Pass rush goes quiet again
Steve Spagnuolo’s game plan, generally, was to make Tom Brady uncomfortable. The Chiefs defense got more blitz heavy as the game went on, incorporating numerous safety and corner blitzes to frazzle Tampa’s signal caller. The Chiefs defense forced a couple turnovers, and for the most part, played solid coverage on Tampa’s gauntlet of receivers. Anthony Hitchens, I thought, turned in his best game of the year making numerous key tackles on short throws and even getting a couple hits on Brady.
The edge rushers, however, were quiet. Frank Clark and Alex Okafor combined for two QB hits and 4 tackles, but neither really made their presence felt. Clark committed two costly roughing the passer penalties on a key drive late in the game, which gave the Bucs new life. Last week against the Raiders, the entire Chiefs defense combined for a single QB hit on Derek Carr and failed to register a sack. The Chiefs sit at 21st in total sacks as a team on the year.
So, what’s going on? Well, the Chiefs certainly miss Emmanuel Ogbah. Ogbah signed with the Dolphins this offseason, and currently has 8 sacks on the year for Miami. Hindsight is 20/20 on Ogbah, and it seems like he was an underrated feature of last year’s defense. Either way, very few, if any, were critical of Veach for not re-signing Ogbah.
The fact that the Chiefs miss Ogbah’s presence illuminates the struggles of the Chiefs’ edge rushers. Any conversation about the Chiefs pass rush is going to cover Frank Clark, so it’s worth starting there. I want to be clear here: Frank Clark is a starting-caliber edge rusher in the NFL. He’s as skilled an edge rusher as the Chiefs have. But I think Chiefs fans, including myself, get caught up in a bit of a fallacy regarding Clark.
Clark is the fifth highest paid edge rusher in the NFL. Clark’s contract implies some inherent value. A man who is paid more than Von Miller and Cameron Jordon is expected to produce at similar rates to those players, so it’s natural to expect a lot out of Clark, as he’s quite literally paid to do a lot. But his production this season, and the pass rush as a whole, is a team weakness. Inking Clark to a large deal doesn’t automatically fix the pass rush. Just because you allocate a lot of resources on one thing doesn’t mean those resources will automatically reap rewards.
Just the same, though, you can have an earnest conversation about the Chiefs defensive ends without branding Clark a “bust.” While the defensive ends have struggled, so too has the defensive line in run defense.
The Chiefs might want to consider an early-round investment on an edge rusher this draft. Clark, KPass, and others simply have not gotten after the QB enough. Acknowledging a weakness is a way to guide your focus for the future.