This is not going to be a full film review of Jaye Howard.
That'll come later, when I don't have a trial coming up and I've spent a LITTLE less time on this job for the week (my wife and boss are both very cool, but there are limits. Like, when I haven't talked to my kids in something close to three days type limits. Whatever, they're tough).
For now, let's suffice it to say that Howard played really, really, really well against the Broncos last Thursday. As in, "he was the best defensive lineman on the field for both teams" well.
Remember last season, when C.J. Anderson spent the entire second Broncos game running wild all over the Chiefs and the fact that Manning looked terrible was rendered irrelevant? Did you wonder why Thursday night didn't look like that? Or did you assume that it was Mike DeVito, Derrick Johnson, and Eric Berry being back?
Look, those guys helped, don't get me wrong. But a lot of the time when Denver got stuffed in their running game, it looked like some version of this...
Seriously, Jaye Howard is getting ridiculous. Look at that first step, just destroys this play before it can start. pic.twitter.com/zdwVNzN52m— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) September 23, 2015
Howard doesn't get the tackle there, because the runner (while losing his balance after the spinning off Howard and that poor center) doesn't "officially" go down until he's touched by DeVito. But make no mistake, Howard was what ruined that play for the Broncos. His presence in the backfield wrecked any chance for the runner to set up his blockers or make a decision about where to go.
The next time someone starts citing tackle stats as a way of gauging defenders, feel free to show them that play. It's a wonderful example of how stats fall short. There really ought to be a "blew up the play and ruined it but didn't record the tackle" stat.
And please believe me, that was not the only time Howard destroyed a rushing play. He was doing it all night.
"I knew if I got a one-on-one with the center, I could destroy him," Howard told our own Joel Thorman after the game. "He's a smaller guy. So I got one-on-ones."
He recorded at LEAST a half dozen plays I would qualify as "stuffs" (stuffing the RB to a yard or so). Denver's zone blocking system relies on offensive linemen getting to the correct place and walling off defenders. Howard is much, much too agile and athletic for that to work.
Seriously, somewhere along the way Howard started doing his best Dontari Poe impression when it comes to his ability to move for a big man.
Jaye Howard is starting to look like a Poe clone. So quick, steps around 2 consecutive blocks to stuff run. pic.twitter.com/3L3EcMLFRU— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) September 23, 2015
Howard flashed some plays like this last year (when he would get a great first step and cause a stuff), but he wasn't able to do it on a consistent basis. When he didn't "win" with his first step, he was often getting washed out of plays by double teams or even individual blockers. His leverage (via footwork) and his strength just weren't up to par when it came time to simply "hold the line" and not give ground, or on running plays where he needed to stand firm and move laterally toward the ball (he would get moved backward in that situation).
Howard mentioned this offseason that he had put on some weight and strength. At the time it was easy to disregard (seriously, how many times do we hear a player is "stronger, faster, in the best shape of his life, etc." in the offseason), but the work that he's put into getting stronger in both his lower and upper body (as well as his improved footwork) has become really apparent.
Howard gets into OL's pads, controls him, goes nowhere, then sheds to make the stuff. He had a fantastic game. pic.twitter.com/Mxcd83QqRG— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) September 23, 2015
What separates players with "potential" who "flash occasionally" from good players is the ability to not only make the occasional flash play but consistently not suck. Seriously, it's that simple. Every player in the NFL has the talent to make an occasional flash play. CONSISTENCY is the key, though. You have to be solid the majority of the time to make it at the NFL level.
Howard flashed potential last year, but wasn't able to be consistent on those every-down, mundane type plays. He'd get pushed down the field. Well now, he's not only holding his own but is actively making big plays when asked to hold at the point of attack.
We're only two games in, and small sample size rules dictate that we need to at least SOMEWHAT keep our heads when it comes to Howard. But as of this moment, he appears to have massively improved from last season ... a season in which he had massively improved from the year before. I cannot remember a time I've seen a player make two consecutive "jumps" from year to year as dramatic as the ones Howard has made.
This will be a situation to keep an eye on moving forward. If Howard continues to play this well he's going to force Bob Sutton into the tough (but wonderful) position of having to sit Mike DeVito more often to get a defensive front of Howard / Poe / Bailey on the field at the same time. We saw that front more than once against Denver and it appeared to do some damage.
In the meantime, I hope to enjoy many more plays like the ones above. I'm going to go dream dreams of an elite defensive line now.