The Chiefs beat the Broncos Monday night, and that’s cool for a lot of reasons, from avoiding a third straight loss to now having twice as many wins as anyone else in the AFC West. The Chiefs needed this. For confidence, for seeding, for everything.
But the best development for the rest of the season is that Justin Houston looked like Justin Houston again, and finally.
Houston had two sacks, his first in 22 days, and was a consistent problem for Denver no matter where he lined up.
It was not just the pressure, though, but how he looked.
The last two weeks he’s looked rigid and slow, losing tight ends in coverage and stonewalled by tackles while pass rushing. It’s not a coincidence he’s been on the injury report, first with a calf spasm and last week with a knee ailment. That may have been more cautious than significant, but it came after two straight weeks where it looked like a forgettable mid-level vet was wearing Houston’s No. 50 jersey.
This was Houston. After two straight weeks of mostly just bull rushing, he was gliding around the edge again, bending at the turn, the sign of all great edge rushers, wrecking anything other than quick passes when he wasn’t getting all the way home for the sack.
If there was a concern, it’s that he was much more effective in the first half than the second. At least on first glance, that had more to do with Denver adjusting with extra blockers and passes that took his rush out of the play, but still. Something I want to watch again before going all in.
You may or may not be sick of me talking about Houston’s health, but he’s finished just one of the last four seasons healthy, and particularly with Eric Berry out, Houston’s best is the biggest single factor in whether the Chiefs defense can hold up.
Eleven days of rest surely helped, and after this weekend’s game at Dallas, he’ll have two more weeks.
Houston’s form makes it obvious how important his health is, and by extension how important a playoff bye and keeping him fresh in the season’s second half will be.
▪ Want to do this here at the top, because it’s bound to be overlooked otherwise, but Mitchell Schwartz was great. Lined up against Von Miller most of the night, and how much did you notice Von Miller?
Schwartz has made his reputation largely by his performances against Miller and some of the other top edge rushers, and he’s had some moments of inconsistency, but he’s mostly been very good here.
Most of the talk about the Chiefs offensive line has focused on the interior, and the injuries there, and that’s all understandable. But Schwartz has been really, really good.
▪ Not to pile on, because the young lad could use a hug, but Trevor Siemian is a bad quarterback who had a really bad night. All three of his interceptions were horrendous throws, and there were others badly misfired. The Broncos’ first drive ended when he missed badly on a target short of the first down marker.
Siemian was, in other words, exactly what the Chiefs needed after what happened in Oakland.
The schedule lightens up going forward, too. Just three of their final eight opponents are in the top half in offense, and just three have a winning record. None are as good as the Patriots, Steelers, or Eagles.
▪ If you didn’t watch Jamaal Charles’ fumble be returned for a touchdown and immediately think it was the second straight Chiefs-Broncos game he’d won for the other side, well, then you’re a better person than me.
▪ Also: Chiefs still have problems against the run. Big problems. Some of it is personnel, some of it is scheme, some of it is execution. “We all have a piece of it,” Andy Reid might say.
At least on first glance, it looked mostly like personnel here. I didn’t see as many missed tackles as last week, or in recent weeks. Just big gaps in the middle of the field, Derrick Johnson not getting around blocks, that kind of thing.
I don’t want to say much more about the details until I’m able to watch again, but we’ve known this was a problem since before the season started.
▪ All that said, the Chiefs did make some plays against the Broncos. Peters’ strip of Charles was smart, because it didn’t risk extra yards, and he must’ve seen the opportunity.
The interception was more on Siemian’s failure than Peters’ success, but still, Peters had to be there and aware enough to look for the ball.
Terez made this point and it’s a good one: Berry is a tremendous playmaker, with a knack for big tackles and forcing turnovers. With that element gone, it’s doubly important for the other two primary playmakers on defense — Peters and Houston — to do their thing.
▪ I think we all knew the Chiefs’ first interception of the season would be thrown by Tyreek Hill, right?
That was a weird moment. Andy Reid’s play calling was mostly terrific, that blend of quickness and diversion and presenting more options than the defense can cover. But up 14, in the red zone, early in the game I’m just not sure the purpose of calling a trick play like that.
I get that Reid likes to do this against division opponents — Hungry Pig Right and Tebow Pop Pass were both in the division. But maybe keep that one in the holster until you’re just going for style points.