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TO-prone Texans meet ballhawking Chiefs

October 19, 2013

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— Texans coach Gary Kubiak is worried about his team entering one of the most hostile environments in the NFL today, Arrowhead Stadium.

What may concern him most is a single statistic that also might be the biggest reason his team is scuffling toward a losing record and Kansas City is undefeated: Houston is the worst team in the AFC at turning over the ball, and the Chiefs are the best at taking it away.

“We’re mentioning that a lot,” Kubiak said. “You get to the point sometimes where, ‘Are you talking about it too much? Are your guys pressing?’ ... I know one thing, we have to improve.”

That’s because the Texans (2-4) have already turned over the ball 15 times, and their minus-12 turnover differential is second only to the New York Giants for worst in the NFL.

Meanwhile, the Chiefs are plus-12, a full 24 possessions better than the Texans, and have a league-leading 18 takeaways during their impressive 6-0 start.

“Something has to give there,” Kubiak said. “We continue to put ourselves in poor position because of helping other people. It’s just something that our football team, the switch has got to be flipped to get going the other direction.”

It’s not just the quantity of turnovers, though. It’s the quality of them.

Quality for the other team, that is.

Matt Schaub had thrown interceptions that were returned for touchdowns in four straight games before getting hurt last Sunday against St. Louis. Backup quarterback T.J. Yates entered the game and promptly threw a pick-6 of his own.

Meanwhile, the Chiefs have returned three interceptions for touchdowns this season.

“It’s the coaches, I promise,” Chiefs linebacker Tamba Hali said. “We had the same team here last year minus a couple guys, and we’re having this much success. So give credit to the coaches.”

It starts with coach Andy Reid, but a big part of it is defensive coordinator Bob Sutton, who has dialed up aggressive game plans from the opening week of the season.

“Bob is doing a great job and the guys are doing a great job executing when the teams are in a situation when they have had to throw,” Reid said. “With our pass rush, that’s a tough thing to do.”

Indeed, the Chiefs’ pass rush is a good place to start when looking at five things that could determine the outcome today:

Sack attack: The Chiefs had nine sacks last week against Oakland — it was 10 before one play was changed to a run after the game. Justin Houston is tied for the league lead with 91⁄2 sacks, but his running mate Hali is close behind with 61⁄2 on the season. “We’re doing our job and having our fun doing it,” Houston said. “To be a great defense, we know we have to have great edge pressure.”

Quarterback conundrum: Untested Case Keenum gets the start for Houston with Schaub sidelined because of an ankle injury.

Keenum was a record-setting quarterback at the University of Houston before spending last season on the Texans’ practice squad.

“We’re struggling, and we’re looking for a spark,” Kubiak said.

Jamming Jamaal: Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles accounted for 126 of the Chiefs’ 216 yards of total offense last week. He also had both of their offensive touchdowns against Oakland. “He’s definitely in the category of top three running backs in the NFL,” Texans linebacker Brian Cushing said. “I think he’s very good. I think he’s very fast. I think he’s got really good vision. I think that’s probably his best attribute.”

Low wattage: Texans defensive end J.J. Watt made a brief statement to reporters on Wednesday but refused to take questions. His reason was that “words don’t win games, work does,” so he planned to answer “all your questions with my play on the field.” The reigning AP Defensive Player of the Year had 201⁄2 sacks last season, but has just 31⁄2 this season.

Aerial aid: Alex Smith threw for just 126 yards last week against Oakland, and the Chiefs quarterback has struggled to deliver the ball downfield. He’s getting some help back in tight end Anthony Fasano, who’s been out since Week 2 due to an ankle injury.

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