Houston and Hali lead Chiefs
By Eric Paolini
Did you know the Kansas City Chiefs had the largest margin of victory in Week 1? I had assumed (incorrectly) that it would have been the Denver Broncos under the idea that when you score 49 points, it's a pretty safe bet you have a large margin of victory. But after a few calculations, the Chiefs’ 26-point victory turned out to be larger than the Broncos’ 22-point victory. Even though the Chiefs put “only” 28 points on the board, their stingy defense didn't let Jacksonville score. (The Jaguars got their points on a blocked punt). Essentially, this is a roundabout way of saying the Chiefs’ defense was vital in Kansas City’s 26-point victory.
As I briefly mentioned earlier this week, the pass rush was the main reason the Chiefs’ defense was so successful. Kansas City got to Blaine Gabbert over and over and forced the Jaguars quarterback to have an awful day. Gabbert completed fewer than half his passes and only averaged a paltry 3.5 yards per attempt. Gabbert was also sacked six times. Only one other team – the Miami Dolphins -- got to the opposing quarterback that much.
Outside linebacker Justin Houston led Kansas City’s defense. Houston accounted for half of the Chiefs’ sack total. He was one of four NFL players to get three sacks in Week 1. On top of that, Houston hurried Gabbert three more times -- a number that left him tied for second through one week. This performance earned Houston AFC Defensive Player of the Week honors.
Houston was taken in the third round in the 2011 draft (70th overall). While other notable defenders from the draft get more attention (J.J. Watt, Von Miller, Aldon Smith, Patrick Peterson, etc), Houston has made a huge impact on the Chiefs’ defense. Combined with fellow outside linebacker Tamba Hali, they are one of the NFL's best pass rushing duos.
Hali and Houston not only get sacks, but they also get quarterback hits and quarterback hurries at a rate close to other top tandems over 2011-12. (I'm using only the last two seasons since Houston was in college in 2010, as were many other top pass rushers). Thanks to a superb 2012 season from Miller, Denver’s duo of Miller and Elvis Dumervil ranked higher in those three statistical categories. San Francisco's Aldon Smith and Ahmad Brooks also ranked higher mostly due to Smith’s 19.5 sacks a year ago. While Hali and Houston aren't quite on the San Francisco or Denver level, they are right behind them and grouped with the talented Dallas pass rush (DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer). I left out the Texans because Watt plays 3-4 defensive end, and while he’s superb, the Houston Texans’ outside linebackers aren't on the level of these aforementioned ones.
As an entire defensive unit, the Chiefs currently rank tied (with the Dolphins) for first in sacks and second (behind the Dolphins) in quarterback hits. This is partly because of talented defensive players. Houston made the Pro Bowl last season. Hali has been there three times and has been named to the AP’s second team All-NFL team. And for the Dolphins, their best pass rusher, Cameron Wake, has made two Pro Bowls and been on the AP’s first team and second team All-NFL team. But both pass rushes faced poor quarterbacks. Gabbert, and Miami’s opponents last week, Brandon Weeden and the Cleveland Browns, are both near the bottom statistically in terms of starting quarterbacks. That could help inflate the pass-rush numbers a bit. Lower-level quarterbacks aren't able to handle blitzes and pressure the same way the elite signal callers can. Even if facing one of the league’s lower-echelon teams, the fact remains Kansas City’s pass rush tandem of Hali and Houston is one of the best.
Amidst the much-deserved praise for respective third- year standouts Miller, Watt, and Smith, the Chiefs’ Houston may be a bit overlooked. The combination of Houston and Hali will certainly make opposing quarterbacks pay attention.