Pass rush could be pivotal in Chiefs’ quest to keep Houston’s Watson in check
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — In the Kansas City Chiefs‘ regular-season finale, that must-win game against the Los Angeles Chargers that helped them secure a first-round playoff bye, there was a play late in the third quarter that caused Andy Reid to laugh.
The Chiefs’ coach watched from the sideline as Terrell Suggs, their recently acquired ageless wonder, dominated the woebegone offensive tackle assigned to block him and put some pressure on Philip Rivers. The Chargers’ quarterback moved in the pocket right into the arms of Frank Clark, the Chiefs’ other defensive end, who cleaned up the sack.
“He was right there to take him,” Reid said, “and then 55 got the sack. He could’ve just gone, ‘Well, you know.’ But he laughed about it. He goes, ‘Man, I worked all of this through and my man here gets the sack? Well, good for him.’”
Good for the Chiefs, too.
The late-season addition of Suggs has only helped a Kansas City pass rush that had been humming along most of the season, and one that could prove pivotal in its divisional round matchup against Houston. The veteran of 18 postseason games has helped to cover for the loss of Emmanuel Ogbah and Alex Okafor to season-ending injuries, and he proved with that pressure of Rivers — and a sack later in the game — that he can still get after the quarterback.
That might not bode so well for the Texans, who gave up an astounding seven sacks to the Buffalo Bills in their overtime victory in last weekend’s wild-card round. Not only that, quarterback Deshaun Watson was hit 12 times.
Now, the Bills have one of the best defenses in the AFC, and their 44 sacks this season put them just outside the top 10 of all teams league-wide. But flying under the radar and just ahead of them in the pecking order was Kansas City, which piled up 45 sacks despite losing many of its most important players for long chunks of the season.
Defensive tackle Chris Jones missed three games but still led the way with nine sacks. Clark was next with eight, even though he was out for a couple of games and hobbled in several more. Obgah and Okafor combined for 10 1/2 sacks before torn pectoral muscles ended their years, and linebacker Anthony Hitchens likewise spent a game recuperating from injuries.
No wonder Texans coach Bill O’Brien was blunt this week in his assessment of his pass protection.
“We have to be better,” he said. “There’s a lot of keys to that. At the end of the day it comes down to communication, everybody being on the same page, how they see the defense. Our system is very quarterback-centered, obviously — quarterback driven — so we’ve all got to be on the same page with how he sees it, and we’ve got to do a much better job. Deshaun’s involved, the line’s involved, the receivers are involved, the tight ends, the backs. Everybody’s involved.
“It’s not one guy, it’s not one position,” O’Brien said, “and we all have to do a better job of coaching it and then we have to have a really good week because the Chiefs, they do a lot of things that you’re going to have to be ready for.”
Indeed, the Chiefs have become known for using a variety of coverages, personnel groupings and defensive packages. But perhaps the most impressive thing about their ability to rush the passer is that they often do it out of their base defense, and that means they don’t need to rely on risky blitzes to beat the offensive line.
While the Chiefs were among the best in terms of sacks, they blitzed a middle-of-the-road 29.1% of the time.
Now, it bears mentioning that the Chiefs never managed to sack Watson when the teams met in Week 6, and Houston rallied for a 31-24 victory at Arrowhead Stadium. And while the Chiefs were missing a slew of injuries to starters, that seems to have given Watson some confidence that Houston can better protect him than it did last week.
“If we’re all on the same page and execute and understand each situation and see it through the same set of eyes, we’re tough to stop. That’s what we’ve got to do on a consistent basis,” he said, “and we’ve got to continue to fix that throughout the week, starting today, and then in the meeting rooms and even outside of the stadium and the facility. We’ve still got to communicate and watch film and try to build that chemistry and see it through the same set of eyes.”
Otherwise, all Watson could be seeing Sunday is the sky as he looks up from his back.
NOTES: Chiefs TE Travis Kelce went through stretching and individual drills that were open to reporters Thursday. He had been limited in practice Wednesday with a knee injury. … Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy went through several head coaching interviews for the second straight year but has yet to land a job. The Cleveland Browns, who interviewed him, are still seeking a coach. When asked whether he thinks the Rooney Rule works, Bieniemy replied: “I had an opportunity to interview, OK? That should say it all.”