Rejuvenated pass rush powers Kansas City Chiefs' defense

By Matt Derrick, The Sports Xchange  |  Sept. 18, 2017 at 11:44 PM
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Justin Houston stood at his locker after Sunday's game against the Eagles lamenting the few things that went wrong for his defense in a 27-20 win over the Eagles rather than the many things that went very well.

"We've got to do better as a whole," Houston said. "We made some plays when we needed to, but again we've got to do better."

The Chiefs defense getting better should send shivers through every offense in the AFC. The team that ranked 28th in the NFL a year ago with just 28 sacks currently sits tied at No. 2 with nine sacks. And that's against Tom Brady and the New England Patriots as well as elusive Carson Wentz and a Philadelphia Eagles offensive line anchored by Lane Johnson and Jason Peters.

Head coach Andy Reid credits the return of Houston for the turnaround. Houston played just 16 regular-season games over the last two seasons. Reid says it's not just Houston's play on the field, but his on-the-field coaching of the team's young pass rush that makes a difference.

"That's been a big part of his leadership," Reid said. "Justin kind of takes all the young guys there and really rallies them around."

One of those young guys is second-year defensive lineman Chris Jones, who proved to be a disruptive force throughout the win over the Eagles. Jones picked up three sacks along with another tackle for a loss. He also intercepted a pass, forced two fumbles and picked up two more quarterback hits in just 32 snaps.

Now Houston wants to see even more from Jones.

"I hope and pray that he does that every week," Houston said. "We are going to need that every week, week in and week out, for us to be a good defense."

Jones missed much of training camp due to offseason knee surgery following a training injury. Reid believes Jones is just now rounding into season form.

"I'm thinking he didn't have the training camp so he was kind of going through that process the other guys went through camp were going through," Reid said. "It was just getting enough reps under his belt so he could sustain play."

The coach believes his team's pass rush began showing its potential late in the season's first game against New England.

"You saw when they geared it up, it's pretty tough," Reid said. "And they did the same thing yesterday. When we asked them to go, they were rocking and rolling there."

NOTES, QUOTES

--The Kansas City secondary played its first game without safety Eric Berry after the All-Pro's season came to an end last week with a ruptured Achilles tendon. Head coach Andy Reid felt his secondary played well overall.

"I thought we missed him early," Reid said. "Just a matter of the new guys settling down and playing."

Reid credited veteran safety Ron Parker for taking a leadership role and helping relax his teammates.

"He's a quiet guy, but he just (said), 'Relax, we're going to be OK right here,' and took over and filled that role that Eric does with the defense," Reid said.

Safeties Daniel Sorensen and Eric Murray, tasked with filling the spot vacated by Berry, led the team in tackles with six each against the Eagles.

"With the exception of the one holding call early, Murray came back and had some big plays for us, and Sorensen had some big plays," Reid said. "His ability to blitz in there and sacrifice, jumping over people and doing all that I thought was a tribute."

--Chiefs center Mitch Morse left Sunday's game in the fourth quarter with a foot sprain. The prospect of the third-year starting missing time means a big adjustment for quarterback Alex Smith and the offense.

"Center in this offense makes a ton of calls," Smith said. "He's kind of the glue for those five guys, making sure everyone is on the same page - run and pass. There's a lot of unspoken communication between the center and I, especially with Mitch though."

Zach Fulton entered the lineup in Morse's place. Head coach Andy Reid often refers to Fulton as the team's sixth starter, capable of filling in at any spot on the line. On Fulton's first snap, the Chiefs scored on an option shovel pass from Smith to tight end Travis Kelce up the middle behind center.

"He handled the gun snap and then kind of an option-type play that he's got to maneuver a little bit on," Reid said. "We have full trust in him, really at all the spots."

The Chiefs chose to move swing tackle Bryan Witzmann to left guard while last year's starter Parker Ehinger continues recovering from a torn ACL sustained last October. That allowed Fulton to be the Chiefs' additional insurance against an injury along the offensive line. The policy paid dividends against the Eagles.

"Hopefully Mitch gets healthy and he's back soon," Smith said. "Fortunate though to have Zach step in like that."

--Chiefs cornerback Marcus Peters continued his practice of sitting during the national anthem Sunday, but also declines to answer questions about why he chooses to sit during the pregame ritual.

Head coach Andy Reid said he's spoken to Peters about it, but declined to explain why Peters chooses to sit.

"As a head coach, I see more than other people see, and right or wrong, we're given the opportunity to express ourselves," Reid said. "We all are. We all don't agree. But when we come together, we come together as the Chiefs as a football team and that's not a distraction for our football team, and we roll."

Reid deflected to a statement issued last season by team chairman and CEO Clark Hunt on his preference that the team's players stand for the anthem.

"It's not something where I've spoken specifically to the players or any specific player about it," Hunt said last season. "But the entire team knows that our desire is for them to stand during the national anthem."

Reid discussed some of what he sees as a head coach involving Peters, the media and public may not know. He mentioned the cornerback's work in his hometown of Oakland with young kids and organizing a local football team there. Peters also sponsored his second annual "It Takes a Village" carnival in April at McClymonds High School in Oakland.

"His big picture is that he's helping to raise these kids and he wants to raise them in a better world," Reid said. "That was my point, and I'm sure that's probably part of this."

But the coach said he doesn't want to debate the merits of Peters choosing to sit for the anthem.

"People are going to have opinions for and against," Reid said. "I'm not going to get into all that."

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