When the Kansas City Chiefs get back to work on Monday following the bye week, the 9-0 record they’ve worked for will still sit atop the NFL standings, the AFC West standings and most pundits’ power rankings. The defense has received most of the credit for the improbable start, and the lions share of the credit might just be owed to the play of the Chiefs’ linebackers.
The defense has been dominant at times, making up for the lack of consistency from the offense, and the linebackers have been the anchor to the NFL’s best defense. Tamba Hali and Justin Houston make up the NFL’s best pass rushing tandem. Derrick Johnson and Akeem Jordan have been consistent and solid up the middle all season long.
Houston’s 11.0 sacks trails only the Colts’ Robert Mathis who has 11.5 sacks, and Hali ranks fifth in the NFL with nine sacks. And it’s not just sacks. Hali leads league with 60 quarterback disruptions and Houston is second with 54.
Everything that the Chiefs defense does, starts with the success that Hali and Houston have had putting pressure on opposing teams quarterbacks. It has made everyone on the defense better this year. Pro Football Focus lists Houston on its midseason All-Pro team, and named Hali and Johnson as second team midseason All-Pro team members. NFL.com ranks Houston as the leagues best outside linebacker, while Hali checks in at No. 4 on the same list, and Johnson was ranked as the second best inside linebacker.
While the schedule gets considerably tougher in the final seven games of the regular season, the next three game what players of Houston and Hali’s skill set are made for. The Chiefs get Peyton Manning twice in the next three weeks, sandwiched around a game against Philip Rivers and the Chargers. Manning and Rivers are two of the least mobile quarterbacks the Chiefs will face this year, so Hali and Houston should have plenty of chances to pad their stats.
JUSTIN HOUSTON: In his third year as a Chief, Houston is making a case for NFL Defensive Player of the Year. He has 11 sacks, 33 tackles, three passes defended and one forced fumble. He has been everywhere. His torrid sack pace at the beginning of the year has drawn more attention as the season has progressed, but that has allowed Hali and even Johnson at times more shots at the quarterback. A+
TAMBA HALI: Nine games in and Hali has matched his sack output from 2012. His fumble recover for a touchdown against the Bills basically sealed the deal for the Chiefs on a day when the offense offered very little. A
DERRICK JOHNSON: His 68 tackles rank 16th in the NFL. In his ninth year in Kansas City, he has continued his consistent play in the middle that he has produced in the last three years. He has 121 or more tackles in each of the past three seasons and is right on pace for that again. I will knock him down a peg or two for not forcing any turnovers this year, something he has done quite well in the past. B+
AKEEM JORDAN: Jordan is a guy you don’t hear much about. He hasn’t been exceptional but he has done a respectable job alongside Johnson at inside linebacker. In his first year with the Chiefs after spending the first six seasons of his career in Philadelphia with Andy Reid, Jordan has 37 tackles and one forced fumble. The Chiefs used a third round pick on Nico Johnson from Alabama, and many thought he would battle for the top spot on the depth chart. But Johnson has yet to make a tackle and Jordan’s steady yet unspectacular play has been a pleasant surprise for the Chiefs. B-