The Kansas City Chiefs have seen some excellent defensive line play through their history, but could the duo of Chris Jones and Frank Clark be the best yet? One of the key staples of most successful Kansas City Chiefs teams has been having great defensive line play and players with the elite ability to rush the passer.
One of the key staples of most successful Kansas City Chiefs teams has been having great defensive line play and players with the elite ability to rush the passer. The championship team from Super Bowl IV featured NFL Hall of Famer’s Buck Buchanan, Curly Culp, and Bobby Bell. This was a time before sacks were considered an official statistic but all three being inducted into the Hall of Fame shows just how much talent the unit had at the time.
The ’90s featured the fearsome duo of Hall of Famer Derrick Thomas and Chiefs Hall of Fame member Neil Smith. Although the duo never made it to the big game, in 1992 they each recorded 14.5 sacks in an era of football more designed to run the ball. Both are considered two of the best defensive players of the ’90s, while Thomas is regarded as one of the greatest pass rushers of all time.
Jared Allen would be passed the torch in the mid-2000s. Poor Chiefs teams lead to him being traded to the Minnesota Vikings, but he managed a 15.5 sack season for the Chiefs. In his first six years with the Vikings, he recorded double-digit sacks every season, including 22 sacks in 2011.
Tamba Hali would be the next impact player along the Chiefs defensive line, and when combined with Justin Houston, helped make the Chiefs a competitive pass rush tandem again in Any Reid’s early days with the Chiefs. Hali would start to age, and a year after nearly breaking the NFL sack record of 22.5,(Houston recorded 22) Houston would suffer a torn ACL that would define the rest of his career in Kansas City.
He remained a good player but we never saw the dominance that he had in the 2014 season. This would lead to the drafting of Dee Ford in 2015, and a year later Chris Jones in 2016, and when all three were healthy it leads to a very good year for the pass rush in 2018.
Despite being an overall poor year for defense the trio combined for 37.5 overall sacks, but the unit was cast aside after a costly offsides penalty against Ford in the 2018 AFCCG.
While that unit did have good pass rush the flaws were there, Houston’s contract was an albatross on the franchise and at 31 years old his best days were behind him. The Chiefs would release him early in the 2019 offseason. Ford when healthy could rush the edge with the best of them, but inconsistent play against the run and health issues would lead the Chiefs to tag and trade him to the San Fransisco 49ers.
The Chiefs knew they had a rare talent in Chris Jones but the team needed another piece upfront. The team found that piece in Frank Clark, and as we saw in 2019 Clark and Jones were a duo of force when both were fully healthy and on the field at the same time.
Jones and Clark alone have shown the ability to create nightmare situations for offensive lines and quarterbacks, but when on the field together this past year they were that much harder to beat. They each have their own individual skillset that allows them to win on their own.
For Chris Jones, what sets him apart and makes him special is the ridiculous power he possesses as a player, which when combined with his length and athletic ability makes him at times unstoppable.
While Jones will often just use his physical gifts to win a rep, Clark, as we saw this past season, won reps with multiple different pass rush moves, as well as violent play.
Injuries and a stomach bug cost Clark games in the regular season, but as time went on he started to dominate games and finished the postseason with five sacks.
While Clark started to heal in the postseason we saw Chris Jones come down with an ankle injury that cost him in the AFC Divisional Round game against the Houston Texans and limited his reps in the AFCCG against the Tennessee Titans. Clark was able to step up in the absence of Jones but in the Super Bowl, both left it all on the field and showed just how dominant the duo can be when healthy.
Clark recorded just one tackle, but it was the fourth-down sack that all but sealed the game late in the fourth quarter. Chris Jones had just one tackle as well but his three batted down passes are what sparked momentum on defense and ultimately was a key factor in the comeback victory, as well as a QB pressure that led to Bashaud Breeland’s interception in the 2nd quarter.
Ironically, the 4th down sack that Clark had to help seal the game was set up off of Chris Jones being able to come in and blow up the offensive linemen trying to block Clark, giving him a free shot on Jimmy Garroppolo. There appears to be natural chemistry between the two and that is apparent through several plays this season.
These clips along with the clips from the matchup against the Titans show just how good a job they do playing next to one another but also much versatility they add. The thing that is going to give teams trouble is they each can make up in areas where the other lacks.
Clark can win with speed off the edge while Jones provides power up the middle and athletic ability against generally worse athletes along the interior offensive line. Clark has to go against tackles who are generally larger and better athletes but with the “head dip technique”, “rip/ club combo” and “speed to power” moves he is able to win the battle for the edge. Both provide the solid ability to stop the run and can play in multiple fronts in the defense.
For a position as physical as defensive line, longevity is hard to predict, but knowing that in 2020 for the first time in a whole season we will get to see Jones and Clark healthy at the same time should give Chiefs fans encouragement. Both players are just now getting into the prime years of their careers and are on a defense that could potentially be among the league’s elite units.
With the Chiefs offense primed to score a lot in 2020, it could lead to teams throwing more against the Chiefs in 2020, which will open up pass rush chances. This could also lead to large sack numbers for both Clark and Jones. Both have been reached double digits in their careers and it appears as though even though they combined for only 17 sacks in 2019, they could break out for even more in 2020.
Could it be the best of all-time for an NFL duo? While it’s not out of question they could have a chance I would look for the duo surpassing the 1992 season by Thomas and Smith, with both Clark and Jones finishing with around 13-15 sacks for the season. It is a lofty goal but it appears as though the duo would want nothing more, especially given what they have accomplished together so far in just one year.