The Arizona Cardinals stink, and that’s because they do things that stinky teams do, which includes but is not limited to not protecting their quarterback.
Context matters. That’s easy to forget in sports, particularly for those of us who primarily follow one team, and thus view the games we watch through that specific prism.
OK, that disclaimer aside, the Chiefs’ 26-14 win over the Cardinals on Sunday was terrifically encouraging in at least one crucial way:
The pass rush.
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Yes, Patrick Mahomes had another record-breaking day, surpassing a 1964 mark held by Len Dawson for most passing touchdowns in a single season by a Chiefs quarterback.
But Justin Houston’s return from an injury suffered Oct. 7 against the Jaguars was marked by consistent pressure on Cardinals quarterback Josh Rosen. He made the single most important play of the day early in the fourth quarter when he read a screen, shed a block, and jumped with enough timing and coordination to intercept the pass. That gave the Chiefs the ball at the Cardinals’ 31, and they scored a touchdown to push a one-possession lead to two.
Even without that spectacular moment, this might’ve been the Chiefs’ best pass rush of the season, regardless of opponent. That’s not a coincidence. Houston and Dee Ford rushed from opposite edges — Houston almost always against the left tackle, Ford almost always against the right — and met at Rosen more than a few times.
Houston’s performance was the most noteworthy, because of his injury. He beat his man and forced Rosen into a no-chance throw on a third down, and on another snap had Rosen grasped but appeared to lose his grip. Ford was his normal disruptive self, though he was called for a (soft) roughing penalty on a third down on a drive that ended with a touchdown.
Chris Jones was the best defender of the day, and at least on first view it wasn’t particularly close. He beat the bejeesus out of whoever he lined up against. Once, he sacked Rosen with his own left guard, reaching around that left guard to knock the ball loose.
We’ve said here before in this space that the Chiefs are a consistent pass rush away from being a Super Bowl team. Theoretically, the pass rush should be this defense’s strength, based primarily on the three men we’ve been talking about — Ford, Houston and Jones.
One more time, the Cardinals stink, particularly with protection. But this is also the first time in more than a month that we’ve seen the Chiefs’ pass rush at full strength, and they did what a good pass rush would do.
There is a tipping point in pressuring the quarterback. Not just the moment the quarterback gets jittery, but the moment that a complementary pass rush begins to overwhelm and work on different levels.
Breeland Speaks has had some nice moments, but the Chiefs’ best path to fielding a representative defense begins with Houston, Ford, and Jones getting to the quarterback consistently and from different angles.
We saw that today, finally.
Next week against the Rams in Mexico City will be a higher challenge.
But you can only play who’s in front of you. Or, in this case, you can only pass rush who’s in front of you.
This was encouraging.
One more thing: Keep an eye on that Titans-Patriots score, you guys.