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What did the Kansas City Chiefs learn about Dee Ford?

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Taking a look at Dee Ford's snaps from the Raiders game, as compared to his past performance... has he improved?

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Dee Ford, the Kansas City Chiefs 2014 first round pick, finally got his opportunity last Sunday against the Oakland Raiders with Justin Houston out with a knee injury. Ford could get the opportunity again this weekend against the San Diego Chargers if Houston can't play again.

Chiefs fans and media are all waiting to see if Ford will ever be a starter or even a regular contributor, or if the dreaded "bust" label should be applied.

Back in August, I took a look at Dee Ford's snaps in the first preseason game. You can read some of the notes here but the gist of it was this:

At this point, Dee Ford is still a speed rush specialist that needs to develop more counter moves, awareness and strength. He certainly has an impressive first step and very good speed around the edge ... but that's pretty much all he showed on Saturday.

Fast forward to last Sunday and I went back and watched Ford on coaches film vs. the Raiders where Ford played 75 of the 79 defensive snaps.

To my eye, Ford tallied:

  • One good snap in coverage (wasn't asked to drop back much at all)
  • Four good snaps vs the run
  • 20 good snaps as a pass rusher ( including five hurries and the hit on Josh Mauga's INT)
  • 50 plays where he was essentially a non-factor

Ford has a reputation as a one trick pony -- that he relies on the speed rush but hasn't developed an all-around game. In my un-scientific eye-test, I attempted to count how many plays Ford COULD have impacted but didn't due to his lack of a secondary pass rush move.

I noticed at least 14 plays where Ford came screaming around the edge but wasn't able to make a play because his speed was either used against him (let him run by the play) or he had an opportunity to make an impact if he were able to execute a spin, rip, bull rush to counter the block or another one of those moves we see a veteran like Tamba Hali make.

What others said about Dee Ford vs Oakland:

Pro Football Focus on Ford's game vs. the Raiders:

Ford was -1.5 vs the run, -3.0 pass rush, -0.9 pass pass coverage, +0.2 penalty for the -5.2 overall grade.

He made their worst players at every position list for Week 13:

Ford had a very low pass rush grade, despite finishing the day with a hit and five hurries. The hit was a cleanup, and three of the hurries were because of the offense holding the ball too long, rather than any good work done by Ford.

Here are some Andy Reid quotes from his conference call with reporters on Monday:

Q: How did Dee Ford perform in his first start?

Andy Reid: "Yeah, I thought Dee did some nice things. He got a lot of snaps, and sacks he ended up causing just by his rush. Even though he wasn’t declared as the guy who made the sack he was able to get that collapse on the tackle there – with the offensive tackle and the quarterback. So I thought he did some good things. I thought it was a good experience for him, too."

Q: How did Dee Ford do against the run?

Reid: "I thought he did pretty good, actually."

...

Q: If Justin Houston is out next week, will Dee Ford be the starter or has Frank Zombo earned a deeper look there?

Reid: "I would tell you that Dee would probably be the guy, I haven’t gotten that far on it but I would probably tell you that. But we have full confidence in Zombo playing, that’s not a big deal to rotate him in there, it’s not a big deal. Three year guy – give him a blow."

Here's what I saw:

Where Dee Ford wins:

  • Great first step, consistently the quickest of the front seven to get into the backfield.
  • Seemed to get stronger as the game went on. Didn't appear to wear down.
  • When he's around the play, his motor doesn't stop. Especially evident on Mauga's interception return, Ford kept fighting, didn't give up and eventually made the impact play.
  • Shows speed in space chasing down plays.

Where Dee Ford still needs work:

  • Far too easily blocked by an OT. Consistently swallowed up by a single blocker.
  • ONLY employs a speed rush. Can get to the edge quickly but doesn't display any strong counter moves or bull rush.
  • Doesn't consistently stand out on film. Far too many plays where he doesn't disrupt the offense whatsoever.
  • Looks like he needs to continue to build strength and improve use of hands. His hands are active, but not violent..(in case you're wondering what "violent hands" look like... see: Hali, Tamba)
To compare the two Ford games that I watched -- preseason and last week -- I divided the number of good plays that I noted by the total snap count.  Or put another way, what percentage of plays was he not completely blocked and un-involved in the action.

Preseason game = 36 percent
Raiders game = 33 percent

Given the small sample size, I think it's fair to say that what we saw from Dee Ford was pretty consistent with what we saw in the preseason. I still believe that it's too early to write Ford off or call him a bust given how few snaps he has played in the NFL. He didn't embarrass himself against the Raiders ... he just didn't disrupt the game in the same way we're accustomed to seeing Justin Houston and Tamba Hali.

What now? Should Dee Ford get another start?

You have a recent first round pick that is best suited as a situational pass rusher who can fill in for a full game but generally doesn't display the all-around game you would hope to see from him ... yet.

If Houston can't go this week, should Dee Ford get another start? Frank Zombo had success in the closing snaps of the game with back-to-back sacks. Should he be given a chance instead?

Even if Reid hadn't confirmed it in the quote above we should hope that Ford continues to get as much playing time as possible this season. The Chargers give up more QB pressures than any team in the league, according to PFF. He needs to develop, and he can't do that on the sideline. In fact, even if he's just used as a situational pass rusher, Ford isn't likely to develop into the all-around player that Hali and Houston have become. Ford can be dangerous as an extra pass rusher when Houston and Hali are healthy and on the field but that is simply letting Ford do the one thing he already does well ... use his speed to get to the QB.

Ford needs to be able to contain the QB, set the edge vs. the run, stack and shed, recognize screens, cover the short passes, and beat OTs in a variety of ways. That only comes from in-game experience, film study, technique work ... and more in-game experience.