Oct 20, 2013; Kansas City, MO, USA; Houston Texans quarterback Case Keenum (7) loses the ball as he is sacked by Kansas City Chiefs outside linebacker Justin Houston (50) and outside linebacker Tamba Hali (91) in the second half at Arrowhead Stadium. The Chiefs won 17-16. Mandatory Credit: John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

The Power Of The Pass Rush: Why The Chiefs Drafted Dee Ford

ArmchairAddict1

When Roger Goodell walked to the podium and announced the Kansas City Chiefs’ first round draft selection it surprised a lot of people. It seemed to go against what everyone was predicting.

“Dee Ford?!?!”

“Another pass rushing OLB?!?!”

“Why in the wide, wide, world of sports would a team with two Pro Bowl pass rushing OLBs use their first round pick to add another player at that position when they have so many other holes?”

That was the question that swept across the NFL universe in the moments after the Chiefs pick was announced. The move caught both national pundits and die hard KC fans off guard. Soon, answers to this question would start to surface.

“KC must have stuck to their draft board and took their best player available.”

“John Dorsey must be preparing for the loss of Tamba Hali. This pick is really about the future and depth.”

Regardless of wether or not someone was a fan of the pick, the belief that the pick was more about the future than making KC better “right now” seemed to be universal. So much so that in polls and discussions about which KC draft pick will make the biggest impact this season, Ford is almost unanimously being beat out by a 5’9″ 174 lbs fourth round draft pick that will likely start the season as a return specialist and still has to prove that he can even be a regular contributor in offensive sets.

That’s not a knock on De’Anthony Thomas, who I think was a solid pick and will help fill the holes left by Dexter McCluster both on special teams and on offense. It’s an observation that both the average NFL “expert” AND the average Chiefs fanatic believe that the selection of Dee Ford is not about having a major effect on the field in 2014.

I’m here to tell you that this couldn’t be farther from the truth.

I’m here to tell you that Dee Ford’s presence on the Kansas City Chiefs next season could do more to help them win games than any wide receiver, safety, or offensive lineman that they could have drafted with the #23 pick in the 2014 draft.

I know what some of you are thinking.

“Oh boy, here comes some Kool Aid drinking, homer monologue about how this was the right move simply because it’s the move that the Chiefs made! If Dee Ford was such a great pick in terms of helping the Chiefs this season why weren’t you advocating for it before the draft?”

I have to admit that the pick did catch me by surprise. I liked Dee Ford. I wanted KC to improve their pass rush. I just never connected the dots. I followed the group think that said that WR was their biggest need. I looked at draft history and believed that if KC didn’t take a WR that they would go with a player in the trenches like an offensive lineman or defensive tackle (or 3-4 DE). In short, prior to the draft, I thought the same way many of you do right now.

However, after the draft I started digging into the stats and history of the Chiefs and Andy Reid to see if I could make more sense of the Dee Ford pick. Maybe it was denial (and maybe it still is), but I just couldn’t accept the fact that KC would use their first round draft pick on a player that they believed would largely be a back up for the 2014 season. So the first thing I did was dig into the Chiefs pass rush production last season. The results are pretty significant. Here are the 17 games that KC played including the result, score, number of sacks, QB hits, and QB hurries for that game.

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While everyone can agree that KC’s pass rush dropped off as the year went on I don’t think everyone realizes just how drastic of a drop it was. While it’s logical to split the pass rush production between the 9-0 start and the 2-6 record the rest of the way, the drop off actually started before the loses started piling up. In terms of sack production, the clear drop off point is the Cleveland game in week eight. Look at the difference between weeks 1-7 and week eight through the playoff loss.

In the first seven games KC totaled:

37 sacks (5.3 per game)
23 QB hits (3.3 per game)
130 QB hurries (18.6 per game)

In their final ten games KC totaled:

13 sacks (1.3 per game)
27 QB hits (2.7 per game)
115 QB hurries (11.5 per game)

The drop off is staggering. Four QB sacks and seven QB hurries LESS per game. The Chiefs literally went from being the best pass rushing team in the NFL to one of the worst. Even more sobering, if you take away the six sack game against a Washington team that had given up all hope at that point of the season and the three sacks that KC’s second string unit recorded in week 17 against the Chargers, that only leaves FOUR sacks in the remaining EIGHT games of the second half of the season. That’s half of a NFL season where KC was averaging just a half of a sack per game.

That’s not a pass rushing slump, that’s a MAJOR PROBLEM.

While it’s easy to blame that drop on the injury to Justin Houston who was having a brilliant season up until that point, that can’t excuse this problem by itself. As was already pointed out, the drop off began in week eight and Houston didn’t go down with his injury until week twelve. People also like to blame the drop off in the quality of QBs that KC faced. While that might help explain the 0 sack, 0 hit, 10 hurry performance against Peyton Manning in week eleven, it doesn’t explain an equally pathetic 0 sack, 1 hit, 10 hurry performance against Buffalo’s Jeff Tuel just one game prior. This isn’t a problem that can be blamed on an injury or the quality of opponent. This is a fundamental problem with KC’s pass rush as it was constructed last season.

Maybe it was that teams figured out what defensive coordinator Bob Sutton was doing.

Maybe it was that Houston and Hali were playing every single snap without ever coming off the field and mid way through the season they hit a wall.

I’m not smart enough to give you the exact reason, but I am smart enough to see that there was a MAJOR problem with the KC pass rush down the stretch. That is probably reason enough to explain why drafting Dee Ford made sense for KC, but there’s more.

One thing that also stuck out to me was an observation about head coach Andy Reid from back when he was first hired. I don’t remember where I read it, or who said it, but it was an observation that Reid’s Eagles teams were never really the same after the tragic loss of his defensive coordinator Jim Johnson. Johnson was considered one of the best defensive coordinators in the NFL and his specialty was attacking the opposing QB. So I went back and looked at Andy Reid’s career win/loss records and how they correlated to the pass rush production that season. Here is what I found:

In seasons where Reid’s defenses totaled 40 or more sacks on the season he was 96-47-1 for a winning percentage of 67.1%.

In seasons where Reid’s defenses totaled less than 40 sacks on the season he was 45-51 for a winning percentage of 46.9%.

To put those percentages into simplest terms, when Reid’s defenses got to the QB he averaged 10-11 wins per season. When they didn’t, he averaged 7-8 wins per season. So despite being known as an offensive guru, it appears that it’s the ability of his defenses to get after the quarterback that take his teams from being mediocre to playoff caliber.

So we now have two clear pieces of information.

1. KC had a major pass rush problem over the final ten games of last season.

2. Andy Reid teams have historically only succeeded when they consistently get after the QB.

These items are not really up for debate. This isn’t a matter of twisting statistics to say what you want. The Chiefs didn’t get to the QB for well over half the season last year. Andy Reid wins significantly more games when his defense is successful at rushing the passer. When you look at those two facts the selection of Dee Ford in the first round not only seems like less of a surprise, but it begins to become clear that this pick was not just about helping the Chiefs “down the road”. This is a pick that the Chiefs are hoping can help “right the ship” right now. This is a pick that they are hoping can help them recapture the dominance of the first seven games of last season when KC’s defense was being discussed amongst the best in all the NFL.

Will Dee Ford act as insurance in case of an injury to Houston or Hali? Of course he will.

Will Dee Ford allow KC to rotate Hali and Houston off the field to keep them fresh and more productive? Naturally.

Will the Chiefs find ways to utilize Ford, Hali, and Houston all on the field at the same time to keep offenses guessing and get more pressure on the QB? Yes, I believe so.

That is why drafting Ford is not just about replacing Hali in the future or simply drafting the top player on their draft board. Dee Ford is part of the solution to fixing arguably the biggest problem the Chiefs had over the final ten games of last season.

While drafting Ford may be the most headline grabbing move that KC made to improve their pass rush, it’s not the only one. I see two other moves as possible upgrades to the pass rush. One is replacing Tyson Jackson with Vance Walker. Over the past two seasons Tyson Jackson had 7 sacks, 1 QB hit, and 11 QB hurries combined. Over that same time span, Walker had 7 sacks, 7 QB hits, and 47 QB hurries. While the sack numbers are the same, the overall pressures are not. If you add the sacks, hits, and hurries together and divide the snaps they played by the total, Jackson averaged one QB “pressure” every 59 snaps. Walker, on the other hand, averaged one every 23 snaps. That’s a pretty significant upgrade. If Walker can apply pressure on the interior on a more consistent basis, it will only increase the production of the edge rushers as QBs are forced to escape the pocket right into the waiting arms of guys like Houston, Hali, and Ford.

The other possible upgrade to the pass rush that I can see is if KC can decrease the role of Allen Bailey and replace it with an increased role for Mike Catapano. If you look at Bailey’s production over the past two seasons he has totaled 1 sack, 3 hits, and 21 hurries. If you add those up and divide his total snaps played by the total he averaged one QB “pressure” every 25 snaps.

Side Note: While Bailey’s one pressure every 25 snaps compares favorably to Jackson’s number and is almost as good as Walker’s number, keep in mind that Jackson and Walker played in the base formation where they had run game responsibilities. Bailey, on the other hand, almost only played in the sub package where his only job was to get after the QB. The fact that Walker averaged more pressures while playing in base defense too, speaks well for Walker and not so well for Bailey.

Mike Catapano doesn’t have a ton of snaps under his belt after one season, but similar to Bailey, his limited snaps did typically come in pass rush situations. While Catapano’s total line of 1 sack, 2 QB hits, and 6 QB hurries doesn’t sound like much, the fact that he did that in under 100 snaps is significant. Catapano actually averaged a “pressure” of some kind once every 11 snaps. That is significantly better than Bailey. If Catapano can show improvement in year two (and has added a little more bulk) there is reason to believe that he could cement himself in the pass rush rotation and possibly send Bailey to the bench.

If you still aren’t convinced that improving the pass rush is vital to Kansas City’s success or if you are like me and find this kind of research interesting, I HIGHLY recommend reading the latest Pro Football Focus article by Nathan Jahnke, “Cumulative Effect: Hitting The QB”. For this piece, Jahnke took a look at how QB’s accuracy and interception numbers were effected by the number of sacks and hits that they took during a game. The quick answer is that their accuracy goes down and their interception rate goes up the more that they get hit. This means that those sacks and hits have an impact on the game that extends beyond the downs where they occur. I highly recommend reading the entire article to get the complete breakdown.

It makes sense that in the modern NFL where it is all about the quarterback, the next best thing to having an elite QB is having a defense that knocks those QBs off their game.

I believe that the additions of Dee Ford and Vance Walker and the possible increased role of Mike Catapano should give KC fans reason to be hope that the Chiefs can recapture the pass rush dominance of the first seven games of the 2013 season. Recapturing that defensive dominance would go a long ways towards getting KC back into the playoffs next season. In fact, after looking at this data, I would argue that recapturing that dominant pass rush will do significantly more to help KC than adding any free agent or rookie wide receiver could have.

That’s why the Kansas City Chiefs drafted Dee Ford.

That’s also why I don’t believe you’ll have to wait until 2015 to see the benefits of that pick.

As always, thanks for reading and GO CHIEFS!!!!!!!!!!!

Follow me on Twitter: @LyleGraversen

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