Chiefs outside linebacker Tamba Hali doesn’t have to be reminded about the first time he sacked Peyton Manning.
Or the second.
“Did I strip him?” Hali said, smiling, full well knowing he sacked and stripped the ball from Manning in a 2007 game at Indianapolis, only to see the then-Colts quarterback recover the fumble for a seven-yard loss.
Hali also sacked and stripped Manning in 2010 at Indianapolis, only to see Colts center Jeff Saturday pounce on the loose ball for a 4-yard sack.
The Chiefs lost both of those games to Manning, who is 9-1 in his career against Kansas City — including two wins last season in his first year with Denver. They realize the defense has to apply pressure on Manning if they’re going to have any chance at success in Sunday night’s game against the Broncos.
“Hitting Peyton, being able to put pressure on Peyton is all we look for,” said Hali. “He’s a great quarterback, so we want to impact him when we hit him … get him off-rhythm.”
The unbeaten Chiefs lead the NFL with 36 sacks, including 11 by outside linebacker Justin Houston and nine by Hali, who are bidding to become the first duo to record 15 sacks each in a season since Minnesota’s Chris Doleman and Keith Millard did it in 1989.
But Manning, because of his quick recognition of defenses and even quicker release, has been sacked just 13 times, second-fewest in the NFL this season.
“It shows he has an internal clock in his head,” Hali said. “It’s frustrating. You work hard, you work hard, sometimes you win the first battle, and the second one, but there’s not much to do about it because the ball is out.
“We know he doesn’t hold the ball. If he buys time, it’s rare you don’t see the pass completed. For us to put pressure on the quarterback is huge.”
While Manning has avoided many sacks, he’s still taken a beating behind a makeshift offensive line.
In the last two games, the Broncos have allowed six sacks, and Manning suffered a high ankle sprain when hit by San Diego’s Corey Liguet at the end of last week’s game, a 28-20 win over the Chargers.
When Indianapolis handed the Broncos their only loss of the season on Oct. 20, Denver allowed a season-most four sacks and tied season highs by allowing five hits on Manning and 10 hurries. Last week, San Diego delivered five quarterback hits and five hurries.
The Chiefs hope to take advantage of the offensive line woes that have left Manning a sitting target for pass rushers. Pro Bowl left tackle Ryan Clady, a longtime adversary of Hali’s, is out for the season with a Lisfranc injury and has been replaced by veteran backup Chris Clark.
Houston, who had two sacks of Manning in last year’s 17-9 loss to the Broncos at Arrowhead Stadium, will go against right tackle Orlando Franklin, who has been battling a sprained ankle suffered against Jacksonville on Oct. 13.
Until Franklin's injury, Manning fumbled once every 117 touches (pass plays plus runs). Since then, he's fumbled once every 38 touches.
“Those are the kinds of plays that can change the game,” Hali said of jarring the ball loose. “Any quarterback in a position of not knowing you’re coming, you’re going to have success getting the ball out. If they know you’re coming, they’ll tuck it.”
While the Chiefs have rolled up 36 sacks this season, 24 of them — or two-thirds — have come against inexperienced or rookie quarterbacks, not a future Hall of Famer like Manning.
“You’ve got to get pressure in his face,” said inside linebacker Derrick Johnson. “He doesn’t get flustered much. But somehow you have to affect him. Is it disguising by the defensive end or playing a certain coverage, or showing something and playing a different scheme?
“He’s not very mobile, and people haven’t gotten to him that much … but when you get there, you’ve got to do some damage.”
The Chiefs have managed just one sack in the last two games as Cleveland and Buffalo tried to steer clear of Houston and Hali by running the ball or throwing it quickly.
“We don’t care about the ball being thrown quickly as long as it doesn’t make a first down,” said defensive coordinator Bob Sutton. “Our ultimate objective is to get off the field. The sacks take care of themselves. The thing you’re trying to do is affect the quarterback. You’d love to sack him. That’s the ultimate objective. But the other part is you have to pressure him. You have to get close to him, you’ve got to move him, you’ve got to make him work at it.
“We’re not going to trick Peyton. But we have to be able to keep battling, and driving and fighting and get as close to this guy as we can as many times as we can and hope before the game is up, we’ve done enough to affect him. That’s the bottom line.”