For the first time since they traded Jared Allen in 2008, someone other than Tamba Hali led the Chiefs in sacks last season. Justin Houston edged him out with 10 sacks, one more than Hali.
Hali isn’t ready to concede his team title permanently, but didn’t sound confident he would get it back this year, either.
“I love getting sacks and we’re going to compete on that note,” Hali said. “As an athlete, I can’t compete with the kid. He’s that much better.”
The Chiefs are planning to have many more sacks to go around this year. They had just 27 last year, fewer than all teams except Oakland, Jacksonville and Tampa Bay.
The result of their inability to get consistent pressure on the quarterback was that the Chiefs were last in forcing turnovers with a feeble 13. The idea behind the defensive system of new coordinator Bob Sutton is to get after the quarterback and force the opponent to cough up the ball more frequently.
“I don’t want to put numbers on it but, yeah,” Hali said when asked if the Chiefs would put the opposing quarterback under more pressure than they did last season. “With the type of thing coach Sutton is doing with our entire defense, yeah. From cornerbacks to safeties to linebackers, we’re coming. We can get a lot of sacks. They don’t have to be (generated) by Justin and I and some inside guys. Everybody’s got to contribute to putting pressure on the quarterback.
“These (coaches) came from systems where they attacked. Nothing against our old system but there wasn’t attacking. We’re looking forward to this defense because (it allows the Chiefs) to attack, shoot gaps and push guys back and make plays.”
Houston and Hali combined for more than two-thirds of the Chiefs’ sacks last year. Pressure in offseason practice is coming from every conceivable angle, a sign that others will be asked to chip in to a much greater extent.
“It’s aggressive, an attacking style of defense,” linebacker Derrick Johnson said. “I love it, doing a lot of different things as far as blitzing, covering different receivers, covering tight ends at times.”
Even the cornerbacks occasionally get in on the fun. Brandon Flowers was the first to the quarterback on one play in a recent practice.
When he’s not blitzing, pressure should make Flowers’ job simpler.
“We’re coming to get the quarterback every play,” Flowers said. As a defensive back, we love it. The less time the quarterback has, the more fun we have in the back end.
“We’re trying to give the quarterback different looks. We don’t want anybody to think they know what we’re doing on the snap of the ball on any play.”
Hali led the AFC in sacks with 14 1/2 in 2010 and his numbers have been sinking since. He had 12 in 2011 and nine last year.
Hali won’t be 30 until November, so his best pass rushing days shouldn’t necessarily be behind him, at least not according to the calendar.
But Hali may not get as many pass rushing chances as he used to, particularly if the Chiefs continue to blitz from the secondary or other linebacker spots. Hali has been almost exclusively a rusher on passing plays in recent years but could be asked to drop into coverage more frequently.
“Some of our players are doing things they’re not used to,” he said. “From a team standpoint, it’s good. It’s beneficial and it helps everybody makes plays.
“I’ve got to be a team player and do what I love doing, yet do what they ask me to do. If that’s to drop in coverage, I’ve got to continue to do that, too, and be an all-around outside linebacker.”
Houston, meanwhile, is headed the other way and appears to be the foundation of the Chiefs’ pass rushing future. After getting off to a slow start as a rookie in 2011, he finished that year with 5 1/2 sacks in the final five games.
He then hit double-digits last season, the first Chiefs other than Hali to get to that level since Allen was traded. Houston reached the Pro Bowl last season in addition to Hali.
“No prediction,” Hali said when asked what Houston is capable of. “The kid is talented. If you put him in the role I was in two years ago, just to rush the passer, you know … he’s strong. He can put four plates on each side (of a barbell) and rep it six times. I can’t do that.
“He’s strong, he’s quick and he’s fast. The kid is good.”