Chiefs

Okafor’s sack for Chiefs was a highlight in game without many, but return was victory

Highlights were few for the Chiefs in their 17-7 loss to the Steelers on Saturday in Pittsburgh in their second preseason game.

Maybe it was the hour delay as the game waited out a storm. Or that the teams went to their reserves quickly, and the Steelers played the second straight game without starting quarterback Ben Rothlisberger.

But for at least one Chiefs player, getting back to action felt like a triumph.

Alex Okafor suffered a hip injury earlier this month in training camp at Missouri Western and missed a week. The Chiefs played it safe and kept him out of last week’s opener.

Against the Steelers, Okafor started at defensive end and made an impact by recording the Chiefs’ lone sack, dropping Mason Rudolph for five yards on a third-and-7 on the second series.

“That was just good coverage on the back end,” Okafor said. “I had more than enough time to loop around and get him. That was all because of coverage, which is how it works when the back end and rush complement each other.”

This is what the Chiefs sought when they signed the 6-4, 260-pound Okafor to a three-year, $17.9 million deal in March.

The acquisition came with less buzz than Frank Clark or Tyrann Mathieu but it’s one that can be a difference-maker to Steve Spagnuolo’s defense.

Okafor, a standout at Texas, spent his first four NFL seasons with the Cardinals, where he played with Mathieu. They were taken in consecutive rounds in the 2013 draft.

Okafor signed with the Saints in 2017 and last season started all 16 games in the regular season and two in the playoffs. He had four sacks, and according to Pro Football Focus he has missed four tackles in his last 41 games.

The Chiefs offered something Okafor was seeking, a team knocking on the door.

“We’ve got as good a chance as anybody in this league,” Okafor said. “Once you play a while you realize an opportunity like this doesn’t come around that often.

“We have one of the more talented teams in the league. We’d be doing a disservice to ourselves if we didn’t do everything it took to win a Super Bowl.”

One of those things was signing Okafor to line up opposite Clark in a 4-3 defense.

The Chiefs’ pass rush in 2018, led by Dee Ford and Justin Houston, led the NFL in sacks. But their defense ranked 31st overall.

The new approach looks to maintain the front-end push with better coverage on the back end.

On Saturday, Clark and Okafor started for the first time. In last week’s game, the Bengals drove the length of the field for a touchdown. Against the Steelers, the defense opened the game with a three-and-out.

Okafor and Clark were on the bench when the Steelers drove for their first touchdown, in the second quarter. But getting in the game was the first step.

“I needed to get my legs back under me, and I was able to do that and work with my teammates,” Okafor said.”It felt good, really good, to be out there.”

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