Justin Houston is quietly putting up another incredible season

KANSAS CITY, MO - SEPTEMBER 17: Outside linebacker Justin Houston
KANSAS CITY, MO - SEPTEMBER 17: Outside linebacker Justin Houston /

The Kansas City Chiefs employ one of the NFL’s most elite defensive players, but you might not even know Justin Houston is back.

There is only one game in this NFL season thus far that Justin Houston has not recorded at least one sack. In that lone game, he intercepted a pass and took it in for a touchdown.

Heading into this NFL season, if Kansas City Chiefs fans could have known just how well their best defensive player would be playing, they’d likely be ecstatic. For sure, Justin Houston would be predicted to be the talk of the town. As good as the Chiefs have looked since Andy Reid first arrived, the defense just isn’t the same without their most outstanding pass rusher.

Fortunately Houston is looking, well, Houston-ish once again in 2017. He has 5.5 sacks through the first five games, and that’s even as he’s being used in coverage much more than ever before. If anything, the 5.5 sacks are a bare minimum of what he could have, except that Houston is also showing an ability to defend the pass and the run in 2017, a well-rounded linebacker whose pass rushing skills just so happen to be elite.

Three years have passed since Justin Houston first set the franchise record with 22 sacks in a single season. Since getting seriously paid by John Dorsey, Houston has struggled to stay on the field for an entire year, dealing with ongoing knee issues during that time. In 2015, Houston had 7.5 sacks in 11 games, and he had another 4 sacks in 5 total starts last season. Even when dealing with the injury, Houston was still getting to the passer on a regular basis—just not a Houston-esque basis.

This year, however, Houston is showing up early and often for the Chiefs. In addition to his incredible ability to set the edge and defend the run, he’s becoming an emotional and vocal leader for the Chiefs—an important position given the lack of Tamba Hali’s presence on the roster and the loss of Eric Berry. Even more, Houston has come up big in several games when it matters most, coming alive in the fourth quarter to sack the quarterback when the Chiefs need to kill the opponent’s drive.

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Houston had his doubters ever since signing the big money deal, and that’s not surprising given the expectations. Many fans wanted the Chiefs to cut him or figure out how to part ways to avoid that sort of cap hit. But Dorsey signed the deal because when Houston is healthy, there are very few players in the NFL who can equal his impact. Even his peers recognize this. Just know that he was still voted No. 76 in the NFL’s top 100 players (conducted by player vote) in 2016 even after only playing five games.

At this rate, Houston is looking at another season of 15-plus sacks and what would likely be his fifth Pro Bowl nomination. Yet instead of hearing much about it, the attention is all on the offensive side—on the likes of Kareem Hunt, Alex Smith and Travis Kelce. All that is well and good since each of those players deserve their time in the spotlight, but there’s an eerie silence when it comes to coverage of Justin Houston’s comeback.

Whether or not the rest of the NFL is noticing, Chiefs fans should be talking all about it. It’s one of the reasons why the Chiefs have yet to lose and why they should expect to give every team hell between now and the end of the year.