KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The rest of the NFL is finally learning what we’ve known about linebacker Justin Houston since the Chiefs drafted him in 2011: He’s a major, disruptive force on defense.
Houston was selected the AFC defensive player of the week Wednesday, the second time already this season he has been so honored. Only one other former Chief — the legendary Derrick Thomas in 1991 — has ever received the honor twice in the same season.
And there’s no reason to believe Houston won’t get the honor again this season.
“He’s that good. Oh, yeah,” Chiefs offensive lineman Donald Stephenson says. “He’s becoming one of the best in the game.”
Houston received the honor this week for his 4 1/2-sack game against the Eagles and Michael Vick last Thursday. He also had seven tackles and forced a fumble.
Houston’s sack total now stands at a ridiculous 7 1/2 for the season, putting him on pace for — are you ready for this? — 39 1/2.
And yes, that would not only shatter the Chiefs record of 20 set by Thomas in 1990, but also the NFL mark of 22 1/2 set by Michael Strahan of the Giants in 2001.
Of course, it’s rather early to start making projections. But around the Chiefs’ locker room, no one is ruling anything out when it comes to Houston.
“He’s incredible,” quarterback Alex Smith says.
“Just so strong and quick,” center Rodney Hudson says, “that he could do anything.”
Chiefs coach Andy Reid simply nods and smiles when asked about Houston’s player-of-the-week award, again, this week.
“Very proud of him,” Reid says. “He’s deserving.”
Houston refuses to take all the credit, though.
“It’s a team effort,” he says. “When you got guys in the secondary covering guys all the time, that gives you time to get to the quarterback. You have Dontari Poe and Tyson (Jackson) and (Mike) DeVito pushing up the middle.
“Then you got Tamba Hali on the other side. That all helps. That frees it up for me.”
Opponents, though, have caught on that to hold off the Chiefs’ defense, you must first start by locating Houston, and then getting as many bodies on him as possible.
“You have to because he’s so hard to defend one on one,” Stephenson says. “He’s got such great hands. He just instinctively gets his hands inside of yours, and then you’re done.”
Yet Houston doesn’t think double-teaming him will be the long-term answer.
“I’ve had some guys chip on me, like fullbacks or tight ends,” Houston says. “But they can’t do that too much. We got other guys coming at you, too.”
Still, as his success becomes more noticeable around the league, Houston knows he will become a target.
“That might be true but still, we got other guys who can beat you, too,” Houston says. “I don’t think you can target one guy on this defense. Just not going to work.”
The next team likely to try will be the struggling New York Giants this Sunday at Arrowhead. And though the Giants are 0-3, Houston says they still are a dangerous team.
“Eli (Manning) is a great quarterback,” Houston says. “We know we have to put pressure on him.
“The Giants are a great team. The years they won the championship, they got off to a slow start, too. We know they can explode at any minute. We still have to improve.
“I still have to improve. And I will.”
Now, there’s a scary thought for opponents.
You can follow Jeffrey Flanagan on Twitter at @jflanagankc or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.