A lot of time has been spent talking about how to get Dee Ford on the field more often. In 2014 he only played 17 snaps or so (all numbers approximate and also wrong). There was a great deal of speculation about Tamba Hali's future with the team, but then he went and agreed to a restructure of his contract in order to stay with the Chiefs another year.
So once again the team will have Justin Houston (an all-universe monster), Hali (a very, very good edge rusher), and Ford. By all appearances, Ford is going to be the odd man out. After all, to quote myself, there are only two edges. Three edge rushers just doesn't work.
Some talk among Chiefs fans has occurred about Dee Ford being placed at inside linebacker on blitz packages. The Chiefs did so at times last year and had some success with it. However, unless Ford can demonstrate consistently the ability to drop back into zone coverage those formations are relatively one trick ponies.
The thing about Ford is his not being on the field isn't necessarily reflective of his inability to contribute. In limited snaps last season he showed he could get after the quarterback. His first step is a thing of beauty.
Ford has a natural gift in his speed and explosion that very few rushers can match. That alone is enough to put stress on any tackle he faces, and he has demonstrated (again, in limited action) the ability to create pressure.
So we want him on the field. But how?
Well, the above play (which ended in the ball getting knocked out of Big Ben's hand as he tried to throw) is a good example of what I think we could see a lot of in 2015. It's a third and long situation, and look at the front four the Chiefs choose to go with.
So you've got Hali, Poe, Houston, and Ford all along the front.
This is obviously note a formation you're going to use on second and seven. As beastly as Justin Houston is (and my unscientific analysis of looking at him tells me that he is, indeed, beastly), he's not big enough to hold up at the point attack against a run right up the gut.
However, for a third and long (say, seven yards or more) situation this formation could be a potential nightmare for quarterbacks. On this particular play even Big Ben (arguably the best in the game at moving around the pocket) can't compensate for the pressure.
All right, lots going on here. But let's just walk through what each player is doing.
We'll start with Hali. He gets held up a little as the tight end runs by him (actually fairly cleverly avoiding a chip block) and is currently engaged with the left tackle. To the tackle's credit he's doing a solid job holding Tamba at bay (though you can see Hali is about to get the tackle's wrist. This nearly always spells doom for an offensive lineman vs Tamba).
In the meantime, Poe has decided he believes in physics and that the shortest distance between him and Big Ben is a straight line. Sure, there's a large man between him and Ben, but details are for humans. So Poe demonstrates good technique getting "into the body" of the opposing OL then pushing him off, walking him backward.
In the meantime, we have Justin Houston. He has (unsurprisingly) drawn the attention of both the left guard and the center, who seem to be concerned that the greatest living pass rusher is going to try and hurt their favorite person. This is a valid concern. Houston isn't making much headway but he's staying active enough to keep both blockers engaged long enough for Ford to get upfield alone against the tackle.
Which brings us to Ford. As you see in the very first picture he got a great jump at the snap. He's getting his bend on around the edge (he's got solid bend, a must for a pass rusher. Remember DT and his preposterous 45 degree angle rushes?).
However, by the second screen shot Big Ben is about to step into the pocket to avoid the deep rush by Ford. You see that right hand Ford is extending? It's about to become relevant.
Ford uses one of his favorite moves when rushing the passer, getting his right hand inside the pads of the furiously kick-sliding tackle and giving him a good shove backward WHILE changing the trajectory of his rush to the inside. Because Ford is a superior athlete he's able to change directions much more quickly than even the kick-slidiest (no, not a real thing) tackle.
The shove not only forces the opposing tackle off balance, it helps Ford get a little extra push to change his own direction. Win-win. And now Ford (in the pic immediately above has a clear shot at Ben.
That type of move requires a few things: a fast first step to get the tackle on his heels, enough strength to give a solid shove, exceptional athleticism to change directions and accelerate toward the quarterback, and a clear lane inside. This doesn't work if the right guard is there waiting. Fortunately, he's busy with the best pass rusher alive.
In the meantime, Poe is demonstrating that he's just too big and strong to be handled alone and has walked the LG right into Ben's lap. At the same time Ford is springing inside toward Ben, Poe uses the ground he's gained to disengage and lunge toward the embattled quarterback.
Ben, because he's Big Ben, manages to get into his throwing motion and (to his credit) very nearly gets a pass off while under heavy duress. However, Ford smartly goes for the football first (go after the arm, then wrap the body, pass rushers) and is able to strip it away just as Ben moves his hand forward.
It's THIS close to a forced fumble, and Ben gets turned into a Chiefs sandwich for an unpleasant (for him) moment.
This play demonstrates the basic issue offenses are going to face vs against this front four; you're facing multiple players who, on any given snap, are more likely than not to win an individual matchup against an offensive lineman.
Generally teams will scheme away from or double team the most dangerous pass rushers. That's what they do here, directing extra attention to Houston. But this results in both Poe and Ford being placed in one-on-one situations, along with Hali.
in THIS case the left tackle is able to hold Hali at bay, but both Ford and Poe win their individual matchups. Perhaps next time the right tackle has more luck against Ford, but Hali is able to slap the left tackle's hands aside and do what he does so well. Or maybe Poe has one of his patented rushes of destruction where he instantly beats the individual lineman with a swim or club and gets a straight shot at the quarterback.
Of course, they could choose to use the center to double Poe ... but that leaves the best pass rusher alive by himself against a woefully overmatched right guard, while both Hali and Ford remain "free" against a sole blocker. Not exactly a winning idea.
Essentially, for a team to be comfortable here they would need to keep a tight end and running back in blocking every time. Which, you know, leaves three wide receivers running routes against seven defenders. I'll take those odds.
This front four isn't a magical formula, but it put stress on offenses when it was used last year. I'd like to see more of it in 2015 on 3rd and long.