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Chiefs LB Dee Ford's first NFL game confirms his speed, shows what to work on

How did the Kansas City Chiefs first rounder do in his first shot against NFL competition?

Jamie Squire


You know what, that wasn't enthusiastic enough. Here, I can do better...


Yep, that's better.

I can't begin to describe how phenomenal it was to see the Chiefs back on the field. I love football. I love having new tape to review. I love seeing how players have developed (or not developed). I love watching incredible plays for the first time (Travis Kelce and De'Anthony Thomas are both "Good God Almighty" fast, no?). I even love trying to pick out areas that need improvement. I just love football. Even meaningless preseason games.

Well, I shouldn't say it that way. Preseason isn't QUITE meaningless. Yes, the score is pretty much irrelevant (although it's still more fun to win than to lose). Yes, the schemes are vanilla and will likely look very different from week to week. But that doesn't mean there's nothing to be taken from the games.

With preseason, you learn much more watching individual players than you do watching it like an actual ... well, game. Can that receiver get separation from bland man coverage? Did the running back find the correct hole? Was that defensive lineman able to use his bull rush effectively? Did the linebacker properly recognize a screen? And on, and on. Watching individuals in preseason helps you figure out (sometimes, not always) what the team as a whole will look like come Week 1.

I'm going to cover a few of those individual performances before the next preseason game. And where better to start than Dee Ford? He's been getting some rave reviews in camp, and it's only natural to look and see how he did up against NFL-caliber competition (well, one might argue that second and third teamers AREN'T NFL-caliber competition, but that's a whole different discussion).

In order to do this, I've re-watched Ford's snaps twice. As always, if you really want to know how a player did (and have the time to do so), watching it yourself can't be replaced as a way of making judgments. It's far and away the best way to learn. However, as I'm aware that not all of you share my sick willingness to watch games over and over (and over and over), I'll do what I can to provide a kinda / sorta / not really educated opinion. Let's do this.

Dee Ford's first game thoughts

So that first step, it's a thing. Holy cow he's fast. There was one play where the Bengals were setting up a screen so the blocker allowed Ford to get up the field. The problem is that Ford got on the quarterback so quickly that he caused an errant throw. That's speed, and a great way to discourage screens to your side of the field.

Ford's Combine numbers were pretty similar to Justin Houston's, but watching them on the field they're different players (granted, Houston's been in the league a few years now). Ford is noticeably faster than Houston, and any other 3-4 outside linebacker I've watched. When he's running around he looks more like a speedy inside linebacker. However, he definitely doesn't have Houston's brute strength at this point.

Ford's Combine numbers were pretty similar to Justin Houston's, but watching them on the field they're different players.

What was interesting about this game is that even though Ford is considered the heir apparent to Tamba Hali and is on the depth chart as the backup at right outside ilnebacker, he played the vast majority of his snaps at left outside linebacker. I'm not sure whether they wanted to see how Ford would hold up against the run and in coverage, or what. I'm sure the conspiracy theorists among us will say this points to Ford being Houston's replacement long term, but I'm leaning toward it being a test of Ford's versatility.

So since the Chiefs were testing Ford's versatility (as I've already gone from theorizing to treating my opinion of what was going on as fact), we'll take a look at each aspect of his game separately.

Dee Ford vs. the run

Of all aspects of his game, this is where Ford needs the most work. There were several times in the game where he got straight driven backward when defending against the run. His technique when asked to set the edge is ... iffy. He just doesn't look comfortable being asked to do it.

That said, there's some raw material there. While he lacks Houston's raw strength, Ford seems to possess some power for a guy his size. There were plays where Ford was able to set his feet and hold position against the run. He wasn't a gaping hole against the run consistently, which is what I feared when the Chiefs took him. Lots of work to do, though. What I did like was his seeming willingness to throw himself into the mess. He's not afraid of contact.

While he lacks Houston's raw strength, Ford seems to possess some power for a guy his size.

Ford looks more natural in the open field pursuing, where he can use his speed to his advantage. There were several plays where Ford showed good recognition of where the play was going. In particular, he made a nice stop on a third down draw, seeing the run develop and changing his pursuit from the quarterback to the running back and making the hit in the backfield.

One thing I saw (that others pointed out) was that Ford wasn't always going all-out when in pursuit on running plays. He was definitely jogging it out a few times when the play went the opposite direction. Whether this was just because it was preseason or whether it's something to keep an eye on, I have no idea. We'll have to wait and see over the next couple months.

Overall, the area we all expected Ford to struggle the most was his weakest spot, but it wasn't as bad as I'd feared. If Ford cleans up his technique there shouldn't be real problems here. Adding a few pounds would help, too.

Dee Ford in coverage

I was really happy with what I saw from Ford the times he was put in coverage (seven times by my count). He only had one play where he ended up in trail position, and on that play he had a safety helping bracket over the top.

The best thing about how Ford seems to approach coverage is how physical he is. He actively prevented tight ends and running backs from getting into their routes by getting his hands on them right at the line of scrimmage. Ford may not have Houston's strength, but he's definitely strong enough to slow down (and even stop) tight ends and running backs. He disrupted routes this way basically every time he was in coverage.

I love this technique for a linebacker (or anyone in coverage), especially in the Chiefs defense. Bob Sutton's scheme clearly relies on pressure. The absolute best thing for the defense is to disrupt routes early and force them to take an extra second or half second to develop. Make the play take three seconds instead of two to develop, and let the pass rush get to the quarterback.

Ford also looks pretty comfortable in space running with tight ends and backs. Granted, it was an extremely small sample size, but he didn't seem to have any problems keeping pace the few times he allowed receivers to get into their routes. He's just a fast, fast man.

Ford was more comfortable in coverage (especially with his press) than I expected at this stage, and that's a major plus for the defense. It will hopefully allow him to be on the field at the same time as Tamba and Houston, and keep opposing teams guessing as to what he'll be doing any given snap.

Of course, what you really want to hear about is...

Dee Ford's pass rushing

As I said above, Ford's first step is ridiculous. His second, third, and fourth are all pretty fast too. Everything he does is fast. Even when tackles force him to take the "long" route to the quarterback around the edge, he turns that corner VERY quickly and closes in.

I counted two hits on the quarterback by Ford to go along with five pressures. Now, pressures are a highly subjective stat.  I count any time the rusher forces the quarterback to move away from him and throw quickly or take off running as a pressure.

Had the Chiefs been playing a normal pocket passer, there's no doubt in my mind Ford would have had at least one sack. Matt Scott had some escapes from Ford that would've made Houdini proud. The second half Ford spent a lot of time in the backfield disrupting things, and to Scott's credit he was often able to scramble for a gain in those situations.

The common thought on Ford is that he possesses a speed rush and that's about it. That's partly accurate. Ford uses his speed rush the vast majority of the time, and if he's stymied there he can look a bit at a loss on occasion. He needs to develop a consistent counter move to that speed rush (I'm hoping for a Freeney-style spin, but maybe that's just me).

However, Ford DOES have a couple of other moves he used throughout the game. Several times he used a bull rush, once very effectively after getting the right tackle back on his heels anticipating a speed rush. He also used a club with his left hand twice when matched up against tight ends, both times effectively. I'm not sure either can be a consistent counter move (though that bull rush was something he did a ton in college), but it's good that he's got at least SOMETHING besides "I'm really fast" to use out there.

Ford has some work to do before he'll be an elite pass rusher, especially with that counter move. But he's already got a clear advantage over any tackle he faces with that first step, and he fights hard to get to the quarterback.  Seven hits / pressures in 28 pass rushing snaps is highly impressive for a debut. While most of his hits / pressures came in the second half, he wasn't being sent after the quarterback much until then.

Overall, Ford did not look like a training camp hero out there. He's a player who stands out with an incredible first step to go along with physical press coverage when called on. Next week should be fun.

(Email mailbag questions to, or Tweet to @RealMNchiefsfan)

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