KANSAS CITY, Mo. — When he gazes across the line on Sunday, Raiders quarterback Derek Carr will see one of the most dominant defenses in the NFL over the past month of the season.
He may not be seeing one of the game’s most dominant players.
Chiefs pass rusher Justin Houston is day to day with a hyperextended left knee, team trainer Rick Burkholder said Wednesday. And while the injury is not as serious as initially feared, it is possible that the All-Pro pass rusher will miss the matchup between AFC West rivals.
"I always want to compete against the very best, and he’s one of the best players in this league," Carr said. "If he plays, I look forward to playing against him."
Houston, who signed a $101 million deal in the offseason, was hurt during last weekend’s win over Buffalo when a teammate accidentally leg-whipped him while chasing a play. Houston lay on the ground for several minutes before he was helped to the sideline and into the locker room.
Despite facing constant double teams after piling up 22 sacks a year ago, Houston has still made it to the quarterback 7 1/2 times this season. He even returned an interception for a touchdown.
"He’s made big improvements here over the last two days. That’s a positive thing," said Chiefs coach Andy Reid, who remains hopeful Houston will be back soon. "We’ll just see how he does."
The Chiefs (6-5) have ridden a five-game winning streak right into the playoff mix in part because of their defense, which has allowed just 290 yards per game during the streak. That’s the best in the NFL ahead of division rival Denver and unbeaten Carolina.
They’ve also proven to be an opportunistic defense.
After intercepting six passes all of last season, the Chiefs have already picked off 14 passes this season. Two have been returned for touchdowns, including Houston’s against San Diego.
"This is the ultimate team game. So when we were struggling, the offense came through for us," Chiefs linebacker Derrick Johnson said. "It’s time this year where we need to step it up."
Even if it means covering for key players who might be hobbled by injuries.
"We fight together. We’re a family," Hali said. "We pride ourselves on calling each other family. We break our huddles saying, ‘Family.’ So when our guys go down, the next guys have to be ready."
If Houston is unable to go, the next guy up would be Dee Ford.
The second-year linebacker was starting to show why Kansas City made him a first-round pick when he tweaked his back during pregame warmups in San Diego. He was scratched for that game, and held out of last week’s 30-22 victory over the Bills, though he was back at practice this week.
"He worked his way in there quite a little bit before he got hurt," Reid said.
Still, there is a big difference between Carr having to stare down Ford — with his 1 1/2 career sacks — and Houston, who is second only to J.J. Watt with 56 sacks since he entered the league.
"It’s one of those things, next man up," Johnson said. "You have to come in and respond."
Notes: The Chiefs put OG Ben Grubbs (neck) on IR and signed OG/C Daniel Munyer. They also added OL Reid Fragel to the practice squad. … C Mitch Morse and WR De’Anthony Thomas (concussion) did not practice Wednesday. Morse was hurt last Sunday against Buffalo. … S Eric Berry missed practice for a routine checkup in Atlanta following his treatment for cancer. "It’s been in the planning for months," Burkholder said. "Nothing out of the ordinary."