The English language gets a bad rap for being ridiculously complex and illogical, but I’ll give it props here since it provides us with many ways in which to adequately describe the Justin Houston news. Heart-rending, tragic, devastating, woeful – take your pick, because they all fit.
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After taking some time to process this development, the question on everyone’s mind is, “how in the world do the Chiefs weather this?” The natural conclusion for many is that Dee Ford will simply have to step up in a big way. While that sounds all fine and dandy, his tape from 2015 leads me to believe that would be a fortuitous occurrence at best.
No, when it comes to replacing an elite talent like Houston, a single player is utterly incapable of doing so. Rather, each of the eleven men on the field will share this burden. But coincidentally, no individual will have a greater burden than the man pulling the strings from the sideline: Bob Sutton.
While Sutton has his infuriating moments of stubbornness (cough – Patriots game – cough), something he deserves credit for is being able to manufacture pressure regardless of his personnel. When you have Hali, Howard, Poe, Bailey, and Houston staring down an offense, not much manufacturing needs to be done. But, when you subtract the biggest and most consistent threat from the bunch, play-design becomes of the utmost importance.
2015 gave us a taste of life without Houston, and while that span didn’t see business boom at the sack factory, Sutton showed an aptitude for putting his guys in a position to pick up the slack. I want to breakdown two particular plays during Houston’s absence last season that really highlight Sutton’s ingenuity and offer some semblance of hope for 2016.
We’ll start with this gem from our Week 12 matchup against the Bills, on a 2-pt conversion attempt:
Pre-snap, we have: DJ, Tamba, and Abdullah (re-sign the man!) overloading the left side of the formation, and Zombo holding down the fort on the right.
The ball is snapped and the Bills run a QB rollout to that overloaded side. Sutton turns out to have the perfect play called to counter: Hali, Abduallah, and Devito do a great job of crashing down on that side of the line, effectively cutting off Tyrod (DJ went to cover the flat off-screen, in case you were wondering).
Now on the right side of the formation, notice how Poe and Howard aren’t trying to make their way upfield, rather, they are in somewhat of a holding pattern. As for Zombo, he’s spying the QB and is responsible for contain should Tyrod reverse field.
With the left-side collapsing, Tyrod does indeed reverse field. As we saw in the screen before, Howard and Zombo are in absolutely perfect position to snuff it out.
Sutton understood exactly what the offense wanted to do beforehand, and dialed-up a play to counter it flawlessly. No outstanding individual effort was needed here – Sutton put each Chief in a position to succeed, and the players simply did their jobs. That’s exactly the formula for getting by during Houston’s absence.
Let’s dig into the other play. This one came against the Raiders in Week 17:
The two guys to pay close attention to on this play are Dee Ford, on the left, and DJ, crowding the line of scrimmage ready to blitz.
A second before the snap, DJ drops back into his usual MLB spot and becomes less of a blitzing threat for the offensive line to consider.
What happens between Ford and DJ when the ball is snapped is a case of phenomenal execution, and perhaps even more so, masterful play design by Sutton:
- DJ starts to blitz from his position further away from the line.
- Ford does a wonderful job of setting the left tackle up to follow him towards the inside, leaving the edge exposed.
- The left tackle and left guard are caught off-guard by the blitzing DJ and fail to execute a clean pickup. By the time Ford is passed off to the guard, DJ is already turning the corner.
Now you’ll notice the Oakland running back is in the process of coming across the formation to clean up the left tackle’s mess. Well, Sutton accounted for that.
That’s right, Ron Parker is racing in from his slot corner position on the same side as DJ. Poor Latavius is left in a no win scenario – no matter what he does, Derek Carr is hitting the turf. Oh, and let’s not discount the fact that all of this is happening on Carr’s blindside, making it difficult for him to know he should probably tuck-and-run right about now. Sutton manages to wreak havoc with his best pass rusher sidelined, and his second best, Tamba, dropping into coverage. The man knows his blitzes.
Both the plays above are tremendous examples of how Bob Sutton goes about manufacturing pressure with the pieces available to him. And if Dee Ford does manage to make a significant leap over the coming months, it will make Sutton that much more effective. Like it or not Chiefs Kingdom, Houston’s injury vaulted Sutton to the top of the “Most Important Chiefs of 2016″ list. Time will tell if he can handle the pressure, but the film gives reason for cautious optimism.