In a game that didn’t do much for aesthetic purposes, the DeAndre Hopkins-vs.-Marcus Peters duel was the must-watch component. The Pro Bowlers sparred often, with each winning in big moments.
Hopkins won the decision, with his double-move route freezing the Chiefs’ top cornerback just enough to haul in a 27-yard touchdown pass, but Kansas City’s tenacious left-flank stopper proved himself in a big spot.
The Texans, as just about every team did last year, tested Peters relentlessly. He came up with two interceptions, four pass breakups and two other grabs where he couldn’t keep his feet inbounds. If you play IDP fantasy — as you should — Peters is gold.
But his days as a marked man might be numbered.
Peters’ Week 2 outing against Hopkins and Will Fuller, who also got his on the K.C. corners, illustrated a blend of physicality and instincts that will make challenging him riskier as he gains experience this season. His less flashy cohorts, Phillip Gaines and Steven Nelson, should expect to see an uptick in passes to receivers they’re covering in the coming weeks.
Peters leaves opportunities to be attacked in the passing game, being one of the league’s biggest gamblers outside, but at some point his run of impact plays stops being fluky.
Somehow, Peters has 11 interceptions. He’s played just 18 regular-season games. Gaines may be a solid defender — although, Pro Football Focus grades the third-year player as the weak link in the Chiefs’ top cornerback troika — but he’s not an impact talent like Peters.
It may not be worth it to keep firing at the ball-hawk who parlayed the constant action he received in 2015 into a Defensive Rookie of the Year award. Game plans should feature more action for Gaines and Nelson, the former being back from an ACL tear and the latter still an incredibly inexperienced player after Kansas City essentially redshirted him as a rookie while using safeties in slot coverage.
After allowing Fuller’s 53-yard reception on one of Osweiler’s best throws and later ceding the game’s only touchdown pass to Hopkins, Peters made life difficult for those players. He constantly battled with taller perimeter players, picking off a pass that could have been a touchdown to Braxton Miller and then out-positioning Hopkins on what turned out to be an easier INT. Peters put himself in prime position to snare a third, but Hopkins performing the lost art of receiver defense at the last millisecond stopped that sequence.
Gaines also gave up big plays, with Hopkins shedding a tackle on a crossing pattern en route to a 35-yard catch-and-run that preceded Peters’ second interception and Fuller besting him on multiple mid-range patterns. The former third-round pick did well to deter a deep pass to the rapidly developing Fuller to help what was, all things considered, a decent defensive day for the visitors. But Gaines should be tested more than Peters at this point, if nothing else, to see how he responds.
Since only Nelson roves from side to side in the formation as a slot corner, putting together attack plans on the starting defenders is easier for defenses. But the interception disparity — Peters 11, Gaines 0 in the same number of games — shouldn’t be categorized as trivial. He’s a turnover machine and a must-watch, since these keep occurring.
The Chiefs are about to run through a gauntlet of quality receiving teams. The Jets, Steelers, Raiders, Saints, Colts and Jaguars bring problems and depth. Peters will relish the chance to compete against these outfits’ premier options when they venture over to his side.
There isn’t enough evidence to this point to show that Gaines can stop that caliber of receiver. By November, his value should be much clearer.
The mercurial Washington product’s abilities aren’t in question, however, and teams have a better idea of what to expect when they throw over there.
Kansas City’s ability to reasonably contain these passing attacks, as to avoid the kind of shootouts its offense simply isn’t built to win, will be a pivotal part of whether or not the team is in position to vie for an AFC West title when the smoke clears. (And even after this, Kelvin Benjamin, Julio Jones, Mike Evans and Demaryius Thomas are coming, so there will be some must-watch duels when the spate of No. 1 targets trot over to tangle with Peters.)
With Justin Houston potentially out until November, the Chiefs’ corners will have to hold up in coverage a tick longer. And they’re thin at this spot, having cut their highest offseason investment already in KeiVarae Russell. So, Peters profiles as probably the defense’s second-most important player.
A lack of able bodies behind him, though, aren’t the only reason for that status. Peters should continue to develop into a game-changing force and has already delivered more action plays than many starting corners will in their careers.
The jury remains out on Gaines and Nelson. Kansas City ranks in the middle of the pack in pass defense (243.5 yards per game, 16th), which is respectable without Houston. How that figure fluctuates in the coming weeks will depend on the ex-third-rounders’ handling of talented opposition.
While none of the Chiefs’ corners have proven to be consistent deterrents, their alpha’s ridiculous turnover rate could well change the way teams go at this defense.