clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Is Dee Ford’s improvement real or imagined?

New, comments

Dee Ford has become something of a lightning rod for controversy around here. Which isn’t all that surprising, as roughly 17 different players on the Chiefs are lightning rods for controversy around here.

That said, with Ford it’s been particularly difficult. The 2014 first round pick remains as much of a mystery as ever, generally underperforming compared to fans’ expectations, but then occasionally flashing an impact game as a pass rusher (or occasionally even in coverage) that leaves us all wondering “what if he’s finally putting it all together?” Ford had just such a game against the Raiders last week, and popped up on my screen a few more times this week. And so, I thought it would be best to review Ford’s snaps and see what kind of day he had against the Saints.

The problem with Ford is that, with his explosive first step, one would expect him to be a more impactful pass rusher than he is. The problem I’ve consistently observed (as have many others) is that Ford lacks bend around the edge, meaning he’s unable to get around tackles and take a shortcut to the quarterback. Instead, he has to get full separation from the tackle to cut inside, which means he needs to go a yard or two deeper ... which often means being run out of the play.

Ford, to my knowledge, has never had two games in a row in which he was an impact player. And so, there was history on the line as I re-watched the game focusing on Ford. I figured I would track his sacks, pressures, and hits on the notoriously difficult-to-sack Drew Brees, who remains (as we all saw) one of the best quarterbacks in the game.

Dee’s results were ... well, not terrible, but nothing to write home about either.

Pressures: 5 (one of which was due to scheme rather than beating a blocker)

Hits: 1

Sacks: 1 (called off due to a penalty on Tamba Hali)

Now keep in mind, Drew Brees is extremely difficult to rattle. However, I couldn’t call this a great (or even very good) performance by Ford. I would perhaps be willing to call it adequate. He did apply some pressure on Brees, forcing quick throws or movement in the pocket. But it would be a stretch to say Ford was an impact player in the game outside of a few snaps.

Ford displays all the same traits we’ve observed repeatedly over the last few years. He’s got a great first step and initial burst, but lacks the ability to get around the edge quickly and hasn’t developed a counter move for when offensive linemen “cheat” toward the edge in order to account for his speed. In college, Ford used a bull rush to make offensive linemen pay for cheating. However, when he tries that against NFL offensive linemen he generally gets stopped in his tracks. Unlike the guy playing above him (Justin Houston), Ford seems to lack the functional strength necessary to manhandle linemen, even when they’re kick-sliding.

Now, Ford DID flash something new a few times against the Saints, a hand fighting maneuver in which he cut inside after faking a speed rush, slapping the hands of the offensive lineman aside while doing so.

Ford had three of his pressures with that particular method, and at least it shows some work being done on accounting for tackles cheating to the speed rush when they play him. However, it just wasn’t enough to create consistent pressure on Brees. While Ford did draw some extra attention in the form of a few chip blocks and double teams throughout the game, I can’t say the amount of pressure he generated in one-on-one matchups really justified that attention.

Ford remains solid in coverage, which is a major bonus when you want players with versatility. And he looks better against the run than he used to be ... though I would still call him a minus player in that area, so I’m not sure that’s really a bragging point.

If I were to pick a play that summed up Dee Ford, it would be the final Saints touchdown. Watch Ford here.

Here, Ford does a decent job starting to get to the edge around the RT, who tries desperately to stay in front of Ford (who is, for everything else, quite fast). Ford counters by trying to get inside and stops on a dime, using his right arm to shove the RT in order to keep him moving backward while Dee moves toward Brees (who has stepped up into the pocket).

The right tackle, thoroughly beaten, does what any sensible offensive lineman does when he’s about to give up a sack: he grabs onto Ford’s shoulder pads and holds on for dear life. Ford actually handles this all right initially (after trying to just tug free) by spinning loose of the OL’s grip. However, that half second gives Brees time to start scrambling right and away from Ford’s reach.

Ford then goes from a plus on the play to a minus, stopping altogether in order to raise his arms and jump in the air (albeit slightly) in a “are you kidding me?” motion to the ref. Of course, it’s quite hard to football when you’re stopped with your hands in the air gesturing towards the ref. Brees continues to move right, unfazed by what would best be described as whining by Ford, and completes a touchdown pass when Frank Zombo leaves his man wide open to try and triple-team what he thinks is the intended target (which is also less than ideal, but besides the point).

You really do have Dee Ford summed up well on this play. Lots of potential, a promising start, then a failure to finish for a reason that makes you want to chuck your laptop across the room but you can’t because your kids are watching and you have to act like a well-adjusted adult when they’re around (that’s rule number three as a dad, right after help with diapers and don’t lift them directly above your head until they’re at least one or you’re gonna get vomit in your mouth).

At this point, Ford is who he is. He’s a player who is talented enough to take advantage of weak matchups (like against the Raiders last week) and occasionally flash in high-pressure situations (his absolute best trait is that he generally gets BETTER when the game is on the line, which is nothing to sneeze at). However, he’s also going to disappear for stretches against solid competition, and doesn’t always provide the kind of consistent rush you’d like from an OLB. Add that to his lack of strength setting the edge and you’ve got a guy who lacks the ability to be more than an average starter.

Now, to be clear, Ford has also been (from my eyes) the best guy off the edge for the Chiefs defense this year, so it’s not like he doesn’t have a role. It’s just that the dream we have all had or Ford turning into a great pass rusher don’t look any closer to me than they were last season.

Ford made some plays against the Saints and definitely helped the Chiefs get the win. So kudos to him for that. But if the Chiefs want to take it up a notch defensively, Justin Houston’s music needs to start playing soon.