John McClain: 5 plot lines for Texans-Chiefs

Dec 11, 2022; Arlington, Texas, USA; Houston Texans quarterback Jeff Driskel (6) carries the ball against the Dallas Cowboys during the second half at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Raymond Carlin III-USA TODAY Sports

John McClain: 5 plot lines for Texans-Chiefs

The Texans are trying to break an eight-game losing streak, and it’s hard to imagine them facing a more difficult opponent than Kansas City. The Chiefs (10-3) are trying to earn home-field advantage in the playoffs. They have the same record as Buffalo, but the Bills own the tiebreaker because of their victory over the Chiefs. The Texans (1-11-1) have the worst record in the NFL going into their game against quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who has tormented them since he became the starter in 2018. Here are five plot lines to check out during Sunday’s game.


It’s a sad state of affairs when a third-team quarterback who has spent most of the season on the practice squad could be a team’s leading rusher, but there’s where the Texans’ running game is without Dameon Pierce, their leading rusher with 939 yards. He has a high ankle sprain and may not play again this season. He’ll be replaced in the backfield by Rex Burkhead and Dare Ogunbowale, who have combined for 107 yards on 34 carries.

Jeff Driskel, part of the quarterback rotation with Davis Mills, is the best runner on the roster. In the 27-23 loss at Dallas, he ran seven times for 46 yards, a 5.1-yard average. When he rolls right, he can plant his foot and turn up the field. He can run around the right side. Or he can throw. He completed 4-of-6 for 38 yards against the Cowboys. He made a tremendous play, throwing on the run to Amari Rodgers for a 28-yard touchdown pass.

With Burkhead and Ogunbowale being so non-productive as runners, it’s up to Driskel to provide the bulk of the yardage against the Chiefs, who are sixth against the run, allowing 106.2 yards. Even with a healthy Pierce, the Texans are 28th rushing, generating only 89.9 yards a game.


Offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton’s passing game has been terrible all season. With Davis Mills throwing 11 touchdown passes and 12 interceptions and showing few signs of becoming the passer many thought he could be after his stretch drive as a rookie, the offense has gone backward. Without Dameon Pierce, the running game should be the league’s worst, which means Mills – and Jeff Driskel, to a certain extent – must have success to be competitive against the Chiefs like they were against the Cowboys.

Inconsistency at receiver and tight end has contributed to the passing game’s problems. Now there’s more pressure on Hamilton, Mills, and Driskel to produce through the air. One thing in the Texans’ favor, they haven’t allowed a sack in the last two games, despite playing against Cleveland’s Myles Garrett and Dallas’ Micah Parsons. Left tackle Laremy Tunsil’s pass protection has been exceptional. The Texans have allowed 33 sacks, tied with the Patriots for 18th. Tunsil, right tackle Tytus Howard, and the other linemen have to give Mills and Driskel some time to locate receivers.


Against the Cowboys, the Texans’ quarterback rotation – plus the 78-yard rushing contribution from Dameon Pierce – helped produce 23 points and 327 yards. That’s the most points the Texans had scored since they lost to the Chargers 34-24 in early October. It was their fifth-best yardage output.

Unlike the Cowboys, the Chiefs know what’s going on with Davis Mills and Jeff Driskel, and they’ll be prepared. Even though their offense gets the most attention – deservedly so because of Patrick Mahomes’ magnificence – the Chiefs’ defense isn’t too shabby. Kansas City is 15th in defense (341.6 yards), including 22nd against the pass (235.5). The Chiefs have 42 sacks, led by All-Pro tackle Chris Jones, who has 11. Outstanding interior pass rushers have tormented the Texans’ interior pass blockers.

There’s no telling how bad the Texans’ offense might be without a decent running game. Statistically, at least, this should be one of, if not the, best defensive games for Kansas City.


When Justin Reid played safety for the Texans, he was one of the team’s best and most popular players. Not only did he play well, but Reid did a lot in the community and earned a lot of respect along the way. This season, he’s doing what his mentor, Tyrann Mathieu, did in 2019 – leave the Texans for Kansas City and win a Super Bowl. Reid has helped the Chiefs fashion a 10-3 record on their way to another AFC West title.

Lovie Smith was Reid’s defensive coordinator in 2021, his last season with the Texans before signing with the Chiefs. Smith was asked this week for his impressions of Reid after coaching him for one season.

“Heck of a player – smart, athletic, loves football,” Smith said. “Justin Reid and I will have a lifetime relationship. I consider him a friend, too. I know the type of player he is. I know he’s playing excellent football for them. He checks off all the boxes when you’re looking for a good safety.”


The Texans have allowed 11 touchdown passes, fewest in the NFL. Patrick Mahomes has thrown 33 touchdown passes, most in the league. Joe Burrow is a distant second with 27. Something’s got to give, right? Expect it to be the Texans’ pass defense.

The Chiefs have the league’s most prolific offense, accumulating 423.8 yards a game, including 309.2 yards passing. The Texans are 29th in defense with 380.2 yards a game. Their best statistic is against the pass. They give up 214.4. One reason, of course, is teams spend so much time running on them. They remain last against the run, allowing 165.8 yards. The Chiefs average 114.6 yards rushing.

Like every coach in the league, Lovie Smith knows tight end Travis Kelce – the league’s best at his position – is Mahomes’ favorite target. No matter what defenses try to do to contain Kelce, he’s been almost unstoppable. This season, he already has 81 catches for 1,039 yards and 12 touchdowns. No matter what kind of coverage he faces, Kelce will work the middle of the field and get open. More often than not, Mahomes gets him the ball. It’s the secondary’s most difficult challenge of the season.

(John McClain writes four times a week for He can be heard Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday on Sports Radio 610 and Monday and Thursday on Texans Radio. He does three weekly Houtopia podcasts for 610. He also can be read three times a week on

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