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Chiefs’ pass rush comes back in big way

  • Kansas City Star
  • Published Sunday, Dec. 8, 2013, at 9:09 p.m.
  • Updated Monday, Dec. 9, 2013, at 6:48 a.m.

— When the snow started falling at FedEx Field early on Sunday, it became was clear to Chiefs outside linebacker Tamba Hali that this could be a game won with a strong performance at the line of scrimmage — albeit with an admittedly simple approach.

“It was hard to sack the quarterback with the footing, so the mindset was just bull-rush the guy and go inside,” said Hali, who racked up two sacks in the Chiefs' decisive 45-10 win over Washington. “That's all I did.”

But it worked, and as the Chiefs racked up six sacks and four quarterback hits after five games in which their vaunted pass rush was held to only two sacks total, well, there was a little room for fun, too.

“Coach said let out personality show, be who we are, have fun, don't be uptight,” Hali said. “The last couple weeks, we might have been a little uptight.”

Not against Washington, though. Not when Hali found a way to beat one of the league's best left tackles, Trent Williams, for two sacks. Not when defensive end Tyson Jackson racked up two sacks, giving him four for the season, a career-high. Not when Frank Zombo — who got the start for injured star Justin Houston — earned his first sack as a Chief.

And definitely not when Chiefs safety Eric Berry corralled Griffin for his 2 1/2 sack of the season on a blitz and, rather unexpectedly, celebrated by borrowing Houston's patented sack dance.

“We talked to (Houston) today before the game,” Berry said, “and he just told us to go out there and ball and make plays.”

Perhaps it should come as no surprise the Chiefs found it easier to get after the quarterback Sunday. Unlike Peyton Manning and Philip Rivers, who both sprinkled in the deep ball by peppering the Chiefs with quick passes, Washington's Robert Griffin III managed to do neither.

“The last three weeks we've played very talented quarterbacks, guys (who) came in with the mindset of getting rid of the ball,” Hali said. “So long as guys hold on to the ball, we have rushers that can get there.”

In a way, it was proof the Chiefs still possessed their pass-rushing juice.

“Throughout the year, we've shown we can do it,” Hali said. “We were playing probably the greatest player that will ever probably play that position (in Manning). He's very smart, and he will make sure it's not gonna be because Justin Houston or the defensive line of the Kansas City Chiefs. It has to be because he didn't do well.”

Griffin III had no such luck, though, and Berry credited the game plan.

“Coach put a good plan in, first of all, and guys bought in,” Berry said. “The focus was there this week, I could definitely tell. Not to say it wasn't any other week, but it was definitely there the other day and I felt like we played together as a team.”

Jackson said the goal was to take away Washington's vaunted running game — which led the league in yards per carry entering the game — with physicality in an attempt to make them one-dimensional.

“When the other team is balanced, it's hard to get a key on when they're running the ball or passing the ball,” Jackson said. “They've got a unique running game; everything's more side-to-side, they're not trying to blow you off the ball. They're trying to gain gaps by moving side-to-side fast.

“I think overall, as defense, we did a real good job in our front seven of knocking those guys back, getting penetration and causing those running backs to stop their feet in the backfield.”

The Chiefs did that adequately early on; Washington gained 25 yards on its first seven carries, and quickly found itself in a 17-0 hole. The Chiefs dialed up the pass rush from that point on, as all six of their sacks came after that.

“Man, I'll tell you what — it's fun watching Tyson and (Dontari) Poe and Derrick (Johnson) and all those guys,” said defensive end Mike DeVito, who later added Hali to the list. “It's like an all-star group over here.”

One that on Sunday, after being held at bay for five straight weeks, finally got back to playing like one.

“On tape, I've seen them do extraordinary things,” Hali said of Washington. “Today, we just went out there and we dominated.”

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