Do Chiefs need Justin Houston for playoff push?


Chiefs fans everywhere collectively inhaled when news started trending that star OLB Justin Houston had gone to Alabama to see a specialist about his knee. As reported by several outlets, Houston could potentially miss the rest of the regular season, meaning he’d be absent for what are essentially three must-win games in a tight AFC Wildcard race. The initial reaction was the same across most outlets: Houston missing games is bad for Kansas City.

The reasoning behind that thought process is simple enough to understand; Houston is one of the premier pass-rushers in the NFL, the 2014 NFL sack leader, and an absolute force to be reckoned with. Missing a player of that caliber for an extended period of time should certainly hurt a team, especially one that relies so heavily on a suffocating defense to win games in the midst of a tight race towards the playoffs.

That being said, I’d like to counter that line of thought with another one: not only will Kansas City be fine without Justin Houston for the rest of the regular season, but his absence will actually help the organization, in more ways than one.

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No, Justin Houston is not an easy player to replace. Houston has the ability to absolutely dominate games at times, and that tenacity earned him a landmark deal with the Chiefs last year to the tune of $101 million over six years. So, obviously with that much money invested in a player of that caliber, the Chiefs aren’t likely to outright replicate the talent Houston brings onto the field with depth players in his absence.

Still, the Chiefs have some options that can produce on the field when needed. Houston was injured against Buffalo three weeks ago, and left the game with zero sacks and zero QB hits. Tyrod Taylor stayed fairly clean all day, with Tamba Hali registering the Chiefs’ only sack of the game and Taylor only being hit four times in total. In Houston’s absence, Frank Zombo racked up two sacks against Derek Carr.

Playing for Houston last week against the Chargers, Dee Ford had a break out game, sacking Philip Rivers three times and defending the final pass of the game, sealing the win. In Houston’s absence, the Chiefs have still found success rushing from the right side of the line.

Therein lies the benefit of the Chiefs missing Houston for the final three games of the season. Kansas City has seen production from a number of players in Houston’s absence, and this trend should continue with Dee Ford and other depth players getting an opportunity to develop in meaningful games. This development will be key for these players, especially going into next season when the Chiefs are likely to lose a handful of stalwarts on that defense.

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  • In addition to benefiting the Chiefs from a developmental standpoint, resting Houston ensures he’ll be fresh coming into the playoffs, which is huge. Ultimately, Houston, for a number of reasons, hasn’t been nearly as effective this season as he was in 2014. A year ago, Houston racked up an impressive 22 sacks on his way to being the 2014 sack leader.

    This year, Houston has a mere 7.5 sacks to date, leading the team by only one sack, with Tamba Hali close behind at 6.5. It’s not fun to admit it, but Houston hasn’t really had the effect this year that many of us were hoping he would, and some added rest could help a rejuvenated Houston find his rhythm again in the playoffs, just when the Chiefs need him most.

    So, no, Justin Houston missing time will not hurt the Chiefs in their hunt for a playoff spot. His absence will not be the deciding factor in three games against subpar competition the Chiefs can and should easily outclass. As unexpected as it may be to say considering his performance a year ago, Houston missing some time to rehab right now may be mutually beneficial to both him and the Chiefs.

    Here’s hoping No.50 get’s well and finds some of that 2014 form. Take your time Houston and don’t worry about the race towards the playoffs; the gang will take care of that.