The hallmark of the Kansas City Chiefs’ defense in recent years has been its ability to harass quarterbacks.
The Chiefs finished in the top seven in the NFL in sacks in each of the last three seasons. Linebacker Justin Houston played a big part in the pass rush by registering 41 ½ sacks during that span, including an NFL-leading 22 in 2014, a half-sack off the league record of 22 ½ by Michael Strahan for the New York Giants in 2001.
However, Houston began the season on the physically unable to perform list as he continues to recover from the knee surgery and will miss at least three more games. The injury knocked him out for the final five games of last year as well as the Chiefs’ two playoff games.
The Chiefs inability to get to the quarterback in Houston’s absence is showing as they have just three sacks through their first three games. That is the second-worst figure in the NFL behind the Pittsburgh Steelers, who have registered only one sack.
The teams meet Sunday night at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh. Both are 2-1 despite having trouble putting heat on the quarterback.
The Chiefs have made up for the lack of sacks by registering a league-best 10 takeaways, eight interceptions and two fumble recoveries. Eight of those takeaways came last Sunday in a 24-3 win over the New York Jets when Kansas City intercepted Ryan Fitzpatrick six times.
“The secondary has played pretty good,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “The front has gotten good push. The balls that have bene on the ground, the fumble part of it, the guys have been around the ball, which is half the battle there when you talk about fumbles.”
Chiefs second-year cornerback Marcus Peters has a league-leading four interceptions with two in each of the last two games. He was the NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Year last season when he picked off a league-high eight passes — taking two back for touchdowns — after the Chiefs drafted him in the first round from Washington with the 18th overall selection.
“He’s a good player,” Reid said. “He’s got good ball skills. He’ a smart player. And you have all that, and he studies like crazy on top of it.”
Linebacker Tamba Hali, who has one of the Chiefs’ three sacks along with linebackers Derrick Johnson and Frank Zombo, was more effusive in his praise of Peters.
“He’s incomparable,” Hali said. “There’s nobody in the league to compare him. He makes great players on defense whenever we need him to.”
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has been turnover-prone this season. He has thrown at least one interception in all three games and has been picked off a total of four times while also losing a fumble.
Furthermore, Roethlisberger has been sacked six times and Hali would like to add to that total.
“We get out there and try to put pressure on the quarterback, move him his spot,” Hali said. “We try to create havoc in the backfield in any way we can. We’ve had success putting pressure on quarterbacks but it isn’t showing in the way of sacks.”
The Steelers’ offense figures to get a boost from the return of running back Le’Veon Bell, who missed the first three games while serving a suspension for violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy. He rushed for 121 yards on 17 carries in a loss to the Chiefs last season.
“He can catch, he can block, he can run,” Reid said. “The screen game is good. Ben likes throwing him the ball. He is an all-around good player. He is so patient running the football. He is a good player.”
Hali and Bell are both freestyle rappers in their spare time. Hali laughed when asked if the two might someday collaborate musically.
“Maybe sometime in the offseason,” Hali said. “I just want to collaborate with my teammates on Sunday to get him down on the ground.”