The Chiefs’ pass rush has been there all season.
Tied for the NFL lead in sacks with 52, with Chris Jones and Dee Ford ranking in the top 10 in that department and Justin Houston with at least one sack in the past five games, that department gets a check mark in ink.
But the Chiefs found their way to near to the bottom of the NFL rankings in total defense and points allowed because of failings on other categories.
For instance, the Chiefs led the NFL in total penalties and defensive penalties.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Kansas City Star
The reversal started two games ago.
In their regular-season finale victory over the Oakland Raiders and in divisional-round playoff triumph over the Indianapolis Colts, the Chiefs’ defense was flagged just once.
That’s among the reasons the Chiefs, entering Sunday’s AFC Championship Game against the New England Patriots, seemingly have turned the corner.
Defensive coordinator Bob Sutton is specific when he talks about the improvement.
“In the last couple of games, we’ve done three things,” Sutton said. “We’ve limited explosive plays, we’ve done a solid job of tackling — we’re in the six, seven, eight range in those games — and we’ve had one defensive penalty in two weeks.”
In other words, everyone is pitching in, not just the pass rushers.
It’s added up to one defensive touchdown allowed in the past two games, against the Colts. Excellent for a team that averaged 26.3 points (24th in the NFL) and 405.5 yards (31st) allowed per game during the regular season.
“All of those things have helped us ramp it up in the last couple of weeks,” Sutton said.
Explosive plays? The Colts’ longest was a 29-yard pass touchdown pass from Andrew Luck in the fourth quarter. The Raiders’ longest play went for 15 yards.
The Chiefs’ defense opened the Colts game with four straight three-and-out stands. The Colts didn’t collect a first down until their final drive of the first half.
The Chiefs’ offense maintained its pace in those games, scoring a total of 66 points, but they didn’t have to outscore opponents to win.
“We’ve caught on at the right time,” linebacker Anthony Hitchens said.
Other factors are at work. The Chiefs have shuffled their secondary, essentially benching cornerback Orlando Scandrick and Ron Parker, who was cut this week, and elevating Charvarius Ward and Jordan Lucas.
Now, safety Eric Berry, who missed most of the past two seasons after suffering a torn Achilles in the Chiefs’ 2017 opener, has returned to practice this week and could play on Sunday.
“We’d love to have him out there,” Sutton said. “He’s a great football player. Has tremendous energy, great leadership — obviously it would mean a lot to us.
“Eric has great speed, range — I think he’s our most physical player. So when you have those qualities you have a chance to affect the game. The one thing about speed on defense, it’s not always the plays you make, it’s the plays you prevent. He has that ability.”
Everything is seemingly coming together at the right time.
But the Chiefs face their greatest challenge yet on Sunday: a Patriots team that is playing in its eighth straight AFC Championship Game. New England won its regular-season contest against the Chiefs in a shootout, 43-40.
Oh — and quarterback Tom Brady, coach Bill Belichick and the Patriots have won five Super Bowls.
“You’re talking about a dynasty, if there is such a thing, in the National Football League,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “They’ve been that.”
True enough, but they’ll face a Chiefs’ defense that’s coming of its best two games, playing as well as it has all season.