When the Kansas City Chiefs lost Jared Allen to the Minnesota Vikings via trade, the team lost its best pass rusher and have struggled ever since to get at the passer. Tamba Hali's emergence as one of the best in the NFL has been a welcome surprise of the last couple of years, but it's also clear he needs a lot of help. The Chiefs currently rank last in the NFL in sacks with 13 as a team, and the next team is the Buffalo Bills with 16. For some perspective, the Ravens have 38 and the Texans have 35 and Mario Williams has been out for the last several games.
It's been clear for a while now that the Chiefs have to develop a counterpart for Hali, since the talented OLB is often held on plays and doubled in blocking schemes. Justin Houston, the Chiefs' third round selection in April's NFL Draft, was chosen for that very reason. Houston had 10 sacks last season for the University of Georgia, and his 18.5 tackles for loss was a big reason for the Chiefs belief in him.
This year, however, he's been slow to adjust. He's often been beaten at the point of attack and has struggled to shed blockers. Yet given enough experience in the opposite OLB slot from Hali, Houston is finally growing into a solid player. Pro Football Focus noticed his performance this week and came away impressed:
We’ve come to expect Tamba Hali (+2.8) to produce the goods, but KC have been lacking an impact rusher on the other side of him. Having failed to achieve a grade in the green for his pass rushing before this game, I won’t be crowning Justin Houston (+4.6) the savior just yet, but this performance was as encouraging, as it was complete. Houston picked up a pressure and a batted pass to go along with four defensive stops, while adding another hurry and a QB hit on plays that were called back because of penalties. The rookie also had a lot of success against Heath Miller in the run game, highlighted by how easily he shed the block of Miller to make a tackle for a loss with 5:14 left in the game. A breakout game? Time will tell.
Thus far, Houston has 32 tackles and 0 sacks. Yet it's clear he's starting to turn things around. Here's hoping Houston continues to develop and gain his first NFL sack against the Bears.