There were plenty of reasons to keep an eye on the Chiefs’ pass rush Sunday. A big one was the absence of star outside linebacker Justin Houston. Another was the starting debut of 2014 first-round draft pick Dee Ford.
When the Chiefs took Ford with the No. 23 overall pick that year, they already had two strong players — Houston and Tamba Hali. But they took Ford anyway because they believed in his talent and his quick first step, and thought that a team can never have too many pass rushers.
Sunday’s game — a 34-20 win at Oakland — showed why. With the Raiders, who led 20-14, driving early in the fourth quarter, a swarm of rushers pressured quarterback Derek Carr to step up into the pocket, and Ford tackled him. The ball fluttered out of Carr’s hand and was intercepted by Josh Mauga, who returned it 66 yards to set up a touchdown that tied the game.
It was the only tackle Ford recorded all day, and the only hurry as well. But it was a big one.
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“Just have to rush, just have to rush,” Ford said when asked about the play. “It’s not going to be pretty, you just have to rush, you have to rush. And especially pairing me and Tamba, Justin, Dontari (Poe) and all of us. When you’re playing good rushers, the ball is going to come out quick, or he is going to try to make a play. It’s up to us to make that play and keep rushing. That’s what that was. I just kept rushing.”
Carr inadvertently affirmed all this after the game when he explained how the interception came to be.
“I was just trying to make a play,” Carr said. “Seth (Roberts) popped wide open, did a great job. I was going to throw it to him, and I got hit when I went to throw it to him.”
When asked how Ford fared Sunday, Hali noted the big play as a highlight.
“Dee did well. He forced the (interception),” Hali said. “With his speed, that’s why I’m sure we brought him here.”
Chiefs coach Andy Reid said afterward that Ford did “some nice things” despite a sparse stat line.
“He got a lot of snaps. A couple of those situations and sacks he ended up causing just by his rush,” Reid said. “Even though he wasn’t the guy that was declared the guy that made the sack, he was able to get that collapse on the offensive tackle. I thought it was a great experience for him.”
Reid was also asked how Ford played the run, an area Ford has been looking to improve upon.
“You know what? I thought he did pretty good, actually,” Reid said.
The Chiefs recorded four sacks on the day and hit Carr six times. Two of those sacks were the result of effective blitzes by defensive coordinator Bob Sutton, with inside linebacker Derrick Johnson getting one and safety Daniel Sorensen getting the other.
Meanwhile, the two other sacks came in the waning seconds with the Chiefs leading 34-20 from backup outside linebacker Frank Zombo, who received a verbal pat on the back from Reid on Monday.
“Six plays, two sacks — not a bad ratio,” Reid said.
Zombo, 28, is a six-year veteran who is an integral special teams contributor, but he also brings experience to the fold. He was a starter during the Green Bay Packers’ 2010 Super Bowl run.
But when asked whether Zombo has earned more playing time with his solid late-game performance — provided Houston doesn’t return from his knee sprain this Sunday against San Diego — Reid backed Ford, who needs these live, in-game reps as he attempts to hone his pass rush and make the conversion from a 4-3 defensive end with his hand in the ground, which he played in college, to a 3-4 outside linebacker in a two-point stance.
“I would tell you that Dee would probably be the guy,” Reid said. “I haven’t got that far on it, but I would probably tell you that. But we have full confidence in Zombo playing. That’s not a big deal to rotate him in there.”
If Houston indeed can’t play again this week, Ford should be ready. He mentioned after Sunday’s game that it didn’t take him long to start feeling comfortable in his first NFL start.
“It was after the first drive. They (the Raiders) threw some things at us, and we adjusted to them,” Ford said. “But for the most part they did everything we knew that they were going to do, just a couple things different. For the most part, I felt comfortable.”