KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Measured by sacks, the vaunted Chiefs pass rush has all but disappeared.
Once on a pace to shatter the NFL record for sacks, the Chiefs have but one sack in their last three games and not only failed to sack Denver’s Peyton Manning in Sunday night’s 27-17 loss to the Broncos, but they were not credited with a quarterback hit or hurry.
Now, Manning is a one-of-a-kind quarterback. Largely because of his NFL-best 2.35-seconds average release, he had been sacked just 13 times all season, second fewest in the NFL.
But the Chiefs sacked Cleveland’s journeyman Jason Campbell just once and failed to sack Buffalo rookie Jeff Tuel in their previous two games.
Has the league figured out the Chiefs’ pass rush?
“I don’t think so,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said on Monday. “(Manning) did a great job of getting the ball out fast. To get to the quarterback in this league, it’s not only having good people to rush the quarterback, it’s a joint effort. You have to make sure you make life rough on them as far as covering the receivers. He was able to get us a couple of times.”
At one point, the Chiefs were on pace to shatter the 1984 Chicago Bears’ NFL single-season record of 72 sacks in a season. Though they still lead the league in sacks with 36, their season pace of 57.6 won’t break the franchise mark of 60, set in 1990.
The Chiefs’ stated goal was not so much to sack Manning as to affect him. To cause him to throw the ball early and inaccurately.
Manning, bothered by a sore ankle, entered the game completing 71 percent of his passes. But his 60 percent passing, completing 24 of 40, was his second-worst mark of the season to the 59.2 percent in the Broncos’ only loss, at Indianapolis. And his 323 yards were his third-fewest in 10 games, and his one touchdown pass was a season low.
“I don’t know the stat,” Chiefs outside linebacker Tamba Hali said, “but I know he doesn’t get sacked a lot. A lot of guys do hit him, but we didn’t hit him like we anticipated. We just have to do a better job next time.
“Our game plan was working. We made mental errors. I don’t think we need to change what we’re doing. We just need to be more aggressive in pursuing the quarterback.”
The Chiefs next face San Diego’s Philip Rivers, who has a tendency to hold the ball a little longer, but the Chargers have allowed just 19 sacks, fourth fewest in the NFL to Detroit (12), Denver (13) and Chicago (16). Still, the Chargers undoubtedly will be taking notes of how the Browns, Bills and Broncos combated the Chiefs’ pass rush.
“This league is a copycat league, so whenever something is working against you, other teams are going to do it,” inside linebacker Derrick Johnson said. “Not that you can’t dominate every game, but it’s the National Football League and they are getting paid, too.
“They had a good game plan and got the ball out of his (Manning’s) hand very fast, and he was very smart with the ball.”
Even without the sacks, Reid believed his team had some opportunities to force Manning into mistakes, notably a near interception by safety Quintin Demps, who jumped a route and appeared destined to catch the ball and take it back the other way for a touchdown. But tight end Julius Thomas snared the ball and picked up 14 yards.
“We had three chances, legitimate chances to catch the football and there was pressure on the quarterback,” Reid said. “He had to make adjustments to get the football out fast and we were there to make the interceptions. Those are the tough ones, but we’re very capable of doing that.
The Chiefs, who lead the NFL with a plus-15 turnover differential, created just one turnover in the game, when Johnson pounced on a botched handoff between Manning and running back Montee Ball.
“Defensively, I thought the guys played their tails off, but there were opportunities for interceptions,” Reid said. “Normally we’re making those, there were a couple of them where you’d have to dive and scoop and make the catch, and those are ones that we’ve made.”