With linebacker Justin Houston unable to play, the Kansas City Chiefs may have a rough go of it against the 9-2 Denver Broncos on Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium. It appears that Houston’s inability to play against the Broncos due to a dislocated elbow he incurred in the Week 12 game against the San Diego Chargers may very well be a harsh reality that the Chiefs will have to deal with. And the battle for this season’s AFC West division title looms ever closer.
Also possibly out of the Chiefs’ defensive lineup on Sunday may be another valuable linebacker, Tamba Hali, who sustained a mid-ankle sprain in the same game — though it looks right now as though he will indeed be able to play.
The Chiefs’ defense had it tough enough against the Denver offensive line and quarterback Peyton Manning for their Week 11 meeting — they hardly left a dent on Manning’s protection with a fully healthy defensive roster. Now, after a two-game losing streak following a solid 9-0 start to the season, things for Kansas City might start going from unfortunate to bleak without Houston, even if Hali plays.
Just how critical are Houston and Hali to the Chiefs’ defensive game?
Houston by himself has a total of 11 sacks for this season, ranking third behind the Indianapolis Colts‘ Robert Mathis (with 14.5 sacks) and the St. Louis Rams‘ Robert Quinn (with 13). Consider also that, in tandem with Hali, Houston has racked up a combined 20 of the Chiefs’ 37 total sacks which leads the NFL this season.
Those are indeed impressive numbers. What does it mean for the Chiefs playing without these two?
In the game against the Chargers, San Diego scored 31 points during the second half alone without Houston and Hali on the field to assist following their injuries. Up until that point this season, the Chiefs’ defense had not allowed more than 17 points to their opponents in any one game, with the exception of the 27-point score by the Broncos in Week 11. Not having Houston or Hali against the Chargers proved dangerous to say the least.
It should also go without saying that the Chiefs will hurt in light of Houston’s likely and Hali’s possible absences when they go up against the Broncos again and will find it approaching impossible to stop Manning’s top-ranked offense in the league.
Chiefs linebackers Dezman Moses and Frank Zombo would be filling in for Houston and Hali Sunday, but the pressing question is what will they be able to contribute to Kansas City’s signature defense?
I can’t help but think of cartoons where a character will cover his or her eyes and squeak out, “I can’t watch!” while still peeking, unable to look away.
This turn of fortune could spell “epic fail” for Kansas City’s playoff and Super Bowl aspirations, even if it is for the one game against Denver. The Chiefs may not be able to catch up once they find themselves too far behind.