Audibles at the Line
Unfiltered in-game observations by Football Outsiders staff

Audibles at the Line: 2020 Opening Night

Kansas City Chiefs RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

Each Sunday, the FO staff sends around emails about the games that each of us are watching. We share information about the games that the rest of the group might not be watching, ask questions, and keep everyone else informed about which games they might want to tune into (if they can).

On Monday, we compile a digest of those emails and produce this feature. By its nature, it can be disjointed and dissimilar to the other articles on the site.

While these emails are generally written with Audibles in mind, they do not represent a standard review of all the games each week. That means we aren't going to cover every game, or every important play. We watch the games that we, as fans, are interested in watching, so your favorite team's game might not be covered to your fullest desires or even at all. (If you are a Steelers or Patriots fan, you are probably in luck; if you are a Bills fan, not so much.) We have no intention of adding new authors solely to cover every game on a given Sunday, nor will we watch a different game from the ones that we're personally interested in watching just to ensure that Audibles covers every game.

We start, as is now tradition, with this Opening Night special.

Houston Texans 20 at Kansas City Chiefs 34

Aaron Schatz: Football!

Bryan Knowles: It's still a little surreal to realize that yes, football is in fact happening tonight.

Rivers McCown: I'll just say what we're all thinking: I think it would be cool if the Texans won.

Derrik Klassen: I still may not believe it until kickoff.

Scott Spratt: I just got a "Netflix tonight?" email at 8:19 p.m. Intriguing.

Bryan Knowles: Two drops (or at least, passes which the receiver had a chance at) on the Texans' first drive.

Over/under on the "DeAndre would have caught that" tweets this season is set at roughly 3,000.

Rivers McCown: Please don't.

Scott Spratt: Well Hopkins has dropped just 10 of 333 catchable targets according to Sportradar charting since 2017. That's the seventh-lowest rate of the 123 receivers with 100 catchable targets in that time. He would probably catch them.

Dave Bernreuther: A Patrick Mahomes pass that was within a foot of perfection is initially ruled a touchdown for Robinson, but he was extremely well covered and the replay shows pretty clearly that it will be coming back.

They mentioned that Anthony Weaver has them playing more zone so far (small sample size, of course), and this house is rooting for that defense because he's a friend of a friend, but damn ... based on the first handful of plays, that strategy isn't entirely effective.

Although, I guess it's worth repeating that Reid's coverage on that was excellent.

Bryan Knowles: Ah, debating whether something was or was not a catch. Football really IS back.

Cale Clinton: 12:54, third-and-4 at about midfield and Darrel Williams picks up what felt like an easy first down with a pass out of the backfield.

So much talk about Mahomes' receiving weapons, but I feel like that little wheel route out of shotgun is going to be tough to cover. You already have to worry about so much with Travis Kelce and that receiving corps. That has to be, what, Mahomes' fourth-best option?

Scott Spratt: Collinsworth mentioned that Mitchell Schwartz -- who allowed the sack -- didn't blow a block in the playoffs last season, but his regular season 4.9% blown pass block rate was tied for the fifth worst of offensive linemen with 500 or more total snaps last season. Pretty surprising on a team that finished fourth with a 4.9% adjusted sack rate.

Derrik Klassen: Kinda ironically said in a different group chat that Jacob Martin would be Seattle's best pass-rusher, but uh, now I'm going to pretend it wasn't ironic.

Aaron Schatz: The Mitchell Schwartz blown block thing is really weird. That's the second straight year it was like that! You watch the individual plays and you're like, yep, he got beat there, he got beat there... But then overall the performance is so good. I think his positives are just really positive.

Scott Spratt: David Johnson side-steps a tackle for a first down on a screen grab. That's why you trade Hopkins for him, Rivers!

Cale Clinton: One of the drawbacks of no preseason is the lack of refresher on what players changed rosters.

Exhibit A: Brandin Cooks is a Texan???

Bryan Knowles: And then Brandin Cooks picks up a decent gain on a screen. Chiefs not doing a good job sniffing them out so far.

Scott Spratt: Oh, this is a perfect opportunity for a social experiment! Cale, what round draft pick do you think Bill O'Brien would have traded for Cooks?

Bryan Knowles: OK, I don't think that Hopkins for David Johnson will ever be worth it, but that was a bit of 2016 Johnson on that touchdown run; great change of direction and some nice burst. Texans take the lead, 7-0.

Scott Spratt: Cris Collinsworth sounds like he believes the trade was worth it.

Cale Clinton: Does Bill O'Brien even have any firsts left to give??

New England gave a first to New Orleans for Cooks, then received a first in a deal with the L.A. Rams. I'd like to believe O'Brien would've kept the streak alive, but I'll settle for a Day 2 selection. Third?

Scott Spratt: Very close, Cale! It was a second for Cooks plus a future fourth.

Bryan Knowles: Fourth down in his own territory, and Andy Reid says screw it, we're going for it. Fullback dive for the first down, football's back, baby!

Scott Spratt: Darrel Williams has two touches to Clyde Edwards-Helaire's three. It's panic time for fantasy football fans.

Carl Yedor: I think the reports out of camp were that the Chiefs didn't want to put too much on Edwards-Helaire's plate right away, hence the work for Williams at the moment. That could definitely change later in the season.

Rivers McCown: I'm getting bullied but the Texans are (at this moment) winning. I'll take it.

Dave Bernreuther: So we joked about mentioning drops earlier, but Demarcus Robinson just dropped his second touchdown of the first 16 minutes. Mahomes, rolling to his left, hit him right in the hands.

No matter, because Travis Kelce is still quite good at catching.

Scott Spratt: I think that comment was true for about one minutes, Rivers. Kelce touchdown, 7-7.

Bryan Knowles: Demarcus Robinson has now dropped two touchdown passes, which seems somewhat less than ideal. See, this is what the Chiefs get for trading away DeAnd...

Kelce picks up the touchdown the next play, so no harm, no foul. Nice little drive there from the Chiefs; going for it on fourth down kind of gave them a bit of a spark. Big drive by Kelce, too; I loved the little tight end screen they ran to him up the middle. Getting the ball to Kelce in space seems, generally speaking, like a good move.

Derrik Klassen: Watching Patrick Mahomes roll to his left is one of my favorite things in the sport honestly. No other quarterbac in the league can completely reset their core while moving away from their throwing arm like that. Maybe peak Aaron Rodgers is the only equivalent I have for it.

Tom Gower: Chiefs linebackers got completely worked in the Super Bowl. That's kind of Kyle Shanahan's thing and they're just guys, by and large, but they've been invisible through 18 minutes tonight as well. Linebackers are often a position where you can just get by, but it hasn't been a good look. Some of that may be lack of live reps leading to play-action and other sorts of misdirection being particularly effective early in the season, something Bryan already noted, but this might be more than that.

Bryan Knowles: Punting from midfield, on fourth-and-4, against the Chiefs' offense? That's a paddlin'.

Dave Bernreuther: Russell WIlson would like a word, Derrik:

 

 

Dave Bernreuther: Was a little surprised that Al and Chris (Chris and Al?) made no mention of the cute moment after the scramble, when Watson sat himself down on the Chiefs bench for a quick pat from Pat Mahomes. That's the type of Kodak moment I'd expect to see all over the internet.

Bryan Knowles: They did, Dave.

 

 

Dave Bernreuther: Even Collinsworth thought that punt was terrible.

First play after the punt and Mahomes drops back to pass, waits as the pocket gets very very tight, and releases a pass...

And all I can think of is how rare it is for anyone, let alone a freak athlete, to let a pocket collapse that much, that close to the goal line, without backing up or turning tail and running. If Baker Mayfield had even half that amount of patience in the pocket we'd all be looking at him as an ascending Pro Bowler.

Cale Clinton: Clyde Edwards-Helaire seems to be living up to offseason hype. Averaging 7.1 yards per carry on eight runs with five minutes to go in the half. Only one of those has gone for less than 3 yards.

Aaron Schatz: We talked about Mitchell Schwartz and the strangely high blown blocks total earlier, but he's doing a good job against J.J. Watt tonight. We're not hearing Watt's name much on the telecast.

Rivers McCown: Watt's also playing inside a lot today compared to last season.

Hey, that punt was really stupid.

Bryan Knowles: Just your run of the mill 16-play, 91-yard touchdown drive after the scaredy-cat midfield punt.

Interesting to note, based on how this one's gone, that last year's Aggressiveness Index had Bill O'Brien 12th and Andy Reid 27th. I mean, sample size of one for each coach in 2020 so far, but still.

Scott Spratt: O'Brien is playing chess while we're playing checkers, guys. Watson is going to lead a touchdown drive in the final two and a half minutes here, denying the Chiefs another second-quarter drive. Incredible foresight.

Bryan Knowles: The Chiefs had No. 14 (Sammy Watkins), No. 42 (Anthony Sherman) and No. 48 (Nick Keizer) split wide to the right on the touchdown. At a combined numerical value of 104, that has to be one of the lowest uniform number totals for a trio ever recorded.

Aaron Schatz: Oh, I'm sure that there are plenty of trios with wide receivers in the teens these days.

Tom Gower: We've seen too many receivers wearing numbers in the 10s, plus running backs in the 20s and 30s split wide, for that to be close to the record.

Scott Spratt: Wait, how did Jordan Akins just duck under that tackle? He's 6-foot-4 and 243 pounds!

Aaron Schatz: Early on, Collinsworth talked about how the Texans now seemed to be scheming quicker passes for Watson so he would feel less pressure. Well, that didn't even last for a whole half.

Cale Clinton: Wonder if the lack of success deep is a product of this unique offseason. Through the first half, the Chiefs' longest play is an 18-yard run by Edwards-Helaire. The Texans have passing completions of 19 and 20 yards, but the catches by Will Fuller and Jordan Akins respectively came within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage.

Aaron Schatz: I was tonight years old when I learned that the NFL has now changed the horsecollar rule so that you don't have to actually put your hand inside the jersey and pads to have it count as a horse-collar tackle. You just can't grab a guy high up on the jersey at all.

Rivers McCown: Did you guys know that being aggressive matters against the (checks notes) consensus best passing offense in the NFL?

Cale Clinton: Of course, the Chiefs had a 36-yard touchdown pass waived off on their opening drive. Since then, the longest completion of the half through the air was the 17-yard pass Sammy Watkins caught with 22 second left in the half.

Dave Bernreuther: After a poor call on a horse-collar that wasn't, the Chiefs decide to run one more play with nine seconds left. A flag is thrown for illegal contact, but the Texans win the play, because with only four seconds left, the Chiefs send out Harrison Butker.

Michaels mentioned getting the play back, and there's certainly an argument to be made for that. Obviously in a case like that, the offense can still benefit and/or score, but there are some shades of what Buddy Ryan called Polish Goal Line-style incentives there, depending on the location on the field (and the call).

This isn't news, but it does still make my mind wander to what types of end-of-half situations would absolutely lend themselves to coaching the defensive backs to all just tackle receivers 6 yards down the field.

Bryan Knowles: I'm intrigued by the call to kick the 29-yard field goal rather than taking one final shot at the end zone from the 11. I mean, it's probably right, but you just paid your quarterback $TheMoon, so there's at least an argument for taking another shot.

17-7 is a perfectly cromulent halftime lead, though.

Dan Pizzuta: The lack of deep passing seems deliberate, especially from the Chiefs' perspective. There was the dropped deep touchdown early, but Mahomes has averaged just 2.32 seconds to throw in the first half with a 5.3 aDOT per Next Gen Stats. That's getting the ball out incredibly quickly. Watson is at 2.79, which to Aaron's point earlier started as designed quick passes, but then the pressure and scrambling started.

Carl Yedor: After Houston started their two-minute drive with runs seemingly to try to prevent the Chiefs from getting another chance to score before the half, Mahomes and company still get a field goal. They get the ball to start the second half too, so Houston might be down 17 the next time they see the ball. Kansas City doesn't feel like they're playing particularly well, and they're still up 10.

Tom Gower: 17-7 at the half. It felt like Kansas City was dominating when they were driving with five minutes to go in the half, but it was still 7-7 at that point and they were only on their third possession. Now, it feels like the score does a better job of reflecting the relative performance levels, with Kansas City's only non-scoring possession featuring Dearcus Robinson's first end zone drop.

There haven't been many designed deep drops this game, it doesn't seem like, and I'd expect that to be a feature of play early in the season. Coaches don't want to get their quarterback hurt and they don't know where the flaws in protectors and protection schemes are yet. Maybe the Texans will make a quick adjustment and realize they need to pay extra attention to Chris Jones beating Zach Fulton and take a shot in the second half to use their speed receivers. Or just keep doing what they're doing, it'll be fine.

Vincent Verhei: So I also needed a preseason, apparently, because I've been behind schedule all day and didn't finish exercising until right before halftime. But I have seen the whole game! Main takeaways after 30 minutes:

 

  • Anthony Weaver's conservative scheme is limiting Kansas City to a small-ball offense, a reverse ball-control tactic that is still having the effect of limiting the number of possessions. I'm sure Houston would have been happy going into the game to hold Kansas City to 14 points in the first half, but they've only stopped Kansas City once, forcing one punt and giving up a pair of touchdowns. Now, as I'm writing this, Houston just missed a field goal and the Chiefs have 25 seconds left to work with ... and they end up with a field goal, kicked on first down on the last play of the half. Anyway, yes, Houston is giving up more than 5 yards per rush, but they're also giving up less than 7 yards per dropback. That's the kind of tradeoff you make when you're facing Mahomes.

 

 

  • The Texans are doing one better -- they're actually averaging more yards on runs (6.3) than on passing plays (5.9). Agreed with what others have said: the patient controlled look we saw earlier evaporated, and the last drive looked like one shrug-and-scramble play after another.

 

 

  • I'm intrigued by Houston using both Duke and David Johnson in the backfield a few times, and I hope to see that more.

 

 

  • My favorite play for Kansas City was actually a touchdown that was changed to second-and-goal from the 1 after replay. It looked like Mahomes had thrown a touchdown to Sammy Watkins, but the play was really an option play -- Mahomes was rolling out to his left, with three receivers breaking to the left at the exact same time, from different spots and at different depths. It was basically forcing Houston to defend a wide front, like an option pitch, and it worked, even if Watkins was down just short of the goal line.

 

Scott Spratt: That Edwards-Helaire cut-back on the touchdown run was absolutely filthy.

Bryan Knowles: So, it's no longer panic time for Clyde Edwards-Helaire managers, right? Just romped 27 yards for the longest play of the season, and now he's over 100 yards with a touchdown.

At 24-7, Houston has to pull something special out of their bag of tricks, or they're going to be run out of the stadium. Death by a thousand paper cuts is not what you expect from the Chiefs' offense, but maybe with tackling a bit iffy early in a preseason-less season, it's what we'll get.

Scott Spratt: Did Mahomes really tell the Chiefs to draft Edwards-Helaire? How mad is Aaron Rodgers right now?

Scott Spratt: For all the kids out there, you used to be able to make long-distance phone calls on the dime of the recipient of those calls. That was known as "calling collect."

 

 

Cale Clinton: Al and Chris talking about Bill O'Brien's fiscal dilemma this offseason, weighing the potential extensions of Deshaun Watson and DeAndre Hopkins before eventually trading Hop.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the ball, the Chiefs resigned Sammy Watkins, extended Travis Kelce and Chris Jones, and made Patrick Mahomes the Half-a-Billion-Dollar Man

Dave Bernreuther: On third down, Watson got extra slippery and avoided three sacks in a play that looked like it was four Chiefs and him by himself. Just incredible to watch...

But it still goes in the books as a sack, just the same as I could've taken myself, as he ended up running out of bounds for a 2-yard loss.

On that play I noticed the crowd noise for the first time. No idea if it was all real or part synthetic, but it does tell me that the production crew has done a pretty good job making it feel like normal football.

As I type that, we get a shot of the stands, featuring the Rock, William Shatner, and Buddy the Elf.

Scott Spratt: I feel like we should mention that the Chiefs just punted from the Texans' 43-yard line. This game is already over, but if it's not, then that will be a reason why it wasn't. Pretend that made sense.

Aaron Schatz: Nah, with that pressure and Deshaun Watson's "hit in motion" interception, this one is pretty much in the books.

Cale Clinton: There's still time to change this, but with just over 13 minutes left in this game, Edward-Helaire is currently averaging more yards per carry (7.4 on 16 attempts) than Mahomes is averaging yards per pass attempt (6.9 on 30 pass plays)

Cale Clinton: I know this is all but wrapped up, but I'm still staying tuned in for one reason: screens.

According to this year's Almanac, the Texans ran a league-low five running back screens last season. After that touchdown drive, they have either three or four in this game.

Bryan Knowles: CEH has impressed so far this game, though he may not be the world's greatest short-yardage guy, based on an incredibly small sample size.

Scott Spratt: He looks more like Devin Singletary than Maurice Jones-Drew to me, Bryan. Not that that is a bad thing.

Vincent Verhei: Those garbage-time scores really boosted Watson's overall numbers. The whole Houston passing offense looked really discombobulated most of the game.

Comments

25 comments, Last at 13 Sep 2020, 1:52am

1 Disappointing

Thought David Johnson should have got several more touches, he seemed clearly to be performing better than Duke.

And if it turns out  he has another 2016 year, then BOB made a smart move. If the choice was between him, or tearing up the Hopkins contract that had three years to go Or extending it even more and paying him 27+M a year, then I think he made the right move, because either his subsequent performance isn’t worth it, or it is worth it, in which case he would no doubt demand that one be torn up and he receive even more money.

2 David Johnson

There aren't many winning offensive strategies when your opposition scores TDs on 4 of their first 6 meaningful drives (and has a TD called back on another). Giving more carries to a RB, no matter how successfully he is running, probably isn't one of them. Perhaps he could have been targeted more. Anyhow, nice to see that the player might have a new lease of life. The RB community could really use one or two of these past recipients of large contracts return to their former glories. 

But speaking of Johnson's contract, that was the main criticism of the trade; that BOB gave up considerable resources to acquire a contract that has been universally regarded as a mistake. 

11 The trade was terrible in…

In reply to by BJR

The trade was terrible in many respects. The Johnson contract was effectively a salary dump by the Cardinals that the Texans somehow didn't receive any compensation for. Even if you like David Johnson you have to understand market prices. Overpaying for something you like is still suboptimal.

 

But then we get to the worst part of this which is the Hopkins for a second round pick. This is crazy considering how much trades for obj and Stefan diggs went for, players that Hopkins is either outright better than or probably better than. To get a middling second round pick for him is just insane.

I also don't buy that BS rationalization about salary. He was under contract for several years. New CBA lets you fine players who hold out, so he had no choice but to show up and play. 

 

14 Thanks for reminding me of…

Thanks for reminding me of the details of the trade, it most certainly does not read well for the Texans.

I would say that if a player is severely discontented, trading them rather than fining them may still be optimal, even if the new CBA permits it. Whether it had reached that point with Hopkins, I do not know. 

19 Hopkins was not throwing an…

Hopkins was not throwing an AB level tantrum. I think BOB seriously underestimated how hard it is to replace a truly elite wide receiver, especially in a game where you need to pull off an upset. Losing him undercuts the best version of yourself. 

3 That really just felt like a…

That really just felt like a light scrimmage for Mahomes and the Chiefs offence, ripping off 6/8/10 yards a play at will, without having to play expansively at all. Houston ranked 22nd in defensive DVAO (and 25th in pass defense DVOA) last season, and I don't think they have improved. A lot of work in store for Deshaun Watson this season, I hope he doesn't get injured. 

4 And all I can think of is…

And all I can think of is how rare it is for anyone, let alone a freak athlete, to let a pocket collapse that much, that close to the goal line, without backing up or turning tail and running.

Roethlisberger. His HoF bust will be him standing like a ship's prow in the face of a collapsing wave of defenders.

5 Scott Spratt: O'Brien is…

Scott Spratt: O'Brien is playing chess while we're playing checkers, guys. Watson is going to lead a touchdown drive in the final two and a half minutes here, denying the Chiefs another second-quarter drive. Incredible foresight.

It's eerie how close that worked out in fruition, and yet how badly wrong it went.

What should have been 14-14, the Texans were lucky wasn't 21-7. The Chiefs are good at this football thing.

6 I mean, it's probably right,…

I mean, it's probably right, but you just paid your quarterback $TheMoon

Last I checked, you can't $BuyTimeOnTheClock, so it seemed to be a justified decision. A lot can go wrong in 4 seconds.

7 Bryan Knowles: CEH has…

Bryan Knowles: CEH has impressed so far this game, though he may not be the world's greatest short-yardage guy, based on an incredibly small sample size.

I don't think the short yardage failure was on him. KC's power rush blocking was inept. It was like watching the Lions. On one play at the goal line, CEH made Watt miss 3 yards in the backfield as he got the ball, and was still planted immediately by the guy standing *next* to JJ Watt. I would have made that tackle.

It was amusing how after an off-season of statistic analyses of why WR screens suck, KC just ripped Houston's heart out with a bunch of them. Turns out Reid is good at coaching and player eval.

9 I do feel like there was an…

I do feel like there was an early run where he looked like he had some open field to run into, but about 2-3 Chiefs caught up to him easily. Just couldn't break away. 

[trying really hard not to insert a snarky DeAndre comment]

10 For those who know me I'm as…

For those who know me I'm as analytical as it gets, but it's simply amazing how much time was spent criticizing Bill O'Brien for that decision to punt on 4th and four.  

The real story just as it was in their divisional loss was that this defense cannot stop the chiefs at all.  As was mentioned above, everything becomes moot when your defense has no chance against the opposition's offense.

I'm left scratching my head why more people don't bring this up.

16 Yeah I mean if you know your…

Yeah I mean if you know your defense has no chance no matter where the Chiefs get the ball, maybe one option is to try all options, including relatively straightforward 4th down decisions,  to *not give them the ball back*.

18 Sure. It calls for being…

Sure. It calls for being aggressive. I totally agree.

But I think its shocking that no one even mentioned the absurdity of just assuming you are going to stop the chiefs only once and every drive is going to be a td. You might as well forfeit at that point. 

20 Or employ Peyton Manning…

Or employ Peyton Manning.
https://www.pro-football-reference.com/boxscores/200401110kan.htm

Indy basically clocked both halves, and of the six other drives, scored 38 of 42 points.

He did this to Denver a couple of times, too.

21 Classic game- the Puntless…

Classic game- the Puntless Wonder! KC was basically just as good, offensively- their only non-scoring drives ended in a shanked Morten Andersen chip shot (why couldn't he have done this in OT against the Vikings in January 1999, on my 7th birthday??) and a fumble at the end of a 48-yard Priest Holmes run, plus one last "drive" starting deep in their own territory, with :08 left. Minus the Holmes fumble, they might have won, or at least forced OT.

13 I'm going to anger a lot of…

I'm going to anger a lot of Texans fans, but Watson at this point is not good enough to transcend the team over its warts. There's no shame in that, few quarterbacks are. 

Zoom out and ask yourself what exactly do the Texans have that moves the needle besides solid players on the offense, Watson, and one Hall of famer on defense coming off of multiple injury mired seasons.

The Texans can win the division because Watson is very good, but their liabilities are such that they can also lose games to all but the worst teams. And given how much they've siphoned off their future in win now deals, their three year horizon doesn't look that great to me. I guess the one thing going for them is none of their division rivals appear to have a long-term quarterback solution on the roster

15 I'm concerned that, forced…

I'm concerned that, forced to chase games with what looks to be a shitty defense, he is going to get hurt again. He is certainly a tremendous competitor who does not hesitate to put his body on the line. I suppose a Watson injury would cause the team to truly bottom out, thus likely ending Bill O'Brien's reign of terror.

22 That's the funniest scam…

That's the funniest scam ever. Can people actually fall for a scam post warning about illuminati scams and then offering to let you join the illuminati? There's no just no way anyone can fall for that, right?

Then I remembered Bill O'Brien.

25 Dave Bernreuther '... but it…

Dave Bernreuther '... but it does still make my mind wander to what types of end-of-half situations would absolutely lend themselves to coaching the defensive backs to all just tackle receivers 6 yards down the field.'

 

Didn't the league address this a few years ago? 

 

ARTICLE 3. INTENTIONAL FOULS TO MANIPULATE GAME CLOCK. A team may not commit multiple fouls during the same down in an attempt to manipulate the game clock. Penalty: For multiple fouls to run off time from the game clock: Loss of 15 yards, and the game clock will be reset to where it was at the snap. After the penalty is enforced, the game clock will start on the next snap.