Defenses reign as Texans host Chiefs in wild-card game

Texans and Chiefs driven by defense (0:44)

ESPN Texans reporter Tania Ganguli explains why the Texans and Chiefs are hoping to make each other's quarterbacks miserable on Saturday. (0:44)

HOUSTON -- Since a 1-5 start for the Kansas City Chiefs and a 2-5 start for the Houston Texans, a lot has changed for both teams.

They've both had significant injuries to their featured running backs. They've both relied on dominant defensive performances to orchestrate strong playoff pushes. They've both reversed their fortunes.

On Satuday, the Texans will host the Chiefs at NRG Stadium in a rematch of Kansas City's Week 1 win. Chiefs reporter Adam Teicher and Texans reporter Tania Ganguli discuss the matchup.

Ganguli: Welcome back to Houston, Adam. That season opener feels like so long ago. What’s the biggest thing that has changed for the Chiefs since then?

Teicher: It was long ago, Tania. It was so long ago that NRG Stadium still had a grass playing field. The Chiefs have changed a lot since then as well. The biggest changes have come on offense, where Jamaal Charles is no longer the featured back and Jeremy Maclin has become Alex Smith's go-to receiver. The Chiefs have a versatile 1-2 combination in Charcandrick West and Spencer Ware that has been effective in replacing Charles, while Maclin has rebounded from a slow start to lead the Chiefs in catches, receiving yards and touchdowns.

I’m curious about Brian Hoyer, the Texans’ quarterback. He was so bad against the Chiefs early in the season that he was benched in favor of Ryan Mallett. How has Hoyer been able to rebound from such a rotten start and be so effective for the Texans?

Ganguli: His confidence is at a completely different level now. You have to remember that before that first start, he didn’t have the full backing of his coach, Bill O’Brien. O’Brien made him the starter and then immediately said it could change. Hoyer was constantly looking over his shoulder, which wasn’t an ideal situation for him. He was tight in that first start, and it showed, but once he started playing to take back his starting role, he was much more confident. There was sort of a “nothing to lose” attitude for Hoyer, and he played better with it. It has helped, too, that O’Brien has publicly declared full confidence in Hoyer as the starter.

Rookie cornerback Marcus Peters was part of the reason Hoyer got off to such a bad start. I know some teams had concerns about his attitude heading into the draft, but he seems to have had a terrific season. Why has he been successful?

Teicher: Peters, as you know, was my choice as Chiefs’ MVP. He tied for the league lead with eight interceptions and brought two of them back for touchdowns. You’ll remember he had an interception on his first NFL play in the season opener against the Texans, and that set the tone for his season. He had his first pick-six the following week against Peyton Manning. He has not only been the playmaker the Chiefs have lacked in the secondary but his attitude has rubbed off on his teammates as well. The Chiefs had six interceptions last year, 22 this year.

One of the matchups in Saturday’s game that everyone will be watching and even Andy Reid said he would be interested in seeing is Peters against DeAndre Hopkins. You remember Hopkins had a couple of touchdown catches against Peters in September. What has Hopkins done to become one of the NFL’s elite receivers?

Ganguli: Hopkins has really been remarkably solid for the Texans this season. His route running is strong. His hand strength helps him make some of those incredible one-handed catches he doesn’t get enough credit for making. The Chiefs will be in trouble if they ask Peters to handle him one-on-one because that hasn’t worked well for anyone. Even Panthers corner Josh Norman had help. The best example of that was in the Texans’ win over the New York Jets when Hopkins abused Darrelle Revis. Most teams mix up coverages on Hopkins, and since that Jets game he has seen a lot more true double-teams.

The Texans will be in trouble if they aren’t able to better handle tight end Travis Kelce. He had 106 yards and two touchdowns in Week 1. How has he been playing lately?

Teicher: Kelce, from a statistical standpoint at least, had his best game of the season against the Texans. He has been replaced by Jeremy Maclin as Alex Smith’s go-to receiver. He had a solid year as an alternative target to Maclin (72 catches, 875 yards, five touchdowns) but Kelce didn’t finish the regular season well. He caught just one pass for 10 yards in Sunday’s win over the Raiders. Kelce, though, is a threat. He runs well after the catch, which is how he gets most of his big plays.

Houston’s defense looks intimidating. The Texans allowed exactly six points in five of their past nine games and they weren’t just exclusively picking on inferior opponents. Included are games against high-scoring teams such as New Orleans and Cincinnati. What were the changes the Texans made to their defense after they allowed a ton of points early in the season?

Ganguli: There were several changes the Texans made. They focused more on precision with their assignments. They tackled better. They're creating turnovers at a better rate than before. Their pressure on the quarterback has been the best in the league over the past nine games as they've figured out how best to use their trio of outside linebackers, Jadeveon Clowney, Whitney Mercilus and Brian Cushing. This defense was completely embarrassed in their 44-26 loss to the Miami Dolphins and the players vowed never to play like that again. Their words were not empty.