a wrist injury to contend with, so it’s not looking good for him this weekend.
Offensively, Kansas City quarterback Alex Smith will have three of his biggest weapons available for the Texans game despite some nagging injuries. Smith has a 108.6 QB rating in three career postseason games and will need all three to keep the number that high through this weekend’s matchup against a very good Houston defense. Tight end Travis Kelce (groin), wide receiver Jeremy Maclin (hip) and running back Spencer Ware (ribs) were all full participants in Wednesday’s workouts.
Maclin, of course, has been the huge addition to an offense that gained so much notoriety in recent seasons for not being able to get a WR into the end zone. After coming over from Philadelphia in the offseason, Maclin set a career-high mark with 89 receptions for Kansas City, and he also found the end zone eight times this season. Ware has been a big part of the backfield in replacing the injured Jamaal Charles, averaging 5.6 yards per carry on his way to rushing for six touchdowns. Kelce backed up his stellar 2014 campaign with similar numbers this year (72 catches, 875 yards, 5 TDs).
The K.C. offense is more diverse than ever and it looks like it will be healthy enough to put points on the scoreboard Saturday. The question really just comes down to whether or not the Chiefs linebackers will be healthy enough to contain the Texans offense on game day.
Justin Houston, Linebacker (knee)
Travis Kelce, Tight End (groin)
Jeremy Maclin, Wide Receiver (hip)
Spencer Ware, Running Back (ribs)
Dee Ford, Linebacker (concussion, wrist)
Tamba Hali, Linebacker (knee, thumb)
Sam McPherson is a freelance writer covering baseball, football, basketball, golf, hockey and fantasy sports for CBS, AXS and Examiner. He also is an Ironman triathlete and certified triathlon coach.