Head to head: T Michael Adams/Max Starks vs. OLBs Tamba Hali/Justin Houston
Share with others:
One of the best linebacker sack tandems in the AFC will be on the field tonight when the Steelers play the Kansas City Chiefs -- and it won't be LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison.
Well, at least not statistically.
Tamba Hali and Justin Houston have combined for 11 sacks for the Chiefs and have been one of the few bright spots for a defense that has allowed more points (240) than all but three teams in the NFL.
Only one other linebacker duo in the AFC has combined for more sacks (12) through eight games -- Denver's Von Miller (9) and Wesley Woodyard (3).
Dating to last season, Hali and Houston have combined for 21 1/2 sacks in the past 14 games -- the most by any tandem in the league.
"It's similar to what we have here with LaMarr and James," left tackle Max Starks said.
The Chiefs, though, will routinely flip-flop Hali and Houston, meaning Starks and rookie right tackle Michael Adams will take turns trying to keep the tandem off quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
Despite the production of their outside tandem, the Chiefs have allowed 31 or more points in five of their eight games this season. But the totals are not entirely the fault of the defense: Three interceptions and a punt were returned for touchdowns, and a fumble also was recovered for a touchdown.
Hali, though, is the player who energizes the Chiefs defense. He has started every game he has played since the Chiefs drafted him in the first round out of Penn State, though he was suspended for the first game this season for violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy. He has 58 1/2 career sacks and has forced a staggering 23 fumbles.
"He's really something," said offensive coordinator Todd Haley, who was Hali's head coach for 2 1/2 seasons with the Chiefs. "He is a warrior in every sense of the word.
"He's a guy who does not stop. He can beat you with speed, quickness, power, and he's a relentless worker -- offseason, regular season, training camp, in between every period. He is non-stop working on his craft, and it shows. He's one of the elite outside backers in this league. "
Injuries have prevented Woodley and Harrison from being the feared and productive tandem that terrorized opposing quarterbacks from 2008-10. They combined for 71 1/2 sacks in those seasons -- 36 1/2 by Harrison, 35 by Woodley -- more than any other linebacker tandem.
Last year, injuries kept them from producing even bigger sack totals. Harrison and Woodley each finished with nine sacks, but they combined to miss 10 games -- six by Woodley.
This year, they have combined for only four -- one fewer than Hali.
"He's a player you definitely have to pay attention to and handle as best you can," Haley said. "Or he can disrupt the game in a negative fashion fast."
First Published November 12, 2012 12:00 am