Week 1 of NFL proves pressuring quarterback pays dividends
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) The Chiefs' Justin Houston roared off the edge, stuck out his big mitt and swiped at Brian Hoyer, the All-Pro pass-rusher pulling down the Texans quarterback for his first sack of the season while forcing a fumble in one dynamic play.
No wonder Houston was given that $101 million contract in the offseason.
In a league where quarterbacks are king, the next-most valuable position on the field now belongs to the guys who can track them down.
And as evidenced by the results of the NFL's opening weekend, teams that are able to get pressure on the quarterback tend to have success.
The Rams had six sacks in their surprising win over reigning NFC champion Seattle. The Chiefs totaled five against Hoyer and Texans backup Ryan Mallett, despite facing a good offensive line. The Panthers also had five in their defense-led victory over Jacksonville.
''I'm going to tell you this about any quarterback in this league, if you get to them like that, it's tough sledding,'' Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. ''That's just the way it is.''
In fact, teams that had at least three sacks entering Monday night's doubleheader combined to go 6-2 in Week 1. Teams that failed to record any sacks? A combined 0-6.
The Chiefs got their five from four different players, though the strip-sack by Houston was the highlight.
It was the seventh consecutive game dating to last season that Houston has gotten a sack, and a good start as he attempts to follow up a 22-sack performance from a year ago.
''We knew (the Texans) wanted to come out and run the ball, and a lot of quick throws,'' Houston said. ''We put them in third-and-long and make them hold the ball a little longer, that would give us a great chance to make some plays on defense.''
Indeed, the best way for offenses to counteract blitzing defenses these days is to simply get rid of the ball before they get there. Kansas City used quick throws in an attempt to slow down J.J. Watt, who had two sacks anyway, while the Bengals employed a similar game plan against Oakland.
The Raiders were among six teams that failed to record a sack.
That is precisely what has made the Broncos' Peyton Manning so difficult to sack over the years. But even he went down four times at the hands of the Ravens, who led Denver on the road until a pick-six and field goal helped the Broncos escape with a 19-13 victory.
Baltimore and Washington were the only teams with at least three sacks to lose.
It is not simply the down and distance that makes a sack so valuable. Generating pressure can rattle the quarterback, change momentum, energize the fans - or quiet them - and deal an offense a psychological blow every bit as damaging as the hit itself.
The Rams failed to have a sack in their first five games last season, losing four of them. They racked up 40 while going a more respectable 5-6 the rest of the way, and kept that positive momentum going with six sacks of elusive Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson on Sunday
''We're definitely far from last year. We don't want to start like that,'' St. Louis defensive end Robert Quinn said. ''The guys got on a roll, we kind of got our energy and the guys are feeling great. So once we started getting back there, we tried to stay consistent.''
Judging by Week 1, it would be a good idea to stay that way the rest of the season.
AP Sports Writers R.B. Fallstrom and Josh Dubow contributed to this report.