It is no secret that the Kansas City Chiefs have struggled to generate a pass rush, or for that matter play good defense, since Justin Houston got injured.
Houston went down in Week 12 against the San Diego Chargers with a subluxed elbow and has not played since, but appears ready to roll against the Indianapolis Colts on Saturday in the Wild Card game.
Here are a couple of eye-popping stats to show how much he has been missed:
- Points allowed in first 10+ games (before Houston's injury): 131
- Points allowed in last 5+ games: 164
- Sacks in first 10+ games (before Houston's injury): 36
- Sacks in last 5+ games: 11
The argument of seeing better quarterbacks after Houston got injured only holds so much water. The defense had Houston against Peyton Manning in the first matchup and against Rivers for the first half of the first game. Otherwise, the Chiefs played against a crappy Robert Griffin III, Andrew Luck and Matt McGloin.
This weekend, Kansas City needs to hope Tamba Hali's sore knee is feeling much better and that Houston is in prime form. The duo is the fiercest of any in the NFL, and is facing an offensive line that allowed only 32 sacks this year. However, the Colts have given up 107 hits on Luck, the third-highest total behind only the Cleveland Browns and Houston Texans.
Can Chiefs hope for Bob Sanders-like impact?
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?
So what do those numbers tell us? Indianapolis has a bad offensive line, but Luck gets rid of the ball quickly. Houston and Hali need to get around the edge and force Luck to release the ball quicker than he would like.
In the Colts' five losses, Luck was sacked eight times, averaging 1.6 sacks against per defeat. In 11 wins, Luck was brought down 27 times, an average of 2.45 sacks against. The moral of this stat? Kansas City does not have to sack Luck for a win, it needs to pressure him and force bad throws.
Of course, the pass rush is more than only Houston and Hali. Derrick Johnson had 4.5 sacks and Eric Berry amassed 3.5 this season, mostly coming on blitzes between the tackles. Then there is Dontari Poe, who has 4.5 sacks from up the gut. All of this needs to work together this Saturday.
The Colts are not going to run the ball against the Chiefs despite what Donald Brown did last time. They simply don't have the line or backs to make a ton of headway provided Kansas City doesn't decide to make missing tackles a fashion statement as it did two weeks ago. Indianapolis will likely face plenty of 2nd and 3rd and longs, allowing Houston, Hali and the crew to get after it.
With this is mind, Bob Sutton should be playing a ton of press coverage to give the pass rush an extra second to work. If I'm Sutton, I'm leaving Berry in a normal safety position to help the ever-struggling Kendrick Lewis. The run support shouldn't be needed, and not given until Indianapolis proves it can run on a regular front.
With Houston back in the lineup, the Chiefs likely won't need to blitz as much with Johnson and Berry, leaving them in coverage to help contain the backs and tight ends. The edge will also be set better on runs going toward Houston, considering Frank Zombo is back on the bench.
Most importantly, the triangle of Poe, Hali and Houston is back. Even with max protection, not everybody can be double-teamed.
It is without question the battle to watch on Saturday.