Kevin Vickerson has been a part of some stellar defensive fronts, whether he was playing next to Albert Haynesworth and Jevon Kearse in Tennessee or Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil in Denver.
Still, the Kansas City Chiefs are on pace to do something that neither of those defenses did – in fact, something that has never been done in the history of the NFL.
They still have not allowed a touchdown on the ground this season.
Sure, opponents have come close. Just last Sunday, Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch was repelled at the 2-yard line, setting up fourth down. Seattle threw a pass incomplete, and Kansas City went on to win a 24-20 nail-biter against the defending Super Bowl champions.
Other teams have come close to scoring on the ground, too. But none of them succeeded yet.
“It’s all about communication and knowing assignments,” said Vickerson, a veteran defensive tackle signed early this season. “When you know your assignments you can play fast. You’re not over there thinking. Communication is very important. That’s what we’ve been doing pretty good.”
The previous time a defense refused to allow a touchdown rushing this deep in the season was 2011, when the San Francisco 49ers went the first 14 games without one. That team went on to finish 13-3 behind current Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith, losing to the Giants in the NFC title game.
The fewest touchdowns rushing allowed in any season is two, shared by the 1971 Vikings, ’68 Cowboys and ’34 Lions. All but the Lions reached the playoffs – Detroit went 10-3 and was second in its division in an era when fewer teams qualified for the postseason. Minnesota and Dallas each won its division, something the Chiefs have their sights set on this year.
They’re tied with Denver for the AFC West lead at 7-3 heading into Thursday night’s game in Oakland.
“You know, it’s a tribute to the guys for doing what they do,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “I mean, sometimes that’s just how things fall. The guys obviously take a lot of pride in that.”
That was evident in the way they whooped it up heading to the sideline after stopping Lynch and the Seahawks on Sunday. It was as if the entire team has become invested in the way the defense played in the red zone, in Reid’s mind a sure sign of unity within the locker room.
Kansas City has only allowed opponents to score 41.9 percent of the time inside its 20-yard line, second only to Jacksonville for the best rate in the NFL.
“Everybody has stepped up and played together. Everybody has one goal,” said defensive end Allen Bailey, whose breakout season recently earned him a four-year, $25 million contract extension.
“I don’t know, man. It’s hard. Everybody is trying to stop the run, that’s our first goal,” Bailey said. “Stop the run, then rush the passer.”
The Chiefs have been doing a pretty good job of that, too. Justin Houston has a league-leading 12 sacks, and would have had another if not for a penalty last week. Defensive tackle Dontari Poe had his career-best fifth. And the Chiefs have 30 as a team, tied for third-best in the NFL, and an impressive number given the total number of sacks are down across the league this season.
By stuffing the run, the Chiefs have been able to turn loose against the pass in long-yardage situations, and that has resulted in a league-leading pass defense.
Throw it all together and the Chiefs are allowing 17.1 points, second-best in the league.
“You definitely have to stop the run. This is the time of year when people run more. It’s playoff time,” Vickerson said. “When you bow up against the run in the cold months of November, December, January, those are the playoff teams, and if you can stop them, I know from experience ... you have a good chance of winning games.”
Notes: WR A.J. Jenkins missed practice with a shoulder injury. Everyone else was expected to do some work, though Reid cautioned that doesn’t mean everyone will be available for Oakland. TE Anthony Fasano (knee) and CB Jamell Fleming (hamstring) have also been banged up. Both missed last week’s game against Seattle.