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What to expect from Melvin Ingram in the Chiefs’ defense

Kansas City added a veteran pass rusher. Let’s take a close look at how he can fit in and contribute to the unit.

Pittsburgh Steelers v Buffalo Bills Photo by Bryan Bennett/Getty Images

Even after the three sacks the Kansas City Chiefs earned in their 20-17 victory over the New York Giants on Monday, they still have the fewest sacks of all NFL teams that have played at least eight games this season. The pass rush has looked improved in recent weeks, but the team knows it could still do better.

That’s why the Chiefs made a trade with the Pittsburgh Steelers to acquire outside linebacker Melvin Ingram. Ingram is in his 10th NFL season, with one sack to his name this year. His 18 pressures were the third-most on the Steelers, and he was tied for the lead in quarterback hits.

I watched three of his games from this season and evaluated how he can fit into the Chiefs’ defensive scheme:

Positional versatility

Ingram played outside linebacker in Pittsburgh’s base 3-4 scheme, meaning he played in a two-point stance on the edge of the offensive line. He rushed the passer on 57% of his snaps but also had coverage responsibilities on three or four plays a game.

In Kansas City, Ingram will have to be categorized as a defensive end in defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo’s base 4-3 scheme — but he shouldn’t be utilized like that position typically is under Spags.

On early downs or in base formations where running is a stronger possibility, the Chiefs have players like Mike Danna and Alex Okafor that can eat up snaps on the edge. In passing situations, Ingram’s edge presence allows Chris Jones to continue rushing from the inside; it also pairs well with Frank Clark at the opposite end, who has looked better each week since his return from injury.

Ingram’s comfortability in an off-ball alignment could give the Chiefs a unique option in base formations: Ingram could be inserted in as the SAM linebacker, which is usually closer to the line of scrimmage and aligned over the tight end — looking to help against the run or defending quick passes to the flat on their side.

He can do those things, but Ingram wouldn’t be the best option for the SAM linebacker’s primary responsibilities. However, the Chiefs could use that package as a new way to bring pressure with five rushers who are all actual pass-rushers by trade. Allow Ingram to be an additional rusher simultaneously with Jones, Clark, Jarran Reed and Tershawn Wharton.

Ingram’s versatility to play as an edge defender or the SAM linebacker in base formations allows the Chiefs to get creative with their fronts.

Pass rush effectiveness

This season, Ingram has racked up 18 pressures on 140 pass-rush snaps — which is a pressure rate of 12.9%. Among Chiefs defensive linemen this season, that number would rank first; Jones (11.7%) and Clark (12.1%) are the only Chiefs with a rate over 10%.

Throughout his career as a three-time Pro Bowl selection, Ingram has won at the line of scrimmage with a rare blend of explosiveness and strength. He has always had technical, powerful hands.

In 2021, Ingram shows flashes of his prime — bursting off the snap and using that momentum to create power and penetration.

The threat of his speed rush around the outside of the offensive tackle forces the tackle to hurriedly set deep and catch Ingram from winning the edge; the tackle leaning to the outside allows Ingram to take advantage of the imbalance by quickly countering back inside and overpowering the tackle’s inside shoulder.

Ingram excels at being aware of the quarterback’s position in the pocket as he’s rushing. He will quickly react to movement from the quarterback by changing his rush direction by way of a spin move or just shifting his leverage from one shoulder of the blocker to the other. Strong hands and raw power allow him to do so.

He combines that with a high motor; He does an excellent job of maintaining high effort throughout the entire snap.

While Ingram looks great on the pass-rush snaps he wins, he really only wins in one way: attacking a tackle’s inside shoulder and overpowering him after threatening to rush around the arch. He hasn’t shown much effectiveness with other moves this season.

Run defense

Ingram wasn’t traded for his run-stopping ability — the Chiefs’ run defense doesn’t need much help right now, anyway — but he’ll naturally have to be sound against runs at times, and he’s capable.

Ingram still has the short-area quickness and hand usage to get past blocks instantly and get into position to make a tackle. He excels at attacking a blocker’s hands and not allowing them to engage with him and get their hands on his chest.

The downside of Ingram’s physique: he is lighter than a typical defensive lineman, so he can be controlled if the blocker can get into his shoulder pads and engage with him. It’s a lot harder for him to beat the block once he is attached.

The bottom line

It was a worthwhile move for the Chiefs to add Ingram. He doesn’t need to be playing a majority of the snaps to make enough of an impact to justify the trade; he should be used strictly to raise the team’s overall ability to rush the passer.

He will be able to make a positive impact, but the Chiefs didn’t sign the Ingram that terrorized the Chiefs during his prime. He’s not going to be a constant presence — but if the team can plan out the best ways to utilize what Ingram is currently excelling at, they can absolutely get the best out of him.

He won’t elevate the defense to where it needs to be by himself, but he raises the ceiling of the pass-rush unit — which is a considerable boost.