When the Kansas City Chiefs traded a late-round pick to the Pittsburgh Steelers for defensive end Melvin Ingram last week, it was with the intention of adding depth to their outside pass rush. However, after his first game in a Chiefs uniform, it’s becoming clear his impact extends well beyond just his own abilities.
This offseason, Ingram and the Chiefs seemed destined for a marriage. Ingram had visited with KC’s management as a free agent on multiple occasions but never quite came to a deal, leading him to sign with Pittsburgh. Perhaps the longtime Los Angeles Chargers DE was deterred by the perceived depth on the edge the Chiefs possessed. At the time, Kansas City had every intention to roll out Chris Jones at defensive end, especially with the addition of Pro Bowl defensive tackle Jarran Reed this summer.
That experiment didn’t last long, with Jones logging just 3.0 sacks and 11 quarterback pressures through six games. Additionally, with Jones no longer impacting the middle of the defensive line, his teammates were not benefitting from the extra attention he typically draws. Defensive end Frank Clark was affected perhaps more than anyone. His lone sack, coupled with only nine pressures, led to an extremely underwhelming start for someone with the largest cap hit for a non-QB in the NFL this season at $25.8 million.
And the middling pass rush was not limited to just their stars. The defense as a whole struggled to get to the quarterback, resulting in one of the worst defensive starts in league history. Through their four losses, the Chiefs averaged a putrid 5.25 QB pressures per game – as an entire unit! Forcing such little pressure on the AFC’s best quarterbacks in Lamar Jackson, Josh Allen, Justin Herbert, and Ryan Tannehill helped provide the rest of the league with a master class in how to lose games.
Not having Jones in his dominant position was impacting the defense on more than just one level. While their run defense was steadily displaying improvements from earlier in the season, the secondary was routinely roasted for chunk plays and touchdowns in the passing game due to their inability to place any sustained pressure on opposing quarterbacks. It was as though moving Jones to the edge was the first domino, and the rest of the defense came crashing down as a result.
Adding Ingram to a struggling defense was supposed to be a plus in their efforts to increase their ability to rush the passer. However, Ingram’s impact stretches much farther than his talents alone. His addition seems to have signaled a permanent return for Jones to his interior lineman duties.
The sample size is small, but these changes seemed to have jumpstarted the Chiefs’ defense. In Ingram’s first game with Kansas City Sunday in their win against Green Bay, the defense pressured rookie quarterback Jordan Love 15 times, with Jones and Clark combining for nine themselves. While Ingram himself never reached the quarterback, his impact was noticeable throughout. If adding Ingram leads to Jones remaining at his defensive tackle position, that itself makes the trade an automatic win for KC.
Yes, it is important to remember it’s just one game, one against a rookie quarterback making his first career start in Arrowhead Stadium, no less. Yet the Packers still possess an above-average offensive line. A jump from five pressures per game to 15 in one game can’t be scoffed at.
The Chiefs still face a daunting schedule the rest of the year, with two extremely challenging matchups coming up prior to their Week 12 bye. Both the Las Vegas Raiders and Dallas Cowboys will pose a greater threat with their superior quarterback play, perhaps providing a better test for just how improved the defense is now with the addition of Ingram.
Efforts to beef up the Chiefs’ defense began a few weeks before Ingram’s arrival, with Kansas City finally leaning on their younger and more athletic players in larger roles, yet they still seemed to be missing something. Ingram could be the final puzzle piece the Chiefs needed to solve their early-season defensive woes.