Wow, this week wasn’t a good one for the Chiefs on the injury front to say the least. First, our most dynamic playmaker was placed on IR, officially ending his season, and then we received word that Dontari Poe will be sidelined indefinitely with a dreaded high-ankle sprain. As the saying goes – when it rains, it pours, and boy is it pouring in Chiefs Kingdom.
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While losing Charles is undoubtedly devastating, the loss of Poe, while not ideal, is not the crippling blow it would have been in the past two seasons. There are two reasons I say this: the first is because it seems like Poe hasn’t fully recuperated from his offseason back surgery, and the second is because of the emergence of Jaye Howard.
Last season, Howard was a solid, if unspectacular, part of the Chiefs defensive line. This season it’s been an entirely different story; no matter which of the five games you turn on, Jaye Howard’s play will demand your attention. The first thing that jumps out at you when watching him is his quickness. During the game against the Bears last Sunday, Howard was constantly giving Chicago’s interior problems due to his ability to get off the ball so quickly. Take this play for example:
The thing that I immediately noticed on this play is how little distance there is between the center and Howard before the snap even reaches Cutler. This gives a huge advantage to Howard as it greatly reduces the leverage an offensive lineman can get over a defender. Howard’s ability to get off the ball quicker than any Chief defensive lineman is the single biggest trait the makes him such an effective run-stuffing force.
Continuing the play from above, we see Howard forced the center two yards into the backfield and is causing a major headache for the running back. Howard is able to disengage from his block, get a hand on the ball carrier, and help bring him down for no gain. Now that was a very Poe-esque play by Howard.
As I mentioned earlier, this wasn’t just a one-time thing, Howard was making a living in the Bears backfield on running plays (just look at the pictures below!). With Howard’s incredible quickness off the snap, the Chiefs run defense won’t suffer too much without Poe.
When it comes to the passing game, Howard flashed the ability to get to the QB on multiple plays. While he finished the game with only half a sack, there were a handful of snaps where Howard was half-a-step or a missed tackle away from recording a few more.
Let’s take a look at the sack that led to the defensive touchdown.
On this play, Howard’s first move is delivering a big swat to the blocker’s arms and then blowing by him on the inside. The move worked to perfection and Howard was past his man as soon as Cutler finishes his dropback.
Another lineman tries to clean up the mess but Jaye Howard is too quick and strong for him to get into a position to make the block. Howard was able to get to the quarterback, something we had a hard time doing the rest of the game, and helped force a fumble that would lead to the Chiefs’ first score of the game.
This shows the kind of impact Jaye Howard can have when he is able to get off his block with his first move. However, when his first move is stifled it is a very different story. If Howard’s first move is countered by the lineman, he has the tendency to become a non-factor on the play.
Now to be fair, Poe isn’t a pass-rush specialist either, but he doesn’t need to be breathing down the quarterback’s neck to make an impact on pass plays. When Poe isn’t able to get by his man, you often see him pushing the middle of pocket back due to his incredible strength. Howard doesn’t show that ability; he’s either forcing the quarterback off his spot, or a complete non-factor on that play.
Outside of that, I see Jaye Howard being a more than adequate replacement for Poe. In fact, given how Poe hasn’t played like his usual self all year, I don’t think there will be a drop-off at all at the nose tackle position. This week’s matchup against the Vikings and Adrian Peterson is a perfect chance to test that theory and see whether Jaye Howard is up to the task of being the main man in the middle for this Chiefs defense.