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.

Screen Shot 2014-05-25 at 11.05.10 PM

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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  • Pat Cannon

    This is the best article you’ve ever written Lyle.

    • Lyle Graversen

      Thanks Pat, much appreciated!

      • Nick the Kick

        Top notch analysis Lyle. I loathe the punditry that limits us to 2 edge rushers. It’s like saying it’s stupid to draft a third receiver or a nickel back, just lazy article writing typified by guys like Adam Tiecher. Keep up the great work.

        • berttheclock

          Mayock knocked us down because he didn’t understand the Murray pick. Pete Prisco didn’t like the Ford pick as he had touted wide outs.

          • mnelson52

            Prisc will never like anything the Chiefs do except maybe lose.

  • freshmeat62

    You are right on!!!
    Point 1 (which is really the 2nd point you brought up) – You are 100% on that it was the 8th game of the year when the pressure ended. Those 1st 7 games Hali and Houston were gang busters w/ their pressure. Occasionally, since they weren’t playing very good QB’s, the QB would get outside of contain and make a few yards by running. I can’t read Sutton’s mind, but I figured that was why in week 8, he called off the dogs, specifically Houston, and had him cross the line and then box in, stop his rush. He continued doing that against even good QB’s that can’t run, like Manning, Rivers, and the Chiefs were eaten alive. Then Houston got hurt, and there was no one to replace his attack skills.
    Point 2 – I was saying before the draft I thought they were aiming at either WR or front-7 pressure w/ their 1st rd pick. Before the draft, just going by what D&R did in FAgncy, and what was being done to build the team pre-draft, it looked to me that they had addressed pretty much everything except WR and a front-7 pass rusher. I know they picked up Walker, and he is supposed to be better at pressureing the QB, but I wasn’t sold that he was the answer. I think they thought that as deep as the draft was at WR, and there were some pretty good pressure guys in the draft, that they felt there would be an excellent chance that at 23, there would be one of those positions as BPA. Thusly Ford.

    • Lyle Graversen

      I really struggle to figure out what was going on with the Chiefs D. Why would Sutton stop attacking when it was working so well? Could he see that Houston/Hali were wearing down? Was it just really bad game planning? Were teams doing something on offense to nullify our rush and force our hand? Whatever the reason, it clearly wasn’t working so let’s hope that whatever the reason it’s fixed for week one of this coming season.

      • freshmeat62

        Like I said I can’t read his mind, but I think it was those few times that the QB broke contain, and made a few yards running, that maybe Sutton panicked and decided to put the brakes on Houston, and maybe Hali could pressure the QB into Houston. I think he was just trying to stop the QB’s from getting free. Pure speculation on my part.

        I specifically remember that game, seeing Houston stop his rush after getting across the line. He did it several times, and I was about to throw something thru my TV as I was yelling “why the hell did he stop?”.

      • mnelson52

        I think the problem was mainly in the D-line. The first part of the year they were collapsing the pocket, which forced the QB into Hali and Houston’s hands. In the second half when we played better offenses and offensive lines, the QBs were then able to step up in the pocket to avoid Hali and Houston. I know everyone got tired of me pleading my case daily to go pass rusher at #23, but I always believed it would benefit us more than a WR. I guess only time can tell now.

  • berttheclock

    Recently, one of our fans posted he didn’t think Dorsey took the BPA with every one of his six picks. I fully disagree beginning with Ford. I wanted Cooks for over two months before I realized how the defense had suffered late in the season, especially, in the 2nd half with the Colts. I give great credit to Dorsey for understanding what the Chiefs really needed to build this team. He concentrated on two areas, first, defense, and secondly, the offensive line. He hit a home run with Ford who will bring much needed speed and rest for others on defense. As Dorsey said, we need fresh legs in the 4th quarters of games. Dorsey just saw the BPA a little differently than Prisco and the so-called national pundits. Thankfully, he did.

    • Lyle Graversen

      Clearly I’m optimistic about Ford as well. I think he’ll be a difference maker right away.

  • berttheclock

    Dorsey zeroed in on 3 pass rushers in the draft. Two of them were taken high, but, Dorsey kept his eye on the 3rd who was Ford and would not trade down to pick up more picks because he was the Man he really wanted as a pass rusher. Staying at 23 paid off big time. Dorsey kept his eye on the prize.

    • Lyle Graversen

      Dorsey was quoted as saying that he thought Ford was the 2nd best pass rusher in the draft. I wonder if that means he thinks he’s a better pass rusher than Mack or if he just wasn’t a Clowney fan?

  • Josh Rose

    I agree that Ford was a great pick but will also give us leverage against Hali and his contract after the season. I believe Walker is a huge upgrade from Jackson bc he got those numbers with lackluster guys around him. Jackson did ok last year bc everyone had to worry about Houston, Hali, and Poe. I also think Ford was a great pick bc like Dorsey said he will give Houston and Hali fresh legs for the 4th quarter of games and down the stretch. With our defense being able to get more pressure and get off the field we will give them a rest and our offense more possessions to get more points. The team doing better overall will attract better free agents for years to come. I have been a Chiefs fan since I was 7 and Joe Montana was our QB and I have to say I like what Dorsey and Reid are doing right now and feel good about the future.

    • Lyle Graversen

      Great points, thanks Josh.

  • Chris Tarrants

    Ford should be a great addition to this team. After reading everything that you write I couldn’t help but think that you missed something. POE, big bad Dontari Poe should benefit from Walker, Catapano, and Ford all adding to the pass rush! This could be a front 7 that turns some heads this year and I’m not just talking about half the year. Commings is healthy which should also help free up Berry to come in on a few safety blitzes! The possibilities are endless and very exciting

    • Lyle Graversen

      I agree on Poe, he won’t really be a new addition to the pass rush, but you’re right that he should only benefit from having more help in the front seven.

  • berttheclock

    One major point missed by the national so-called pundits is the position of LB in the NFL is not a plug and play position. It requires a great deal of training. Bill Cowher did not want a just drafted LB to play for almost 3 years because he said that was the required learning curve time. Obtaining Ford this year will give the coaches far more time in developing Hali’s replacement.

    • Lyle Graversen

      That’s why I think this first year he’ll strictly be an edge rusher in passing situations. They’ll just let him use his pure speed off the edge and pin his ears back and go. Then he can work on the finer points of the position for next year when Hali is likely gone.

      • Calchiefsfan

        I remember Houston’s first year where they brought him along slowly. The final six games of the season he really started to come on. That was when we got a glimpse of his beast mode.

    • freshmeat62

      Just about everybody needs that 2nd year before they show their stuff. I remember Neil Smith’s 1st year, he did not look good. A lot of people were after his head. But that 2nd year he broke out and became an excellent DE. Of course it didn’t hurt him that Derrick Thomas was on the opposite side of the field that 2nd year. Even Thomas improved in his 2nd year.

      • berttheclock

        BTW, are you going to have your first BLT of the season, today? In our area, the night temperatures keep staying just below 50, so BLTs are a long way off.

        • sidibeke

          Had our first last night. Ah, summer.

  • berttheclock

    Bringing in Kyle Love to spell Poe should help to keep Poe fresh. Love’s best year in the NFL was in playing NT in a 3-4 for the Pats, where, they were able to move Wilfork to DE at times. Love could well be a major improvement over Powe. It appears moving to a 4-3 for both the Pats and the Jags hurt Love.

  • ladner morse

    Excellent, excellent article Lyle! I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and agree with your view that Ford improves the Chiefs defense now as much as later. I’m looking forward to seeing a passing D-alignment that includes Ford, Houston, Hali, Poe and Walker all on the field at the same time. The QB may not know who is going to drop into coverage and what if no one does? People usually look back and remember how great Derrick Thomas was but the reality is that there were many others (Neil Smith, Dan Saleaumua, Joe Phillips, Darren Mickel, Keith Traylor, Anthony Davis, and even Tracy Simien) who could pressure and sack the QB which often forced one man to cover DT. You’re article points to a return to that age where we — bring the masses and hammer at will.

    Super piece!

    • berttheclock

      Yes, those who complimented him. Joe Phillips. Reminds me of a visit to a local Lowe’s where a young lady met me at the door. I was wearing my Chiefs visor. She really smiled and told me how much of a Chiefs fan she was and it was due to Joe Phillips having been a member of her church. That was the year, her military husband bought tickets for the Niners game and took her back to Arrowhead to see the Chiefs beat the Niners.

    • micah stephenson

      They could line up in the 4-3 falcon. Poe and walker the DTs, Hali and Ford at DE, Houston up with his hand in the dirt ala D.Thomas’s falcon spot. You could still bring yo fastest db from the opposite side of the Falcon and still have man coverage on all options. That’s gon b one of my blitzes on the new Madden.

      • berttheclock

        What could be interesting is to see Love spell Poe at NT on occasion and, either, rest Poe or move him to DT in front of Houston. Now, would you like trying to block those two?

        • BWrangler

          That’s a lot of man flesh moving very quickly in a small space. I would not be a happy camper…

  • micah stephenson

    I’m glad you wrote this. I tried telling everybody the pass rush is MORE of a problem than the secondary. When any QB has all day to throw, the secondary can’t hold that long. If we got to the QB all those plays our dbs gave up don’t happen. Good job Dorsey on getting a pass rusher, CB, K/PR guy, and QBOTF in this draft!

    • berttheclock

      For once I agree with you, micah. Please don’t forget Fulton and LDT as they may see a great deal of action this season. They are working LDT at LG. Both Dorsey and Reid love to draft OTs and move them to guard.

      • micah stephenson

        I didn’t forget them, I was b n lazy and didn’t feel like typing about them. But yea great depth and mayby a future starter.

    • superman_25_58

      I agree but I also believe that Fulton and Tardif are going to help this team tremendously soon and in the future as well..Senior guard Zach Fulton ranked among the best interior linemen in the SEC and Tardif is a RAW exceptional talent that just needs to fine tune his technique. I think we may have just hit paydirt on everyone of our draft picks (that’s just not something I’m very used to) IMO.

  • berttheclock

    That photo above of Case Keenum getting smashed by Hali speaks volumes. In that game, Keenum had two fumbles, one of which was recovered by KC. Hali had 2.5 sacks with Houston joining him for half a sack in their “Preyer Meeting” atop Keenum. Johnson had a sack as did Flowers

  • Maria Marry

    No no I am not agree with that because http://bit.ly/1tFDwSM

  • Shannen Allison

    I can’t believe that how people do this goo.gl/fwuuZK

  • CrispySBC

    Great article Lyle. I was scratching my head when we picked Ford. I know I absolutely didn’t want us to pick Lee (we’ve got plenty of fast guys who drop easy passes.) When Ford was picked all I saw was the back injury and thought … oh oh a big gamble. After looking at his film I’m getting excited about his selection. As long as he stays healthy (whew after last year that’s asking a lot) we could really see our defense take a big step forward. Ford’s got talent and imo he’s a game changer. This just shows how lucky we are to have the dynamic duo .. Mr. John Dorsey and Coach Andy Reid. In a very short period of time they’ve turned our team around and are building one of the best rosters in the NFL. Great job Clark Hunt … you got it right hiring these two men.

  • Michael Shaw

    Very nice write up Lyle. Great read!! I also agree that he may show up sooner than later.

  • Bigtexjayhawk

    Love the draft pick and the analysis. It is great we have 3 excellent edge rushers. We also need to focus on pressure up the middle. Qbs hate that pressure in their face. I would love yo see more blitzes from different places on the field as well. Hate the drop 8 in coverage. Bring the heat!!

  • Reggie Flenory

    Goood article lyle i completely agree and been tellin people our lackmof pass rush left our defense exposed the second half of the yr and this yr with a harder slate of games we will need every bit of that moving forward