Can Chiefs hope for Bob Sanders-like impact from Justin Houston?

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Former Colts safety Bob Sanders once stepped up in the playoffs after missing most of the regular season with injury. Can Justin Houston provide a similar impact?

Let me give you a scenario.

Team struggles defensively down the stretch, giving up a lot of yards. They're missing a young, up-and-coming defensive star due to injury. Team qualifies for the playoffs, young defensive star returns to the field to lead the defense to a Super Bowl victory. Young star goes on to win AP NFL defensive player of the year the next season.

I hope I'm talking about Justin Houston one day. But this describes the situation of former Colts safety Bob Sanders. He was a 2004 second round pick with immense talent but he was often injured. He played just four games in the Colts 2006-07 Super Bowl winning season but he returned to the field in the Colts first postseason game.

The postseason game that happened to come against our very own Kansas City Chiefs, who had an outstanding running back by the name of Larry Johnson. The Colts run defense had been the worst in the league but after the return of Sanders they didn't give up 100 yards rushing in a game until the Super Bowl. This after they gave up at least 100 rushing yards in every other game that season. In short, they completely changed everything for the playoffs.

I talked with Brad Wells of SB Nation's Colts blog, Stampede Blue, and he said that while the 2007 playoff run was more than just Sanders' return, he did make his presence known.

"What Bob did was create a presence over the middle of the field," Wells said. "His speed and hitting force also allowed him to act as a 4th linebacker in the box."

This is your best-case scenario for Justin Houston's return to the Chiefs, which is expected to come this weekend in the Wild Card game against the Colts. He dislocated his elbow a month ago and seemed like he was healthy enough to play last weekend -- you know, if Andy Reid hadn't rested all the starters.

There are differences between Houston and Sanders' situation, obviously (they play different positions, first of all). But the idea of this makes sense from an optimistic Chiefs fan's point of view. The Chiefs pass rush has been struggling without Houston. They're not as bad as the Colts run defense was that year but they're a different team than they were in the first half of the season when it comes to the pass rush.

"What Bob did was create a presence over the middle of the field," -Brad Wells, Stampede Blue

Part of those struggles of course are due to the absence of Houston, who is happy to be back.

"It's very tough knowing if you were out there you could make a difference and just sitting back watching it on TV and not being with the team," Houston said this week. "It's very tough. I love being around my teammates. I feel like we're a family so anytime you're with your family you feel comfortable, you feel like you're at home and you're enjoying being with them. Not being with them as much as I wanted to was tough."

Chiefs fans are happy he's back, too. I suspect the Colts are not.

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