I can’t believe I’m writing this. I really can’t.
I can’t believe I need to remind everyone that Justin Houston is, indeed, a fantastic player who is uniquely skilled against both the pass and the run. But here we are. It appears that all it took was a couple of games where Houston didn’t register a sack for the talk to start.
I’ve had at least 50 people in the last week tell me that the Chiefs need to move on from Houston, always with some version of “he’s not the player he was.” They invariably cited injury history (hey, very legitimate, seeing as he missed a ton of time the last two years) and then his lack of impact against the Steelers and Raiders.
Now, I DO think that Houston was nursing some form of injury against PIT and OAK, and his playing style reflected it. He wasn’t trying to explode around the edge much, instead sticking with bull rushes and other power moves that didn’t require him to beat tackles around the corner. Of course, he’s really good at that stuff, too...
Same drive, same deal. Houston jackhammers the RT into Carr, but throw is immediate. Forced it out early on 3rd and 10, by the way. pic.twitter.com/Fx83X8uKCd— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) October 24, 2017
The problem is that, for many people, the ONLY way they gauge edge rushers is whether or not they racked up sacks in a given game. That’s unfortunate, because even for the best players in the NFL sacks consist of approximately 1.5 percent of their snaps (give or take). What’s much more important is whether a player is making an impact and forcing teams to game plan around him.
Houston did just that against the Raiders (and to a lesser extent with the Steelers, though they did a good job with him), but since he didn’t collect a sack I was continually hounded on Twitter about why Houston wasn’t having an impact.
Well, here we are after the Denver game and... yeah.
2nd and 10, Houston gets good jump, wins the handfight, bends around edge, closes and finishes. Burst looks back. pic.twitter.com/s1gV8TSk2k— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) October 31, 2017
Houston had a massive impact on the game against the Broncos, even greater than his basic stat line (six tackles and two sacks) would indicate.
So consider this a reminder that Justin Houston is, indeed, one of the very best defenders in the NFL and by far the best player on the defense at this point (with Eric Berry being the only player that made the conversation interesting. Peters isn’t there yet).
What was nice about the Broncos game, though, was that it appears whatever was keeping Houston from using speed moves as a pass rusher seems to have gone away. Houston was exploding around the edge against Denver.
3rd and 7. Houston again just wins the race to the edge, shows nice bend, forces errant throw. He's just a monster. pic.twitter.com/dG2rNIIfnw— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) October 31, 2017
Houston also had several plays where he needed to chase players down (including his second sack), which he did with his characteristic closing speed.
Additionally, Houston continued to demonstrate the well-rounded nature of his game that makes so much more than a pure pass rusher.
KC has issues w/ run defense, but Houston is definitely not one of them. Running to his edge is wasted down most of the time. pic.twitter.com/q3PzXhOvos— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) October 31, 2017
This play is so typical of what you see when teams run to Houston’s edge. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a tight end or a tackle attempting to block Houston. He nearly always gives almost no ground, stands up the blocker, keeps his head up to locate the ball, and tosses the blocker aside when he’s ready to close and make the stop.
The utterly casual way Houston discards Denver’s right tackle actually makes the play look rather mundane, like Houston isn’t doing anything special. He is, in fact, throwing off a man 30-40 pounds heavier than he is, breaking down against a still-very-dangerous open field runner, pursuing well, and making the stop.
And that’s pretty typical of runs to Houston’s edge. Even if you put your blocker in the best position to succeed, he likely won’t.
Houston chucking his blocker and saving a touchdown. Crazy tough play to make, as it was actually well-blocked. pic.twitter.com/njE58TY8kZ— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) October 31, 2017
Here, the Broncos give Virgil Green (a veteran who is considered a very solid blocker) a huge advantage in trying to block Houston by placing him outside of Houston and then running around that edge. Basically, all Green has to do is stay in between Houston and the ball carrier and it’s a win for him.
Of course, Houston being Houston, he almost immediately shoves Green aside (With a really nifty bit of hand fighting combined with raw strength). Even the split second he lost could be fatal, though, as Booker has a head of steam and is trying to get around him. But Houston also happens to finish as well as anyone in the league, and his diving tackle is just textbook “this is how you wrap up in space, kids.”
Houston draws a ton of attention from opposing teams, and rightfully so. As such, he may well have a game here and there where he doesn’t collect a sack. Maybe even a few in a row. But don’t let that fool you: Houston is back to terrifying opposing quarterbacks and altering opposing offensive gameplans, and it’s a sight to behold. There’s no reason to hit the panic button on him after a couple of “quiet” games. Instead, just sit back and enjoy watching an elite defender do his thing.