During the first half of 2016, the Chiefs put together one of the best pass rushes in football. Then OLB Justin Houston, who missed nine games while recovering from an ACL operation performed in February, returned to action. And Kansas City's already strong defense got even better.
Following a nondescript return in Week 12, Houston exploded last Sunday vs. the Broncos, recording three sacks – one of which resulted in a safety – and helping the Chiefs to a 30-27 win over the reigning Super Bowl champions.
"Oh, man, that was a big plus for us, and he's very excited to be back on the field," safety Eric Berry said about Houston's return. "(He's) very determined, and everyone's in tune for the mission, so we're just staying focused on that and we'll just go approach the game in that manner."
"He's just going to keep playing ball. I just know him as a person and I just know how determined he is, and I know how hard he worked to just get back on the field, and I'm excited to see what he can do and what he can help us with."
Houston, who notched 22 sacks in 2015 and has 59 sacks in 72 regular season games, has certainly earned the respect of those at Flowery Branch.
"One, it's the get off," head coach Dan Quinn said when asked what makes Houston so dangerous. "As a pass rusher, when you have the speed to jump off the ball and force a tackle to get out of his technique so early. Think of beating somebody to the punch. When you have a great get off and you can beat somebody to the punch you can put the pressure mentally and physically on and offensive lineman."
Houston primarily lines up on the left side, meaning he'll likely see a lot of Ryan Schraeder, who has dealt with his fair share of Pro Bowl-caliber pass rushers this season.
"I try to be as confident as I can going into games. I study hard. But after going against guys like Von – it seems like every week this year I've had a guy like that," Schraeder said. "And I've learned a lot. And that's basically what I pull from as I learn that, 'OK, I need to set this guy this way.' It's stuff like that. So, it's been a cool year to learn stuff like that."
Schraeder has been solid since agreeing to a five-year extension on Nov. 21, allowing one sack and four pressures in the last two games, according to Pro Football Focus. If he continues to block well on Sunday, it'll go a long way toward keeping the offense on track.
"He's got a few good moves," Schraeder said about Houston. "He's a relentless pass rusher. I think that's what makes the pass rushers good: they're just relentless and they want to get to the quarterback no matter what. That makes it hard on us. He's just an all-around good player."