Dee Ford: A game-changing evolution

Dee Ford has been a wrecking ball in his pass rushing. The evolution of his development has been game-changing for the Kansas City Chiefs defence.

Dee Ford is in his contract year. As Terez Paylor has often stated, ‘the contract year is undefeated’, and Ford is proving him right. For this is very much the best season of his career.

Ford has always been a flash-in-the-pan pass rusher. The moments of searing bend off the edge have not been wholly exclusive to this season. They have — admittedly in inconsistent, brief glimpses — been seen before. But never have they been so frequent, so reliable, and so obviously influential that the 2014 first round draft pick is now receiving national recognition.

Through the first five games of the season, which is more than a quarter of the campaign and enough to provide a reasonable sample size of more than fleeting form, Ford has four sacks, 12 quarterback hits, tied for the most in the NFL, and has 29 pressures according to PFF, also a league-leading figure (I should point out that PFF has their own definition of a ‘pressure’, so this number may differ from others quoted). Those stats are enough to paint the picture of this being a very different Dee Ford to the previous iterations.

But more than just the numbers, Ford also passes the famed ‘eye test’. His explosion off the edge, which has always been a key trait of his, is still present, but he has paired it with a nice inside move that makes opposing tackles hesitate before taking the first step to defend Ford’s speed move. That provides Ford with that extra half a second which is vital when trying to throw (or gently place, as the NFL’s new rushing the passer rule would dictate) the quarterback to the ground.

He has also consistently changed games. For instance, prior to Sunday’s emphatic win over the Jacksonville Jaguars, in which the Chiefs’ pass rush was the dominant unit that utterly tilted the contest in their favour, Ford had five pressures in the red zone, when a sack is its most potent and the opposing offence is desperate to avoid negative plays. That, like seemingly all of his pass rush statistics, led the NFL. He knows when to produce a play that can win games. This is a key skill for a pass rusher to have. Remember Brandon Graham and those Eagles in the Super Bowl? Graham had one sack in the game. It was the only one that mattered. Ford has that same innate ability.

Against the Jaguars on Sunday, Ford amassed five tackles, a sack, a forced fumble, which came one play after Patrick Mahomes threw his first interception of the season to quickly reassert the momentum in the Chiefs’ favour and stem the potential Jacksonville comeback, and three quarterback hits. Moreover, Ford made huge, impact plays on a fourth down stop in the second quarter, forcing Blake Bortles to dump off a pass earlier than he would have wanted, and pressured Bortles quickly on a wayward flow that Steven Nelson picked off. Both these plays happened in the red zone. Again. Ford is making game-changing plays.

This is an evolution for Ford. This is not a completely new Dee Ford. He has always had the talent. But this is a new level, a new consistency, a new iteration that we have only had sneek peeks at previously. Dee Ford has evolved. And it’s changing the game for the Chiefs. Long may it continue.

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