New Chiefs linebacker Joe Mays will ultimately remember the Houston Texans’ 23-20 loss to the Seattle Seahawks last year as a major turning point in a season that went very, very wrong.
But when Mays, a former starter for the Texans, wasn’t battling the Seahawks’ potent offense, he occasionally got a long, hard look at the Seahawks’ much-ballyhooed defense.
And one thing he feels got lost in the hoopla surrounding their star-studded secondary is the ridiculous amount of quality depth they had on the defensive line.
“Fresh bodies, big bodies, guys that can move, run,” Mays said. “They’ve got a bunch of athletic guys in there, too. It’s a nice mixture.”
Mays watched four different Seahawks from a defensive line that went nine deep get sacks against Houston’s offense, which became a common occurrence for opponents last season as Seattle tied for eighth in the NFL in sacks, with 44.
The Chiefs finished with three more sacks than the Seahawks did last season, and only three fewer overall takeaways (36). But Seattle’s defense was clearly superior.
The Seahawks’ 43-8 win over the Broncos in the Super Bowl provided a stark contrast to how the Chiefs fared against Denver, giving up a combined 62 points in two games to their AFC West rivals.
Chiefs general manager John Dorsey paid close attention to the Seahawks’ defense versus the Broncos. And he came away with the same conclusion.
“They’ve got pass rushers in all the different lanes,” Dorsey said.
The Seahawks had nine different defensive linemen or pass rushers play at least 145 snaps last season. More impressive, all but one of them — defensive end Chris Clemons, now with the Jaguars — earned positive season grades from Pro Football Focus, ranging from 2.6 (Clint McDonald) to 30.7 (Brandon Mebane).
The Chiefs had six pass rushers who played a minimum of 145 snaps log positive overall grades last season, but only three — nose tackle Dontari Poe and outside linebackers Justin Houston and Tamba Hali — had positive pass-rush grades, compared to a whopping seven for Seattle.
“They’ve got a good secondary there in Seattle, but they’ll be the first to tell you it starts up front to put pressure on,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “I’ve seen that from our guys here.”
Poe, Houston and Hali make for a strong pass-rush foundation.
But Dorsey worked hard to add to it this offseason, signing end/tackle Vance Walker to a three-year, $13 million contract to help as a rotational pass rusher and drafting speedy outside linebacker Dee Ford in the first round to bring some heat off the edge.
Throw in a solid run-stuffing veteran like end Mike DeVito, and a trio of developing youngsters with pass-rush ability and upside in outside linebacker Josh Martin and ends Mike Catapano and Jaye Howard, and the Chiefs hope to pull off a reasonable impression of the Seahawks’ front-line depth this season.
“That’s what I’m hoping,” Dorsey said. “Can’t have enough good ones.”
Defensive coordinator Bob Sutton said the improved pass-rush depth could be crucial for a defense whose established stars played a mountain of snaps. Poe (1,004), Hali (970) and Houston (724) all played far more than Michael Bennett (610), who racked up 8 1/2 sacks as Seattle’s best pass-rusher.
“Obviously it would give us the ability to rotate, which is really valuable because it gives us a chance to re-gas up a little bit and get ready to go,” Sutton said. “I really think it will be a positive thing for us.”
The Seahawks’ defensive-line depth was a major reason for their Super Bowl run last season. Here’s how their top nine interior linemen/pass rushers last year compare to the Chiefs’ projected top nine this year, according to Pro Football Focus.
DE Michael Bennett
DE Chris Clemons
DE Cliff Avril
DT Clint McDonald
DT Brandon Mebane
DT Tony McDaniel
OLB Bruce Irvin
DT Red Bryant
DT O’Brien Schofield
DT Dontari Poe
OLB Tamba Hali
DE Vance Walker
OLB Justin Houston
DE Allen Bailey
OLB Frank Zombo
OLB Josh Martin
DE Mike Catapano
DE Jaye Howard