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Sacks don’t matter, according to the Chiefs, and that’s a good thing

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Outside linebackers coach Mike Smith pulled back the curtain on Thursday.

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at Seattle Seahawks Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Denver Broncos outside linebacker Von Miller leads the league in sacks among outside linebackers with 14.5, but don’t tell that to Kansas City Chiefs outside linebackers coach Mike Smith.

He wouldn’t care.

As a matter of fact, Smith said Thursday he doesn’t even know the sack totals for Chiefs starting linebackers Dee Ford and Justin Houston. And that is a good thing.

Baltimore Ravens v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

“It’s funny,” Smith said. “I can’t tell you how many sacks Justin or Dee have, or really anybody in the room. What I look at every week, I look at pass-rush productivity, Fraz (Mike Frazier) does a good job of that. It’s hurries, hits and sacks with the number of snaps. That’s the most important thing. And so I look at anything above 250 snaps, where are they at? Dee has 75, Justin has 45. That’s both top five. Going into last week, they were one and two. To me, it’s important if you’re affecting the quarterback. So that’s the thing that we stress in our room. That’s the thing that we keep track of. We don’t even keep track of sacks.”

To be clear, Ford and Houston still get to the quarterback. They have a combined 19.5 times in 2018, but the idea from Smith is nothing new—it’s a point we have heard defensive coordinator Bob Sutton stress before.

Obviously, a sack is only recorded when a player takes the opposing quarterback down. But the key the Chiefs preach is to affect him in any way possible, and that message has gotten through to the room.

Kansas City Chiefs v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

“You want a sack, but you’re not going to get a sack every play,” Ford said. “You can’t rush with the mentality that I want a sack every play because you could be hurting the defense, so getting pressure on the quarterback is disrupting the timing of his throws. He can’t step through on certain throws. That takes different types of rushes and it takes you know how do that every play ... Sacks are going to come but it’s key times of the game—if the ball is going to come out quick, all we can do is disrupt that throw. That could lead us getting off the field, giving the ball back to the offense. Boom, we could win the game. All we needed was one stop against the Chargers and we could have been wearing hats that night. You know what I mean? I don’t like to talk about the past, but this is the mindset, this is what we’re looking toward and you can’t get caught up in things that are pretty much distractions.”

As the Chiefs make changes to their secondary ahead of the playoffs, getting any kind of pressure helps—no matter who the team opts to play.

“When you’re getting after the quarterback, that’s one of the top things we want to do, especially in passing situations,” Smith added. “That’s what we want to do. That’s our main goal, is to affect him. You start affecting, like I said, the spot, he can’t get to his second and third read, there’s a lot of things that affect the quarterback. He can’t step up—I think that’s a great job that our inside guys are doing.”

Denver Broncos v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Soon after rookie Breeland Speaks was drafted, the thought was that he would be able to help the Chiefs “on all three downs.” And although that has happened at different times this season due to injury, Speaks has had trouble finding the field for much time since Week 13.

We learned Thursday that this has much less to do with Speaks than it does with the veterans in front of him—Dee Ford and Justin Houston.

“He’s making progress,” Smith said of Speaks. “I think right now obviously he’s not getting a lot of reps. Justin’s full-go, Dee is full-go, and to be honest, it’s hard to get them off the field. It makes you smile. Last game I said, let’s get you a breather, they said, ‘Don’t take me off this field.’ Both of them are playing really well. With Breeland, he’s still progressing.

“When you’ve got two of the best in the league, especially some situations we’ve been in the game, closer games, I’m going to make sure my best guys are out there. Right now, that’s them, but it’s nothing against Breeland.”

Speaks has had just 23 snaps over the course of the last three games, to be exact. Second-year outside linebacker Tanoh Kpassagnon has had eight, and he was even inactive for the game against the Los Angeles Chargers.

But not to worry. With limited reps for the young players, Smith has found other ways to evaluate their progress.

“It goes with practice, it goes with meetings,” he said. “It goes with when [Speaks] turns in his test [Thursday] after the meeting, where is he at? Is he getting and understanding the formations, the defenses? Even the [nine] snaps he was in the game last week. Where is he going from there? Not as much as when he’s playing 60 snaps a game you can do it, but that’s just kind of how you do it. That’s kind of where we’re at with them two (Speaks and Kpassagnon). It’ll be the same thing when Breeland is a main guy.”

Kansas City Chiefs v New England Patriots

“Film study’s picked up,” Speaks explained. “It’s just more so knowing the situations that’s picked up and just becoming an all-around player. Just not trying to go out there and get sack. Just knowing who I have on certain drops, knowing what I have to do in certain situations—that’s been my job, just to master that.”

Speaks says he is growing as a player regardless of time on the field.

“I feel like I’ve done pretty good,” Speaks said. “I talked to Bob (Sutton) the other day. He was like, ‘Never thought you learn this much football in a year, huh?’ I really didn’t but it’s amazing what I’ve learned since I’ve gotten here and what I’ve continued to learn.”

In a perfect world, Speaks would be on the field—but the Chiefs are right to admit he is not their top option right now. And although that will likely change next season, it is what it is.

“You look around the league and I get the snap count every week, very few guys come off the field,” Smith said. “Look at Von Miller’s snaps. Look at (Bradley) Chubb’s snaps. Look at these guys around the league, that’s just how it is. You try to get a handful here and there, probably need to do a better job at that, but at this level, your best players better play. I get you’ve got to take a couple snaps here and there, but especially when guys are playing well. They are a big part of this defense.”

The Chiefs hope the continue to play well against the Oakland Raiders Sunday afternoon, when they can clinch the No. 1 seed in the AFC with a win.