Will the Kansas City Chiefs have an improved pass rush this year?
By Kody Latham
The Kansas City Chiefs are healthy with a reloaded defense. Are they ready to return to the ranks of the best pass rushing teams in the NFL?
For the first part of Andy Reid and Bob Sutton’s tenure, Kansas City Chiefs fans enjoyed a great defense. A major part of which was the great pass rush the Chiefs had been privy too with Tamba Hali and Justin Houston harassing quarterbacks from about everywhere on the line. Unfortunately for the Chiefs, age eventually caught up to Hali, and Houston suffered a freak knee injury when Ron Parker accidentally whipped his foot into it while making a tackle.
We are now a few years removed from Houston’s injury; he finally played in all 16 games for the first time last season. While Houston was not his 2014 self, he was still active at getting after the quarterback when he was tasked to do so. The problem is, Houston no longer has a running mate on the other side he can rely on to take some of the pressure off of him.
If we look back at the sack totals for the team before Houston got injured, and then after he was hurt, we can see a big difference. Starting in 2013, the Chiefs ranked sixth overall in sacks with 47, in 2014 they ranked fifth overall with 46, and in 2015 they ranked fourth overall with 47. Houston’s injury came during the 2015 season, in which he played in 11 games. In 2016, we see the sack total take a dive; they ranked 28th overall with only 28 sacks for the entire team. While Houston played in five games during the season, and still contributed four sacks for the team, things were not the same without having a healthy Houston and a young Hali.
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With Houston’s return last season there was hope among fans the pass rush could get back to being what it used to be. Dee Ford is no Hali, but he has shown the ability to put pressure on the quarterback, even if it isn’t very consistent. Ford instead went down early in the season with another back injury, which instead left Kansas City’s starting right outside linebacker as Frank Zombo. With Tanoh Kpassagnon trying to make the jump from Villanova, there was once again no one on the other side skilled enough to garner attention from opposing offensive coordinators.
For the upcoming year, things seem to be trending in the right direction. Kpassagnon showed some excellent development in week 17 against the Denver Broncos. Along with Ford returning from injury in a contract season, we should be expecting a career year for him as long as he stays healthy.
Kansas City also has hope in the form of Chris Jones, who has done an excellent job of applying pressure from the interior. Pressure from the middle of the line is something the Chiefs have missed since Dontari Poe was on the team. Jones also recently stated he wants to lead the NFL in sacks this year.
Finally add in this year’s second-round pick Breeland Speaks, who will most likely see limited action being the fourth outside linebacker on the depth chart, and you have a decent rotation at the position to keep guys fresh through the season.
Houston recently admitted he felt as if he was playing on one leg the past couple years and he feels like his knee is finally back to 100%. If this is true, then we could see the Houston of old return this year to once again wreak havoc on opposing quarterbacks, as long as he does not get dropped into coverage as often as he has the past couple seasons. With Sutton’s new willingness to move players around at the outside linebacker position, we should also see Ford have the same success he did in 2016 when he was rushing from the left outside linebacker spot.
With all the ingredients added together, there is a recipe here for the Chiefs to have an above average pass rush this upcoming season. As always this all rides on Sutton and whether he will try and manufacture more pressure this season now that the defense has gone through a significant retooling.