The AFC West is establishing itself as one of the premier pass-rushing divisions in the NFL, as it owns a handful of young players emerging as stars in the league.
Last Sunday, the Oakland Raiders defeated the Carolina Panthers 35-32 late in the fourth quarter and put the game to bed with a strip-sack on 4th and 10 by none other than defensive end Khalil Mack. The 25-year old stud finished the day with six tackles, one sack, a pick-six, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery.
Mack is just one of many standout players in the division and has a Pro Football Focus grade of 92.7, which is better than Broncos linebacker Von Miller (91.2) and emerging Chargers talent Joey Bosa (89.8). The Kansas City Chiefs regained some strength on defense recently with the return of linebacker Justin Houston, who put together a strong outing against the Broncos in Week 12. Houston and Miller both put on a defensive clinic in the AFC West showdown between the Chiefs and Broncos, and added to the narrative that the teams out west are no joke.
For this week's edition of the AFC West Update, let's take a look around the division and break down some of the league's most-talented players.
There's no denying that Von Miller is one of the best defensive players in the NFL.
The reigning Super Bowl MVP put on a show Sunday night, as the Broncos played host to the Kansas City Chiefs on primetime television at Sports Authority Field. Miller finished the night with 10 total tackles, three sacks, and four tackles for loss, not a bad performance to say the least.
No. 58 is currently the NFL's leader in sacks with 12.5 and is the team's fourth leading tackler with 49 total. Miller is the anchor to the Broncos defense and is always a dominant threat whenever he takes the field. The Broncos defense is undoubtedly one of the best defenses in the league and in large part to the contribution the team has received from Miller.
Although Denver currently sits at third in the AFC West with a record of 7-4, last year's Super Bowl champions shouldn't be taken lightly and are very much in the playoff hunt. This week they'll travel to Jacksonville, Florida, to take on the Jaguars at EverBank Field, and will kick off at 10:00 a.m. PT.
Kansas City Chiefs
The long wait for Justin Houston's return paid off Sunday, as expected, when the Chiefs defeated the Broncos 30-27 in an overtime thriller.
The four time Pro Bowler tallied 10 tackles, three sacks, and five tackles for loss against the Broncos and let the league know that he's back. Last season, Houston suffered a knee injury that required him to miss the remaining weeks of the 2015 campaign, as well as the first 10 weeks of this season.
Over the course of his six-year career, Houston has accumulated 59 total sacks and 235 tackles, with his best season arguably coming in 2014 when he led the NFL in sacks with 22. The former First-Team All-Pro is a monster and a handful for opposing offensive lines, at 6"3' and 260 pounds he's able to utilize his strength and size to burst through the line of scrimmage and attack the quarterback.
The Chiefs also have an emerging talent on their hands with linebacker Dee Ford, who is currently tied for the second-most sacks in league with 10. Between Ford and Houston, Kansas City has a stout defense that's capable of overtaking a game. In Week 13 they'll be tasked with stopping a potent Atlanta Falcons offense and will face them at the Georgia Dome at 10:00 a.m. PT.
San Diego Chargers
After making a splash in his first few games, rookie defensive end Joey Bosa quietly simmered down, but has remained an effective part of Chargers defensive scheme. Despite missing the first month of action, the Ohio State-product has adjusted to the professional level nicely and is looking more and more like a budding star for the Bolts.
Bosa is doing a multitude of things right for the Chargers, hence why Pro Football Focus has given him a grade of 89.8, which puts him in the top-five for edge rushers this season. His acceleration off the edge is impressive and when mixed with his size can be lethal.
Against the Houston Texans, Bosa accumulated eight quarterback pressures against the eighth-best offensive line this season. The rookie's emergence isn't unwarranted and he's proven to be a talented player with immense potential, with Bosa improvement each week, the AFC West should be stacked with quality pass rushers for years to come.