Kansas City Chiefs: Justin Houston Emerges as Elite Pass-Rusher vs. Jaguars

Yahoo Contributor Network

COMMENTARY | The Kansas City Chiefs opened the 2013 NFL season with an impressive 28-2 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday afternoon, kicking off the Andy Reid era in positive fashion and further magnifying the buzz from an eventful offseason surrounding this team.

While a group effort allowed for such a lopsided result, Kansas City's defense is what provided most of the heavy lifting.

If not for a blocked punt that resulted in the Jaguars' only two points, the Chiefs would be hanging their hats on a shutout. Instead, Kansas City left Jacksonville with its largest opening-game victory since a 59-7 win over the Denver Broncos 50 years ago.

The Jaguars were unable to produce any momentum on offense, only advancing the ball beyond their own 36-yard line twice the entire game. Blaine Gabbert completed just 16-of-35 passes for 121 yards and two interceptions, and Maurice Jones-Drew only tallied 45 yards on his 15 carries.

The Chiefs had their way with Jacksonville in every aspect, highlighted by six sacks, two interceptions and a defensive touchdown. The constant pressure made it difficult for the Jaguars to execute their gameplan, and Justin Houston's presence might have opened the eyes of the entire league.

Houston had his way with opposing blockers, finishing the game with three sacks and five tackles. It was the third time in his short career (33 games) that the outside linebacker posted as many sacks as he did against Jacksonville on Sunday.

Since Week 13 of his rookie season (2011) -- a span of 22 games -- Houston has racked up 18.5 sacks, including leading the team with 10 as a full-time starter last season. It was the first time since Jared Allen in 2007 that anyone not named Tamba Hali led the team in the category.

The Chiefs used the 70th overall pick in the 2011 NFL draft on Houston, who fell in to the third round primarily because of a positive drug test at the combine that year. Kansas City was able to snag the linebacker -- once thought of as a first-round talent -- to pair with Hali on the opposite side of its 3-4 defense, hoping to form one of the league's best young pass-rushing tandems.

Hali finished with nine sacks last season -- his lowest total since 2009 -- but expects that he and Houston will pile them up this year, along with the rest of the revamped Chiefs defense now coached by Bob Sutton.

For a team that notched just 27 sacks all of last season (third-worst total in the league), the jump could be significant. And Houston could emerge through a crowded pack that includes Aldon Smith, J.J. Watt and Von Miller (among others) to become one of the NFL's best at getting to the opposing quarterback.

The Chiefs not only have a collection of good players on defense (sent four to the Pro Bowl last season), but a scheme to finally match the talent. Should Kansas City succeed in distancing itself from recent poor efforts from seasons passed, Houston could be the most important piece of the puzzle.

Jeremy Sickel has successfully created and operated numerous websites. His work can be read on Yahoo and Bleacher Report, and he has also appeared on various podcasts and sports talk shows around the country. Interact with Jeremy on Twitter @JeremySickel

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