Hali Can't Do It Alone

If you've been paying attention to any of the popular outlets for statistical analysis – sites like Football Outsiders, Stats Inc., or Pro Football Focus – then you've probably noticed the tons of praise being heaped upon on Chiefs' OLB Tamba Hali this season.

According to some of the unofficial stats they keep for pass rushers, through the first five games of 2010, Hali already has more "QB hits" than he did all of last season. He also has more than half of the "QB pressures" that he had a year ago.

Eleven of those pressures came last week against the Colts, prompting Pro Football Focus to say that Hali is "possibly the best pass rusher in the league at the moment".

If you look at the more traditional stats, Hali has officially been credited with 14 tackles, 4.5 sacks, one defended pass, and two forced fumbles. Just to pull a completely random name out of the hat for comparison's sake, Minnesota's Jared Allen currently has 17 tackles, 1 sack, no defended passes, and no forced fumbles.

If we look back to last season, the stats are just as glaring. The Chiefs and Vikings have both played five games so far, so a look at their last ten games – five this year, five last year – shows that Allen has four sacks in that span. If you only count his regular season games, it actually drops to three.

Hali, on the other hand, has 9.5 sacks in his last ten games. In other words, his recent surge isn't something out of the blue, it's something we could see building at the end of last season. If he continues producing at his current pace, he may indeed be recognized as one of the league's best pass rushers.

But the point of this Allen comparison isn't to join in on the abuse that Jared is currently taking from frustrated Vikings fans – though for anyone who's forgotten, I will point out that the Chiefs also got Branden Albert and Jamaal Charles as a result of that trade.

Instead, it's to point out that the problem caused when Allen was traded still exists some two and a half years later: the Chiefs have nobody opposite Hali who can rush the passer.

Through the first four games of the season, it hadn't been much of an issue. Against Houston, though, the longstanding problem not only reared its ugly head, it may have cost the Chiefs a victory.

Opposing offensive lineman are doing whatever it takes to keep Hali away from sacking their quarterback.
Getty Images

With left tackle Duane Brown finishing up the final week of his four game suspension, the Texans wisely chose not to leave backup Rashad Butler one-on-one with Hali. That meant plenty of double-teams with Houston's backup tight ends helping Butler keep Hali off the quarterback.

With Hali largely being negated, no one else on the Chiefs' defense stepped up. And the Texans' 21-point explosion in the fourth quarter was based in large part on Matt Schaub's ability to stand in the pocket and calmly scan the field while his receivers found holes in the defense.

It may prove to be nothing but a one game aberration – after all, the Texans do have one of the best offenses in the league, so their output wasn't entirely surprising. But taking a look at their game plan, who's to say that they haven't provided a blueprint to the rest of the league on how to effectively neuter the Chiefs' defense?

Kansas City's defensive line doesn't get after the passer. Mike Vrabel and Andy Studebaker aren't suddenly going to break out as sack specialists. If an opposing team opts to eliminate the K.C. pass rush by double-teaming Hali, they may not capitalize to the degree Houston did, but wouldn't logic suggest that they'll have a much easier time moving the ball?

The Chiefs' next three opponents – Jacksonville, Buffalo, and Oakland – all rank near the bottom of the league in passing offense, so they should provide a good test to see if the Texans' strategy can be duplicated by others. If the Chiefs allow the quarterbacks of these teams to have the time in the pocket that Schaub did, they will officially have a problem on their hands.

In terms of solutions, there seems to be little personnel-wise that the Chiefs can do to fix the problem at this point. Naturally, there aren't any great pass rushers in the free agent waters at this late date. And the trade deadline has come and gone, not that teams were known to be shopping anyone of note.

If teams can remove Hali from the equation like Houston did, it seems like the Chiefs' only possibility for a pass rush will have to come from the creativity of Romeo Crennel. Obviously, that means more aggressive and frequent blitzes, which could ultimately leave the Chiefs even more vulnerable if they fail to disrupt the quarterback.

There's no question that Crennel has worked some magic with the Chiefs defense to this point. But if he has to go about creating a pass rush without Hali, it may prove to be his most difficult trick yet.

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