Since edge rusher Melvin Ingram was traded to the Kansas City Chiefs prior to Week 9, he’s made plenty of significant plays. Whether it’s getting after the quarterback on third down or being stout against the run, he’s become a huge part of the defense.
But with some of the hits he’s given out, stout might be an understatement. It’s very noticeable that Ingram plays with a heightened level of aggression and physicality. Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo hasn’t just noticed it — he loves it.
“He’s playing angry,” Spags told reporters on Thursday. “I say that to him all the time. I say, ‘You play angry, and I love it, you’ve got everybody else getting angry too.’”
There was no pushback from Ingram, who embraces his on-field personality.
“It’s an angry game, a physical game,” said Ingram during his Thursday press appearance. “I just go out of my way to be violent.”
Spagnuolo even had one particular hit come to mind — one that occurred the last time the Chiefs played their Week 14 opponent: the Las Vegas Raiders.
“He’s had a couple of plays — there was one in the Raiders game the last time where he just knocks people around,” Spagnuolo remembered. “I think that’s contagious — and that helps us. There are times you write about the sacks — [but] that’s not just about sacks. It’s if he’s demanding a double team or if he’s driving somebody into the quarterback, the quarterback’s got to move his feet and then he falls into somebody else. So those kinds of things are what we’re getting — and it’s helping. It’s helping a lot.”
Essentially, Ingram’s presence can’t be quantified by his basic statistics. He only has half of a sack so far in his Chiefs career — and the big hit in Las Vegas didn’t even earn him a statistic in the official box score.
Yet he has helped fuel the team’s dramatic turnaround. The Chiefs haven’t lost since Ingram joined the team — and the defense has appeared to get better each week.
It could just be Ingram’s veteran experience — he’s the longest-tenured NFL player among the defensive linemen — and that’s not by accident. Spagnuolo can tell Ingram loves the sport he plays for a living.
“What’s great about Melvin is watching him not just on the field, but in the meeting rooms, around the building, around the guys,” he said. “It’s evident to me that this man loves football. He’s always here, he’s always around.”
The defensive coordinator understands what the presence of a player with Ingram’s resume can do to the mindset of the young, aspirational players around him.
“He’s really good with the young guys,” Spagnuolo pointed out. “I’ve seen him sitting with [Tershawn Wharton] and Mike Danna — and if I’m them, I’d have a little pad and pencil; I’d be all ears. That’s when you can absorb some really good stuff.”
There was a lot to be learned during the 10 seasons Ingram has spent in the league. He talked about some of the all-time players from whom he was lucky enough to learn — like linebacker Takeo Spikes and defensive end Dwight Freeney. But now, he’s the former Pro Bowl veteran who is in a position to mentor other players — and just as those players did for him, he feels the responsibility to pass down insight and advice.
“I just go out and share what I’ve learned over the years through my experience and through my time playing,” he said. “I guess that has an impact. If it does, it does. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t. That’s just me trying to pass down what was passed down to me on how to study film or how to approach the game — and things like that.”
Those are the tidbits of knowledge that younger players will never forget during what they hope will be long NFL careers — but that’s the big picture. For now, Ingram is one of the most important players in a defense that is looking to continue its success into January.
Ingram’s fiery playing style will be an important part of that effort. His big hits have led to an uptick in effort and nastiness among his defensive teammates. It’s part of the reason the whole unit’s tackling and block-shedding have been more effective — and why the unit is generally playing with more swagger.
Ingram’s influence has been far greater than any number can show us.