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Why the Chiefs Will Be a Formidable Threat For the Duration of the Season

Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes didn’t have his typically stellar game against the Jaguars on Sunday. So who stepped up instead? The Kansas City pass rush, and most notably, Dee Ford.

The Chiefs looked sloppy at times on Sunday, with Patrick Mahomes throwing not one, but two interceptions—his first and second of the season. There were serious discipline breakdowns too, with rushers Chris Jones and Dee Ford earning ejections for throwing a punch and taunting, respectively. And yet, despite all of the shortcomings, Kansas City has not looked this scary in a very long time.

In Sunday’s 30–14 victory over the Jaguars on Sunday, the Chiefs answered some big questions about the kind of team they’ll be when they play the best clubs in the NFL, when Patrick Mahomes isn’t throwing lights-out and the team needs outstanding performances on the other side of the ball to win. Don’t get me wrong: This was no masterpiece in the other phases. Kansas City gave up 502 offensive yards to a Blake Bortles-led team playing without its most dynamic player, injured running back Leonard Fournette (hamstring).

But there was one key development that should tell you the Chiefs are built to last deep into the winter months. At long last, the Chiefs have a real, consistent pass rush. In 2016 and ’17, the Chiefs finished 30th and 26th in sack percentage—that is, the percentage of opposing dropbacks that end in sacks. That lack of pressure showed on third down; in 2016, teams converted 43.2% of their first downs against Kansas City, and 40.1% a year later, good for 27th and 23rd best in the NFL. In 2018, however, the Chiefs rank 20th in sack percentage, and—get this—second in the NFL on third down at 29.3%.

What’s changed for the Kansas City pass rush? It’s pretty simple: Dee Ford happened.

Able to play in only six games in 2017, Ford underwent back surgery in the offseason and has come back to play his best ball in a contract year. The Chiefs exercised their fifth-year option on the former first-round pick’s rookie deal, and they might soon regret not coming to a long-term extension with a player on pace to dramatically raise his stock in 2018. Ford has been a tremendous compliment to Justin Houston on the other edge and interior stud Chris Jones, leading the team so far with four sacks and 12 QB hits (tied for most in the NFL through five games, and five hits short of his total in 2016, his 10-sack breakout year).

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Succinctly put, Ford is absolutely balling for this Chiefs team, and that was never more apparent than during Sunday’s biggest moments. On fourth-and-two in the second quarter, Jaguars head coach Doug Marrone elected to go for it at the Kansas City four-yard line, and Ford blew past left tackle Josh Wells, forcing Bortles to dump the ball early, which landed incomplete. Later in the second, Mahomes threw his first interception and gave the Jags a short field; on the first play of the possession, Ford smoked right tackle Jeremy Parnell around the corner for a strip-sack and turnover. Later on, with 20 seconds left in the second quarter and the Jaguars at the Chiefs three-yard line, Ford shimmied past tackle Josh Walker and forced another early and errant throw, which was then intercepted by Steven Nelson.

It was an absolute showcase for Ford and a finally dominant defensive line, which was so effective in pressuring Bortles, offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett turned to a variety of screens to try to get the group on its heels. That didn't work. Bortles was hurried consistently throughout and finished with four interceptions.

Of course, the ejection for taunting is cause for concern; Ford can’t much help from the locker room. And the loss of right guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif to a fractured fibula for a yet unknown amount of time could prove a big obstacle for a running game that has been solid if unspectacular to start the season. But the combination of Jones, Houston and Ford—as long as they can stay healthy—is something the best teams in the AFC will come to fear before season's end.