It’s been a sack challenged season for the Chiefs. Only four NFL teams finished with fewer than their 28 sacks this season, and it represents a low for the team in the Andy Reid era. There have been no sacks in the past two weeks.
Yet the Chiefs believe they are accomplishing the mission of the pass rush.
“The ability to make the quarterback move in the pocket has been huge for us,” Reid said. “They feel that heat, and they’re either moving backwards or sideways and they can’t get their feet set. That can be as important as a sack.”
Clearly as effective.
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In Sunday’s victory at San Diego, Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers threw an interception early in the second quarter when Chiefs safety Daniel Sorensen blitzed off the edge and forced a ball that floated into the opportunistic arms of cornerback Marcus Peters.
The Chiefs went ahead on the possession and never trailed.
A week earlier in the victory over Denver, the Chiefs hounded Trevor Siemian into an ineffective performance. Again, no sacks but five quarterback hurries, and the Chiefs improve a bit statistically in this category, ranking 21st in the NFL, according to sportingcharts.com.
But the best indication that the Chiefs are getting pressure without sacks is in takeaways.
The Chiefs lead the NFL with 33 takeaways. Their 18 interceptions and 15 fumble recoveries are league bests, and they’re tied with the Raiders in turnover margin at plus-16.
It helps explain how Chiefs have the third-best quarterback opponent rating at 79.8.
Still, sacks are defensive currency. Every defensive player wants one and fans love to see them. They tend to produce animated celebrations, like Dee Ford flashing five fingers twice, representing his uniform number.
“You always want sacks as a D-line,” tackle Dontari Poe said.
All eyes were on outside linebacker Justin Houston in 2014 as he approached the NFL single-season record and finished with 22, one-half of a sack short of matching the mark.
Houston might have had a big sack season this year but has missed 11 games because of knee issues. Houston has four sacks, including three in the game at Denver. Reid has suggested Houston will return for next week’s playoff game.
In Houston’s absence, Ford picked up the pace. He collected a big sack late in the season-opening victory over the Chargers and continued his emergence with two sacks at Oakland and 3 1/2 at Indianapolis.
Ford finished the regular season with a team-best 10 sacks, but he hasn’t had one since the Chiefs’ Nov. 13 victory at Carolina. To be sure, that was a big one. Ford and Chris Jones recorded sacks of Cam Newton on successive plays, which stopped a long drive and gave the Chiefs momentum.
The Chiefs haven’t recorded a multi-sack game since getting two in the Dec. 4 victory at Atlanta. Takeaways were huge in that game with safety Eric Berry returning an interception for a touchdown and a two-point conversion return for the winning margin in a one-point victory.
The bottom line is the Chiefs have made life uncomfortable for several quarterbacks, a practice they’ll need to carry into their AFC Divisional playoff game on Jan. 15 at Arrowhead Stadium.
“There are a lot of different ways to affect the quarterback,” Poe said. “Hits, hurries, pressures can have a big outcome on the game. We’ll just keep pushing to get those sacks.”
After Ford and Houston, Tamba Hali has recorded 3 1/2 sacks, Jones two and Poe 1 1/2 . That’s it for players with multiple sacks.
A year ago, when the Chiefs recorded 47 sacks, nine players had at least three.
“You would always like to have more sacks,” Reid said. “But the important thing is you’re getting more pressure and you don’t let them throw from a set platform.”