As it turned out, the Kansas City Chiefs weren’t done adding pieces to their suddenly-surging defense.
After being cut by the Arizona Cardinals, edge rusher Terrell Suggs was claimed by the Kansas City Chiefs on Monday afternoon. Suggs is not simply replacing the recently-injured Alex Okafor. He should be a solid rotational piece — if not a starter.
While most know Suggs’ history through his 17-year career, many question how much gas he has left in the tank. So let’s take a quick look at some clips showing the positives he brings to the Chiefs — and then what we expect from him at the close of the season.
Setting the edge
Suggs has always been known as a tough run defender, particularly to his side of the field.— Craig Stout (@barleyhop) December 17, 2019
Starts up the arc, ID's run to his side, strong punch to the chest to drive OT backwards, disengages to stop the RB. pic.twitter.com/IIHvSslyrl
Steve Spagnuolo likes a specific type of defensive end: strong and long — with the ability to set a hard edge in the run game. Frank Clark definitely fits that criteria — but on the opposite side of the line, we’ve only seen flashes of that ability. With Suggs, the Chiefs appear to have obtained it.
As we see in this play, Suggs consistently shows the ability to close off the outside rushing lane, and is also able to drive blockers and squeeze inside gaps with his power.
Throughout his career, he’s been able to use good technique to separate from blockers. That remains in 2019. And with his strong play at the edge, he makes a formidable run defender.
You don't play in this league as long as Suggs has without picking up on keys and diagnosing plays quickly.— Craig Stout (@barleyhop) December 17, 2019
Guard and tackle pull, try to block Suggs backside with WR. Suggs diagnoses immediately and gets into the backfield for a TFL. pic.twitter.com/678oYQVRxF
In his 17-year career, Suggs has naturally picked up the ability to identify plays quickly, which helps him to keep making splash plays — even though he is lacking some of the burst and speed to close on younger players.
Here, when Suggs sees a tackle pulling away from him — particularly when the running back is aligned to his side of the field — he shows a very quick trigger to knife underneath the reach block and blow up the play in the backfield.
The offense aligns a receiver tight to the formation. On the snap, the receiver isn’t able to get a even a piece of Suggs on his way to the running back. His quick identification and reaction lead to a tackle for loss.
Plays like this show up fairly regularly for Suggs -- again, with early recognition. Run going away, RT reach blocks the inside defender. Kittle tries to reach Suggs, but the instant penetration puts him into the backfield. Frontside effort forces cutback and cleanup. pic.twitter.com/jMhtGSGnyu— Craig Stout (@barleyhop) December 17, 2019
Here’s another example of Suggs winning through quick processing and football IQ — this time beating George Kittle to the point of attack.
The right tackle blocks down and Kittle attempts to reach-block Suggs — but Suggs identifies the down block and knifes underneath Kittle’s it, getting into the backfield. The front side of the play is well defended, so the back attempts to cut back — where Suggs is waiting.
He doesn't have the same burst that he did in his heyday with the Ravens, but Suggs still has a powerful bull rush.— Craig Stout (@barleyhop) December 17, 2019
LT with vertical set, attempts to anchor. Suggs drives both arms into low pads, keeps legs churning. He collapses the pocket and disengages to help with the sack. pic.twitter.com/YPDIIBwZPk
Suggs’ burst and acceleration off the snap have definitely declined from what they once were, but he still finds plenty of wins with his power rushes. His technique and leverage are still exceptional; we regularly see snaps like this one.
Despite anchoring against Suggs while trying to hold the pocket, the left tackle is driven back as Suggs throws his full weight forward. Suggs keeps his legs churning, disengages from the blocker and knocks the ball loose at the same time Chandler Jones hits the quarterback.
Another bull rush, this time from a three point stance.— Craig Stout (@barleyhop) December 17, 2019
Tries up the arc, and the LT corrals him, transitions speed to power and knocks the LT off balance. Drives him backwards into the LG, knocking the LT down and hitting the QB just after he throws. pic.twitter.com/XYfW3x3XPh
Suggs does well in transitioning his speed to power, too.
Here, trying to climb the arc doesn’t work — but Suggs is able to transition to his bull rush with lots of power. He once again drives the tackle back into the pocket, making it difficult for the quarterback to step into the throw.
For good measure, he throws the tackle into the left guard, getting a quarterback hit and forcing an inaccurate throw.
He may win more with power, but that doesn't mean Suggs doesn't still flash some speed and bend.— Craig Stout (@barleyhop) December 17, 2019
Quick up the arc, swats the LT's hand while dipping. Good ankle flexion to plant and turn hard at the top of the pocket. Winds up early and slaps the ball out of the QB's hand. pic.twitter.com/IVbRheVHmZ
Even though he’s not the same athlete he once was, Suggs can still sometimes use his speed to surprise a tackle and get around him.
This play shows great hand technique and body control to swat the tackle’s stab so he can dip underneath the outside hand. This throws the tackle off balance, allowing Suggs to plant his foot and corner hard at the top of the pocket. While he’s planting, he sees the quarterback winding up to throw, so he winds up, too — clubbing the ball out for a strip-sack.
This kind of play doesn’t occur often, but Suggs can do it often enough to keep offensive linemen honest. When Suggs can dial it up — and when it’s coupled with his knack for finding the ball — these kinds of plays are game-changers.
The bottom line
Suggs is just what Steve Spagnuolo needed to help this defense continue its ascent.
After injuries to Okafor and Emmanuel Ogbah, there were bound to be questions about who would line up opposite Frank Clark. Suggs can do that — and do it at a high-enough level to have a real impact.
His ability to set a hard edge opposite Clark can not only take away an exploitable weakness defending the run, but can also help funnel plays back inside — which will make the job of Chiefs linebackers much easier. His steady veteran presence — which includes his ability to quickly identify plays and make impactful reads — will add a lot to what was shaping up to be a very inexperienced rotation. He’s also got just enough pass rush juice left in him for the home stretch; he can help pick up the slack the Chiefs have lost through multiple injuries.
It’s not all positive. Suggs isn’t a great athlete any more; he can be beaten by speed on the edge. This season, he’s tried to make up for it by timing snaps to get an extra advnatage, which has led to five neutral zone/offsides infractions. He’s also not going to be a player you want dropping into coverage on zone blitzes — something Spagnuolo has dialed up more and more often as the season has gone along.
That said, he’s probably still going to be an impact player for Spagnuolo. Prior to his release, Suggs played 50% of the defensive snaps in every game but one — and over 70% of the defensive snaps in 9 of 13 games. He’s a seasoned veteran — and Super Bowl champion — who knows what it takes to get over the hump in January. There’s been a lot of discussion about the mentality the Chiefs defense has adopted this season. Suggs is absolutely made from that same mold.
The Cardinals aren’t a particularly good football team this season. Suggs asked for his release — presumably for one last shot to win a ring. The four Super Bowl contenders that put in claims for him — and the Baltimore Ravens, who were waiting him out — all think he is a player who could make an impact in the stretch run. The Chiefs were lucky to get him — especially since it was suddenly a position of need in Kansas City.
For the Chiefs, the timing couldn’t have been better.