So ... remember that time I said on Twitter I'd be writing about Josh Mauga? Well, yeah, I lied.
It wasn't an intentional lie. When it was said, I had every intention of writing all about the Chiefs recently-playing-pretty-well ILB. It's a good story. He seems to have come a long way from the Dolphins game, where indecision on his part had directly led to several big runs by Lamar Miller. His development would be a huge boost for the defense, so I'm not trying to downplay what a big deal that could be.
Here's what happened. I was involved in a discussion on Justin Houston's contract (at the rate he's going he's going to cost roughly $50 million a season, give or take). With salary cap issues in mind, I took a look at Tamba Hali's cap hit vs. his dead money next season. From that came this tweet:
Per Spotrac, Hali's dead money drops to a shade under 3 mil in '15. Would save 9 mil w/ release. I hate it but think he's gone.— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) October 29, 2014
This led to a long discussion about Hali and the likelihood of him remaining a Chief. Which, inevitably, turned to a discussion of Dee Ford.
Some people believe Ford was drafted in the first round as a replacement for Houston. I'm not one of those people. It just doesn't make sense to me for a variety of reasons.
First, the ages of Hali and Houston have to be a factor here. Houston is 25 years old and is still arguably not even in his prime yet. Hali is 30, and while he's (in my opinion) just as deadly as he's ever been, that's bound to change in the next few years. Perhaps sooner.
Second, Hali is playing at a high enough level that barring a big drop-off next season he'll still need a pretty hefty payday. So you've got two scenarios here, neither of which makes sense. Either Hali stays at this level and you pay him big money (albeit not as much as Houston, but still negates the "cost saving" idea), or Hali drops off and you're left with no elite pass rushers where you once had two. That's a rough day.
Finally, Ford is a player who screams "90 percent pass rusher." While he's got a lot of athleticism, Ford looks a lot more like a player who should be rushing the passer on passing downs (you know, like Hali). Additionally, Ford isn't even remotely the run defender Houston is. Not exactly a screamingly great fit for SOLB. WOLB, on the other hand? It just makes more sense.
All that said, we have no idea what Dorsey and company have in mind. Justin Houston is not going to be cheap, regardless. But it's tough to imagine a scenario in which an NFL GM allows one of the top five best defensive players in football (and I believe a strong argument can be made Houston is second only to J.J. Watt) to walk away in his absolute prime.
Anyway, all this talk led me to wonder about Dee Ford, who saw his highest snap count of the season (a whole 16) on Sunday. And since I can't NOT look at the film once a start wondering about a guy, a column about Josh Mauga became a column on Dee Ford.
The thing about Ford is this: to replace Hali, he principally needs to be able to get after the quarterback. Yes, Hali has come a long way as a run defender the last few seasons, but for years he wasn't great against the run and it wasn't TOO much of an issue. So the main concern with Ford (for me) is whether or not he could come on the field and be a good pass rusher right now. Because he's going to need to be able to next year.
So, could Dee Ford step onto the field right now and get after the quarterback? Well...
Yeah, pretty sure he could.
As indicated in the GIF, a guy with Ford's first step (which is among the fastest I've ever seen) has a huge advantage on every rush. You see why. Tackles have to account for that first step by immediately kick-sliding (although in this case it was some pretty rough footwork by the tackle). Ford knows this, and has developed a nice bull rush move to account for the times tackles are furiously back-pedaling to keep up with his speed.
It's a move Ford used with a ton of success in college, and he's already used it (in very limited action) several times with a lot of success, including here. Allen Bailey gets credit for half the sack, but had Ford not flushed Austin Davis from the pocket with a great rush that sack may not happen. Either that or Dontari Poe gets it because the giant man just executed a freaking spin move (I love Dontari Poe).
Being able to get to the quarterback QUICKLY is an ability that's at a premium in the NFL. Guys like Peyton Manning are releasing the football in two seconds or so to neutralize pass rushers. If you can get to him in 1.5, well, that's just gravy.
One thing that was different about this last Sunday for Ford was that he rushed from both the left side (seven times) and the right side (four times). He also got a chance to drop into coverage a couple of times. In fact, one of those times in coverage he ended up on his old college teammate, Tre Mason. I know it has nothing to do with pass rushing, but it's still fun to see the result when Mason tried to beat Ford in the open field.
Sometimes you just gotta give an old teammate a hug, you know?
One thing this play demonstrates is how Ford is just insanely athletic and difficult to shake in the open field. That's a great sign for his future in coverage, at least as it pertains to running backs coming into the flat. The ability to make that tackle one-on-one for a stop can prevent a lot of YAC. Plus, you know, tender hugs and stuff.
But my main focus was watching Ford rush the passer. In case you needed a reminder, Ford's first step is just insane.
Unsurprisingly, Ford ended up right in the QBs face as he made a very quick throw on that play. It ended up going for a gain due to a very nice (and calm) throw by the QB, but that doesn't negate the positive of extremely quick pressure. When you get in the quarterback's face in roughly a second, your worst case scenario is a nice checkdown throw.
Perhaps my favorite thing about this particular game was how many different rush moves Ford attempted. Obviously, it's the end of a blowout. It seems Ford was taking advantage of the opportunity to try and test out what he's been practicing. I saw a speed rush, bull rush, dip and rip, spin, hesitation move, and an attempt at the Tamba-Hali-patented-hand-slap. I have to note that he wasn't able to rip off the tackle's arms the way Tamba can, but I absolutely LOVED seeing Ford try and emulate the best hand-fighter in the NFL.
Ford's speed rush, bull rush, and dip/rip were all used with success. The two spin moves he attempted didn't result in much, though the second one would have had he not slipped during its execution (keep practicing, rook). PFF credited Ford with one sack and one pressure. I'd credit him with two pressures, with the other being on a bull rush from the left side with Houston rushing on the inside. Here's a screenshot of Houston and Ford ruining the pocket (though there's good and bad with this play):
The good here is that Ford again uses his bull rush effectively. You can see he's shoved the RT far enough back that he SHOULD have a free shot at the quarterback. Additionally, Houston is doing Houston things, having beaten one OL already.
The problem in this play is that Houston and Ford get in each others' way. And really, that's bound to happen when you have two edge rushers. Both Houston and Ford have a great deal of speed on the edge, and it's only natural (when it's what you've been doing for years) to try and bend around the edge the way Houston does. The problem is that when you rush that way and there's someone on your outside shoulder, you end up in the same space at the same time. And as amazing as Houston is, even he can't defy the laws of physics.
For all our dreaming as fans (and I've done my share of it), I don't see a scenario where Ford / Houston / Hali can all rush the quarterback at maximum efficiency. All three of them are edge rushers, and there are only two edges. Maybe Houston or Hali can adjust their game a bit (I don't think Ford can. He's too reliant on speed around the edge), but for right now you can see why Ford hasn't been on the field much on pass rushing downs. Two edges.
I watched Ford's snaps against the Rams (granted, a team devastated by injuries up front) to see what would happen if Ford had to take the field tomorrow as an edge rusher. I walked away thinking what would happen would be multiple trips into the quarterbacks lap, and ones that would happen quickly.
I don't know what Dorsey's plan is, but Dee Ford is ready to get after the quarterback from the edge. While that's good news, it's going to lead to a tough decision, and soon. In the meantime, it's best for Chiefs fans to enjoy watching Houston and Hali terrorize quarterbacks together. Because I'm not sure how much longer we'll have a chance to do it.