Justin Houston is a better football player than Ben Roethlisberger. At least, that was the consensus of the over 1600 professional football players polled for the NFL Network’s “Top 100 Players of 2013” said. The young outside linebacker broke the top 50 by coming it at #49. There are some pundits out there that are calling Houston’s spot on the countdown the first “shocker of the series.” I don’t think it’s a shock at all. The man known by his number, “Five-O” may have had a slow start with his rookie season with the Kansas City Chiefs, but he’s on fire and he’s only getting hotter.
Houston’s road to being recognized as one of the top 100 players of last season wasn’t quite as smooth as some of the other players who came before him on the countdown. Being a member of the 2012 Chiefs, it’s hard to find anything good to say about them on offense or defense. Houston is the exception.
A third round draft pick out of Georgia in the 2011 NFL Draft, Houston had a very slow rookie campaign. While he was predicted to go in the first round, he had a draft-day free fall due to reports he had failed an NFL Combine drug test. While those reports were never confirmed, Houston’s draft stock suffered, but the Chiefs and Houston ultimately won out, with Houston being drafted 70th overall.
He began the year proclaiming greatness and predicting sack numbers to rival some of the greats. What he showed on the field, however, was lackluster even for a rookie. In fact, Houston didn’t even record a sack until the week 13 match-up against the Chicago Bears in which Houston found the quarterback three times. He’s hardly slowed down since.
Last season, Houston continued his quest for greatness. The Kansas City Chiefs’ defense was only able to sniff out the quarterback 27 total times last year. Houston accounted for over a third of those sacks with ten himself. But, not be content with being a one-dimensional player, Justin Houston worked on his coverage game during last off-season. That work paid off when he recorded his first career interception week six of last year against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Houston returned that pick 32 yards before being dragged to ground.
If the Top 100 Players show is all about players who are game changers, Houston should definitely be included. As Chiefs fans are painfully aware, the boys from Kansas City only won two games last season. The first win came in week three against a struggling New Orleans Saints team. While the only touchdown the Chiefs scored during that game came from a Jamaal Charles 91 yard dash for the end-zone, there were several game changing moments on the defense. Two of the biggest were supplied by “Five-O” Justin Houston.
Midway through the fourth quarter, with the Saints leading 19-24, the Saints were beginning a drive deep in their own territory following a Ryan Succop field goal (his fourth of six.) As the future “hall of famer” Drew Brees dropped back from his own 19 yard line, looking to make something happen on third and 11, Brees was crushed by a speeding freight train wearing the number 50 on his jersey. This ended the drive, giving the ball back to the Chiefs.
After a quick three and out by the non-existent KC offense, Houston’s quarterback hunting skills were called upon once again to stop a Drew Brees, nail-in-the-coffin drive; although this time it came with points. As the game clock quickly approached five minutes in the game, Brees was quickly flushed out of the pocket on his own seven yard line. He retreated into the end-zone where an aggressive Houston found him. “Five-O” grabbed a hold of the “Who Dat” signal caller and slammed him to the ground with enough velocity to eject the football. Initially thought to be a fumble, upon further review, it was deemed a safety, and not only did Houston successfully stop the drive, he put the Chiefs within an “irrelevant” field goal from tying the game and sending it to overtime. That’s exactly what happened and as any Chief fan knows, the boys in red and gold went on to win it with a sixth field in the extra period.
The game was early enough in the season to give Chiefs fans hope. While in the end, it was meaningless and one of only two victories last season, sitting at home in my Joe Montana “throwback” jersey with my red beer and my hot wings, it wasn’t meaningless as I screamed at my tv, rooting my favorite team on!
The Chiefs didn’t give fans a whole hell of a lot to cheer about last season. Justin Houston was one of the bright spots in an otherwise dismal season. He deserved his spot on the countdown, and I look forward to seeing “Five-O” even higher next year when he leads the AFC – strike that – the NFL in sacks this season.
Until next time, Addicts!