Un­knowns stiffen Chiefs de­fence

The London Free Press - - SPORTS -

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The two trans­ac­tions the Kansas City Chiefs made be­fore the start of the sea­son came with lit­tle fan­fare.

Jor­dan Lu­cas was drafted in the sixth round out of Penn State by the Dol­phins and had spent most of his ca­reer on their prac­tice squad.

But when it be­came ev­i­dent in late Au­gust that Kansas City might need help at safety, gen­eral man­ager Brett Veach sent a sev­en­thround pick to Mi­ami for him.

Char­var­ius Ward went un­drafted. He signed with the Cow­boys as a free agent, then was shipped the Chiefs for of­fen­sive line­man Parker Ehinger when Dal­las de­cided it needed some help up front.

Two play­ers, ac­quired one day apart, may have turned a shoddy Chiefs de­fence into one that could carry the fran­chise to its first Su­per Bowl ap­pear­ance since 1970.

Lu­cas and Ward be­came de­pend­able pieces in the Chiefs de­fen­sive back­field the fi­nal two weeks of the reg­u­lar sea­son. And Satur­day they helped shut down An­drew Luck and the In­di­anapo­lis Colts in a 31-13 vic­tory that sent the fran­chise to its first AFC ti­tle game in 25 years.

“I think some of the young guys are ma­tur­ing right in front of our eyes,” said Chiefs coach Andy Reid, whose team will face the New Eng­land Pa­tri­ots at Ar­row­head Sta­dium on Sun­day.

His de­fence had been seen as the big­gest vul­ner­a­bil­ity all sea­son, par­tic­u­larly as the Chiefs of­fence shat­tered all kinds of fran­chise records. The only games they lost came in shootouts against the Rams, Pa­tri­ots and Sea­hawks and when Kansas City couldn’t stop Philip Rivers and the Los An­ge­les Charg­ers in the fourth quar­ter.

It was after that game against the Charg­ers that Reid made a bold per­son­nel move: He benched cor­ner­back Or­lando Scan­drick and safety Ron Parker, a pair of veter­ans that had started all sea­son, in favour of Lu­cas and Ware, a pair of rel­a­tively untested young­sters.

They had some grow­ing pains the fol­low­ing week in Seat­tle, but Reid stuck with them and they showed sig­nif­i­cant growth the fol­low­ing week. Their growth con­tin­ued in leaps and bounds against the Colts.

Ward was picked on early and came up with sev­eral big breakups, while Lu­cas pa­trolled the mid­dle of the field like a savvy cen­tre fielder. To­gether they helped hold Luck to 203 yards pass­ing and kept In­di­anapo­lis from scor­ing an of­fen­sive touch­down un­til late in the fourth quar­ter.

“At the end of the day, this is some­thing we love to do, some­thing we get paid to do,” Lu­cas said, “so we have to go out there and give Chiefs King­dome some­thing we haven’t had in 25 years, and it’s spe­cial. We’re just look­ing to keep build­ing.”

The im­proved play by the Chiefs de­fen­sive back­field the last few weeks has paid div­i­dends up front too, al­low­ing de­fen­sive tackle Chris Jones and lineback­ers Justin Hous­ton and Dee Ford to ter­ror­ize op­pos­ing quar­ter­backs. Hous­ton had a pair of sacks and Ford had a strip-sack Satur­day, while Jones ap­plied enough pres­sure up the mid­dle to flush Luck from the pocket on sev­eral oc­ca­sions.

When asked what has changed, Ford replied: “Time. Per­sis­tence.”

Now the Chiefs have to step up one more time to earn a trip to the Su­per Bowl. “Very ex­cit­ing. This is what we need as a team. This is what we work for,” Ford said. “We just want to keep this thing rolling. En­joy it now but keep it rolling.

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