I’m not about to tell you the Chiefs pass rush doesn’t need work.
After the Chiefs finished shellacking the Jets in a game that didn’t feel as close as the 21-point difference when time ran out (at least live, it didn’t. Have no fear, my road trip article will be next time), people were understandably abuzz about the defense. How often do you see a team ballhawk the way the Chiefs did Sunday? In addition to the SIX interceptions the Chiefs had, there were several passes defensed that could have been picks had players held on.
That, along with the newfound strength against the run (mostly, at least), had people feeling good about the defense. The only fly in the ointment I’ve seen from Chiefs fans was the pass rush, or lack thereof.
The general feeling I’ve gotten from some is that the Chiefs were unable to generate any pressure against the Jets, and that this continues a troubling trend without Justin Houston. To be honest, the feeling I got watching the game was that the pass rush was affecting the Jets, but never quite managed to hit pay dirt. Any time there’s a zero in the sacks column after a game, people are going to worry.
And so, never one to let an unanswered question slide, I went back and tracked how many plays the pass rush had an effect on the Jets. Having an effect, in my eyes, means you’re forcing the quarterback to move or rush his throw, OR you’re crushing the pocket enough to where he’s forced to throw without stepping into it at all (which leads to incompletions and picks). I wasn’t counting pressures per se, as that’s a slightly more stringent standard. My interest was whether the idea that the pass rush was nonexistent was, in fact, true.
I’m happy to report it was not.
Here's Fitz under siege, about to throw a panicked INT to Peters thanks to Nelson making a great play on the ball. There was pressure, guys. pic.twitter.com/G9fLAJSjXH— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) September 27, 2016
Over the course of the game I counted 17 plays where the pass rush had an effect on the Jets passing game. This effect presented in different ways on different snaps. For example, in the play pictured above the pressure resulted in Fitz forcing a panicked throw into coverage. Steven Nelson tipped the ball, and as often happens, Marcus Peters came away with an interception on the play.
You won’t see a stat for bad decisions forced, but such things are critical in every game.
I kept track of each play affected by the Chiefs pass rush and decided to record the down and distance, who affected Fitz, how many people were rushing, and the result of the play. Because, well, I have issues. Here are the results.
2nd and 12, Allen Bailey, 4 man rush, a quick throw forced that falls incomplete.
3rd and 12, Dontari Poe, 4 man rush, forced checkdown.
3rd and 2, Tamba Hali, 4 man rush, forced scramble.
3rd and 8, group pressure, 6 man rush (blitz), Marcus Peters interception.
Here's the pocket as Fitz releases Pick Number 1. Not sure why people are saying there was "no" pressure yesterday. There was some. pic.twitter.com/6oboyCVl76— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) September 27, 2016
1st and 10, Dontari Poe, 4 man rush, forced a hurried throw, incomplete.
3rd and 12, Tamba Hali, 3 man rush, forced a rushed throw that is complete.
2nd and 3, Tamba Hali, 4 man rush, Fitz completes a tough pass.
4th and 1, Derrick Johnson, 5 man rush (blitz), Fitz rolls away from pressure, pass complete.
2nd and Goal, Dontari Poe, 3 man rush, hurried throw under pressure tipped by DJ, picked by Eric Berry.
Here's Fitz as he releases the pick to Berry in the end zone. Poe was in his face almost immediately, affected decision. pic.twitter.com/u2fAfMDIYe— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) September 27, 2016
1st and 10, Poe/Jones/Moses, 4 man rush, pocket crushed and inaccurate throw results.
2nd and 10, Frank Zombo, 4 man rush, Fitz forced left, inaccurate throw on the move.
3rd and 10, group pressure, 5 man rush (blitz), Fitz completes tough throw on the move avoiding the blitz for a first down.
2nd and goal, Tamba/Howard, 4 man rush, forces ill-advised throw into coverage which is tipped, then intercepted.
2nd and 10, Jones/Hali, 4 man rush, forces a quick throw (Chris Jones is held, no call).
2nd and 2, Tamba Hali, 3 man rush, Derrick Johnson with INT on a quick throw.
On the DJ pick, Tamba blew right by the RT for instant pressure. Also, fun fact, my boy Gaines made the key block on the TD return. pic.twitter.com/okzQZIWYbZ— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) September 27, 2016
2nd and 5, Dee Ford, 3 man rush, quick throw forced, 1st down gained.
Now, it’s worth noting that six of the 17 plays that I deemed affected by the pass rush occurred in the first half, while 11 occurred in the second half. One could argue the Chiefs had the edge of knowing the Jets HAD to throw.
Of course, it’s also worth noting a few more things ... like the fact that the Chiefs dropped seven guys (or more) into coverage on the majority of plays. In fact, I saw quite a few plays where the Chiefs only rushed three players. This obviously makes it more difficult to get pressure but helps the secondary blanket receivers. It worked wonders on Fitz, who made poor decision after poor decision to try and force the ball into coverage.
I also think people should note that the Jets get the ball out VERY quickly on many plays. On well over a dozen snaps, the ball was out within a second of the snap. You’re never going to see pressure on plays that are drawn up to get rid of the ball that quickly. That’s one reason why you didn’t see any sacks: the opportunities were fewer than normal, given the type of offense the Jets chose to run.
A final note I’d make is that the demise of Tamba Hali has been greatly exaggerated. He generated pressure on multiple plays, and was consistently beating his blocker on plays where the ball was released quickly by Fitz. He still seems to be rounding into shape, but he is absolutely still a plus pass rusher despite not having collected any sacks so far this season. It’s only a matter of time, and his hand fighting remains as relentless as ever.
Do the Chiefs need the pass rush to improve? Absolutely, if they want to be an elite defense (which they can be, considering how well the secondary is already playing). However, the idea that they are getting zero pressure on the quarterback is simply not accurate. Here’s hoping they can continue to generate enough pressure to affect plays while Justin Houston recuperates.