Sep 19, 2013; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick (7) is pressured by Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Justin Houston (50) at Lincoln Financial Field. The Chiefs defeated the Eagles 26-16. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Justin Houston: How Good Can Kansas City's OLB Be?

The Kansas City Chiefs are 3 – 0 for the first time since the 2010 season when they last won the AFC West. This has left fans of the game from water coolers around the nation to the pundits at NFL Network and ESPN scratching their heads and wondering how this happened.

“Just who are these Kansas City Chiefs?” one headline read this morning after the Chiefs finished off the Philadelphia Eagles in primetime last night. While the world is still trying to figure it out, Chiefs fans know you don’t have to look very far. One of the main reasons the Chiefs have found early success is because of #50, outside linebacker Justin Houston.

Houston played his college ball at the University of Georgia where he was a weakside linebacker. During the 2010 season, he led all SEC linebackers in sacks with 11.5, showing early on he had the ability to get to the quarterback. As the 2011 NFL Draft approached, many touted that Houston was a late first round talent. However, a reported positive test for marijuana during the NFL Combine resulted in Houston’s draft stock plummeting. He fell out of the first round and continued his free fall through the second until the Chiefs selected him with the 70th overall pick in the third round.

Prior to Houston arriving in Kansas City, the Chiefs only pass rush threat was Tamba Hali. Hali was a defensive end who had converted to a pass rushing, outside linebacker when the Chiefs transitioned to a 3-4 base defense from their previous 4-3. Houston’s talents were sorely needed in KC, and many thought he was a steal in the third round.

Those same people were calling him a bust by week 13 of the 2011 season when the Chiefs made the trip north to a cold Soldier Field to face the Chicago Bears. The season was looking bleak, head coach Todd Haley could see his career circling the toilet and Chiefs fans were pretty much disgusted with anything having to do with football. Then, something magical happened for Houston. He figured out how to get to through the pass coverage and sack and NFL quarterback. In fact, he figured it out so well against the Bears offensive line, he put Jay Cutler on his back three times that night.

Justin Houston had arrived in Kansas City.

From that point on, he didn’t look back. Houston essentially cemented his position in the starting lineup after that performance in Chicago. As the 2011 season ended with a pair of blocked field goals against the Oakland Raiders and thus, blocking the Chiefs from making the playoffs, all anyone could do was look forward to 2012.

While last season in Kansas City was the darkest of times, there were some bright spots. One of those was the continued development of Justin Houston. Houston continued to work hard in his sophomore NFL season and was able to find the quarterback ten times last year. He led the team in sacks (which isn’t saying much as they were the worst in the league in that category with just 27 all year) much in part to the fact that teams were gameplanning so heavily for Tamba Hali on the opposite side they weren’t even considering Houston.

At the end of 2012, Houston received his first Pro Bowl nod as an alternate when Von Miller of the Denver Broncos was unable to attend due to injury, joining fellow Chiefs defensive players Derrick Johnson, Eric Berry and Tamba Hali. Perhaps more important than his Pro Bowl invitation was the fact that Houston came in at #49 on NFL Networks “The 100 Greatest Players of 2012.” All votes on that show are from NFL players, meaning Houston had been recognized by his peers as one of the best players in the league. Quite an honor when you think about the fact there are 1,696 active players in the league. Houston managed all this despite (or perhaps in spite of) the abysmal play of the Chiefs in 2012.

Many think that the reason the Chiefs pass rush was so limited last season wasn’t due to the talent level of the rushers (we are talking about Houston and Hali here) but more the “bend but don’t break” defensive scheme of former Chiefs defensive coordinator and head coach Romeo Crennel. In that scheme, the quarterback isn’t put under nearly as much pressure, and thus the sacks aren’t there. That was one of the biggest question marks at the start of the 2013 season: what would defensive coordinator Bob Sutton’s “attacking 3-4” look like. More importantly, how would it affect the pass rush of the Chiefs?

At three games in, I think we’ve gotten our answer.

Where the Chiefs were at the bottom of the league last year in sacks, they lead the league now with 15. If you’re having trouble comprehending that, let me just say that they’ve already accumulated more than half the sacks they had last season in just three games. Leading the team that leads the league, is Justin Houston with 6.5.

There are a couple of records out there that Chiefs fans should be aware of because Houston has a legitimate shot at them this season.

The single season sack record is currently held by former New York Giants linebacker and current talk show host, Michael Strahan. The record is 22.5 and has stood since 2001. With Houston’s current sack count, he would just need to average 1.25 sacks per game for the rest of the season to break that record. If he stays on the same tear he’s on (6.5 sacks per three games) he’ll have the record in hand by week 12.

Of course the other record that could fall at any time (though it has stood since 1990) is the single game sack record. It was set on November 11, 1990 when the Kansas City Chiefs played the Seattle Seahawks and Derrick Thomas found Seahawks’ QB David Krieg seven times in one game.

I know what you’re thinking.

“Pump the breaks. Let’s not compare Houston to Thomas quite yet.”

I’m not saying Houston is as good as Thomas. The great #58 played in the league for 10 years before his tragic death. He’s set records that still stand to this day. I’m sure when Denver Broncos Chief of Football Operations John Elway closes his eyes at night, all he can see is DT standing across the line of scrimmage from him.

But let’s face it, Houston is good. He could be as good as DT. The most fun part of that argument will be watching him to find out.

The last time Andy Reid coached a team that started 3 – 0 they ended their season as the Superbowl. Reid rode that ride on the shoulders of #5, Donovan McNabb. To me, it’s not out of the realm of possibility he could take a similar ride on the shoulders of #50.

After all, “defenses win championships.” And the Kansas City Chiefs, led by Justin Houston, have one hell of a defense.

Tags: Kansas City Chiefs

  • thabear04

    One game at a time and get ready for another Home game next Sunday Go Chiefs

    • Jim Harper

      Good advice.

  • Cameron McInnes

    I believe the qb for the bears that day was caleb hanie

    • Curtis

      You are correct sir.

  • berttheclock

    Geez, did you have to bring up the seven sacks of Krieg? I was in a Seattle bar watching that game and screaming my head off for the Chiefs and Thomas. The saddest part of that was the attempted 8th sack which Krieg somehow managed to slip enough to throw the game winning TD pass.
    But, comparing Thomas with Houston is a bit tough due to their coming at QBs from different directions. Thomas came from the side and was a master at causing fumbles In his first three seasons, he forced 13 fumbles, of which he recovered more than half. BTW, Thomas set his 20 sack record with the Chiefs in 15 games. Houston may well be on a new record hunt. In perusing their respective first three years records, I did notice both Houston and Thomas are very similar in total tackles, with Houston having a slight edge in assists.

    • KCMikeG

      I was there and will never forget seeing Krieg slipping that 8th sack and throwing a Hail Mary TD! Still one of my favorite games ever though watching DT work was like watching Picasso paint!

  • Jim Harper

    Great read Jason. Justin may very well do it. Fortunately he generally goes up against the opposing teams RT which usually is the lesser talented of the two. He is also in a great position to get sacks because of Tamba on the other side and Poe up the middle. Last night Poe was eating the double team up the middle and Tamba was getting it from the LT and often the RB. This almost leaves Justin one on one and he will win most of those battles. DT had help from Neil Smith from the other side but when you add it all up I believe this team has more overall talent on defense than any team in recent memory.

    • berttheclock

      Very happy he is not lining up across from Fisher as an opponent.

      • Rich Cooper

        Wow! That is a scary thought, but Fisher will get better. His technique has looked poor at times. I’m just happy he is on our side.

  • Jack Thomas

    Didnt houston have 4.5 sacks? So he should have
    7.5 now

  • Jason Seibel

    Just saw that the NFL awarded Houston another sack for last night. That gives him 7.5 on the year.

  • Lyle Graversen

    I think we will soon see offenses game planning around Houston and Poe. When that happens, guys like Hali and Jackson will have to step up and take advantage of their single blocking head to head match ups. If they do, it will force teams to not cheat towards Houston and Poe and then I can see Houston putting up huge numbers all season long. If Hali/Jackson don’t make plays then we’ll see Houston’s numbers drop as teams double him all game long.

    • DTVTechGuy

      So for some reason Tamba no longer rates when offenses are talking about the Chiefs…

      You sir, are mistaken.

      • Rich Cooper

        I agree to a point. First Hali gets held and half choked out more than anyone in the NFL. Ownership and coaches need to get on the league office or something. It is rediculous. Also when Hali gets there he needs to make the hit and then swipe at the ball like DT did. Getting there is only phase one, gotta make the tackle. Jackson actually has looked much better in the new scheme as well.

    • superman_25_58

      Hali would of had quite a few more tackles/sacks if the opposing teams would quit holding him almost every play but it never gets called so why would they do that?

  • Stacy D. Smith

    The league amended his sack total for Thursday night. He got credit for 4.5 sacks. #beastmode

  • Mark Bustamante

    Defense WON last nights game. I said at the start of the season this team would go 9-7 make the playoffs and 4 of those wins would be due to our strong D’. Looks like I might be right. These wins may be ‘ugly’ but they are wins. GO CHIEFS!!!’

  • Mark Bustamante

    Defense WON last nights game. I said at the start of the season this team would go 9-7 make the playoffs and 4 of those wins would be due to our strong D’. Looks like I might be right. These wins may be ‘ugly’ but they are wins. GO CHIEFS!!!’

  • Bigtexjayhawk

    What I love is his versatilty. He brings pressure, he drops in coverage and he is a great open field tackler. We need Hali to perform better on the other side though. They will start double teaming him probably soon

  • Calchiefsfan

    I just don’t see how you game plan for Houston. You’ve got Hali on the other side and now Poe up the middle. The emergence of Poe keeping QBs from stepping up in the pocket is going to set Houston and Hali off. One of Houston’s sacks last night was because Poe had bull rushed the center right into Vick and knocked Vick over. All Houston did was fall on him to get the sack. Between the three of them and Sutton’s attacking scheme it’s going to be a sack fest for Chiefs fans. Next game Houston gets to go after a Manning. Who’s not looking forward to that!

  • Joe Myers

    I called him a hof when we drafted him !!! . I still believe him and dj and jc will be also . This team seems to have booming talent on every level . Ried knew it he new this team would , will , is prime for a playoff push . They got on the gas from the word go . Tell me I’m wrong ??? The offense is yet to really click when the offense line comes togeather we are going to see blowouts !!!!

    • calciomoti

      Couldn’t have said it better myself! This is a top 5 defense easily and maybe as they start to gel together even more the best in the league!

  • Arrowhead Magic

    To be honest, the days of Derrick Thomas were before my time but I’ve loved watching his game film and hearing stories from my dad about him and now NFL network is doing a football life for him. I’m ok with Justin having the single season record but I kinda don’t want him to break Derrick Thomas’ record. It’s ok if he does, but I always saw that record as a testament to Derrick Thomas’ abilities.

  • Mike Brennan

    Hali needs to perform better?!? You guys are crazy. Rb help and he is still forcing the qb into Houston. Hali, Houston and Poe are going to force teams to bring back the full back just so they can have another blocker!

  • freshmeat62

    I was surprised when I heard Houston had 3 1/2 sacks, as I can still only remember 1. The others must have happened when I lost my satellite feed because of the rain. But I do remember Hali just missing Vick on several tries. He got his hands on Vick several times put Vick just would barely get away.

    Different topic, but has anyone heard anything about the condition of Flowers knee? That would be a huge lose!