View Full Version : Chiefs Hali praised for pass rushing but passes credit to teammates

Hammock Parties
11-06-2011, 12:55 AM

Tamba Hali looks up from his cellphone and sees me coming. He smiles. He knows why I’m here. Can probably guess the questions. And I know how this will probably go, too, know Hali well enough to expect his first response when he hears this column will focus on him.

“I’d really rather not,” he says.

That’s fine, I tell him. I understand. But he should know what’s coming, so I tell him that a rival personnel man calls him “the most relentless pass rusher in our league.”

Hali should know that advanced statistics show he is among the very best at what he does, that there are lifelong football men who swear those numbers would be even better if the Chiefs had a second pass rusher to occupy blockers.

He should know that Chargers’ Pro Bowl left tackle Marcus McNeill played the worst game of his career on Monday, which puts him in good company among well-paid professionals who’ve become incompetent against Hali’s speed and strength and, especially, persistence.

And Hali should know that when men who are among the best pass rushers of all-time talk about the best in the game today, his name is one of the first. He should know that when men who played with the best pass rushers in Chiefs history are asked to compare, they say Hali can be as dominant as any of them.

Hali listens politely. He nods his head.

“I appreciate people writing stories about me, but our team is really based around a collective group of guys,” Hali says. “Sometimes you don’t see those other guys who are able to contribute. Just because they don’t make the plays or get the job done in a way that’s in the light doesn’t mean they don’t contribute.”

And with that, Hali unwittingly brings up the most important point: this response is exactly why he is not only the most dominant player on this team but the one who best embodies what the rest of the organization strives to be.

• • •

Remember when the Chiefs’ season was over? Remember when they were a punchline? Or even worse? The Jay Leno jokes (plural), the depressing numbers, the anger in blaming everyone from Clark Hunt to Sabby Piscitelli?

This team had every reason to quit. Every opportunity to give up. They had excuses to use, like general manager Scott Pioli not acquiring more depth or coach Todd Haley turning the preseason into one long conditioning drill or a remarkable string of injuries.

They lost the first two games by a combined 89-10 — a historic level of fail in the NFL — and the next one when their seventh-year quarterback threw a seventh-grade interception.

This is when teams quit. This is when teams blame the schedule or the injuries or the rift between coach and general manager. But they didn’t, did they?

Instead, the Chiefs stuffed Adrian Peterson and won against Minnesota, beat the Colts with the franchise’s biggest comeback in eight years, got two defensive touchdowns in a shutout in Oakland, and rode a wave of Arrowhead magic to an overtime win over the Chargers.

You don’t have to believe in Pioli’s “Right 53” talking point. You can joke about it and roll your eyes and think it’s a self-serving justification for every draft pick or signing.

But there’s something critical here you should recognize. More than most teams in the NFL, the Chiefs’ front office has made a player’s willingness to be coached an enormous part of their personnel evaluation. They value players who can lead first, and players who will follow second.

Funny, then, that the player who best symbolizes their emphasis on character and accountability was here when the current administration took over.

Pioli Inc. has made Matt Cassel and Derrick Johnson rich while making Bernard Pollard and Jarrad Page gone. This whole “Right 53”movement is ripe for exaggeration, and there are exceptions on all sides.

But there is no logical way to believe that what is already a comeback season — regardless of how it ends — would’ve been possible if the current Chiefs leadership hadn’t spent so much of their first 30 months cramming the roster with their specific belief-system.

There is a line of Chiefs coaches, executives and players who will tell you that this matters, and at the very least, it matters precisely because the men involved believe it matters.

Nobody embodies that better than Hali.

• • •

Tamba Hali’s favorite play this season isn’t even a sack. It’s a tackle against Indianapolis, with the Chiefs losing in the first half. Losing makes Hali mad, you know, and he always plays better when he’s mad.

Hali was coming around the edge, like always, when he got punched — or at least that’s what it felt like — in the stomach. This made Hali even madder, of course, so he faked the tight end and knocked down the fullback and tackled the tailback 3 yards behind the line of scrimmage.

“When you’re on defense,” Hali says, “you have to be a little sensitive. Sometimes you gotta get a little (ticked) off about something.”

Len Dawson knows that mind-set. He has played with or closely watched every pass rusher in Chiefs’ history — Bobby Bell, Neil Smith, Jared Allen and so many others.

Watching Hali makes Dawson think of Derrick Thomas, the Hall of Fame linebacker who ranks 12th all-time in sacks.

“Their personalities couldn’t be more different,” Dawson says. “But they have one thing in mind, and that’s get to the quarterback. I’ve always thought this about Tamba. He might get knocked down, but he’s not going to lay there. He’s going to jump up and try to do something.

“And Derrick was the same way.”

The numbers back this up. The advanced metrics at Pro Football Focus rate Hali as the best 3-4 outside linebacker in football this season and the NFL’s most effective pass rusher last year.

Since 2009, only Cameron Wake (15.7 percent) and DeMarcus Ware (15.6 percent) have pressured the quarterback on a higher percentage of pass plays than Hali (15.2 percent). And only Ware (38 1/2 ), Jared Allen (38) and LaMarr Woodley (32 1/2 ) have more sacks than Hali (29).

Of the five pass rushers mentioned, Hali is playing with the least amount of help around him.

“He’s what Derrick Thomas would’ve been without Neil Smith,” says Bill Maas, who played four seasons with Thomas and Smith. “If (Hali) gets a complement, he’d be at (Thomas’) level.”

Fitting that those words are said about a man who began this column talking up his teammates, right? This is who Hali is. It’s what he is.

He does a “Tamba-hawk” dance after sacks because a former teammate talked him into it and his current teammates think it’s funny. He is particular about his work and his routine, to the point that friends know not to bother him and teammates just try to keep up.

He bought the same specific and expensive video equipment the Chiefs use for his home because even the man with a rare combination of strength and speed is always looking for an extra advantage.

The talent is obvious. The way he made McNeill a turnstile last week was broadcast to millions around the country.

It’s these other things that are harder to see. And it’s these other things that make him the ultimate embodiment of why a team stuck in punchlines four games ago is now in first place.

11-06-2011, 01:56 AM
All the guys are doing this. Every single one is crediting their teammates and deflecting praise to them.

It's a lot like the way Mr. Phobia handles his reputation around this place.


11-06-2011, 02:10 AM
Locker room cancer.

11-06-2011, 02:24 AM
I like this a billion times more than Bowe's "look at me" get on my back hand gesture.

Yeah... nice catch, but it's a fucking team sport. Wish more guys on the team had Hali's mentality.

Dave Lane
11-06-2011, 04:15 AM
Overall I think this is a pretty good group of guys that's easy to root for. I think Haley has done a fantastic job of whipping them into shape and getting the most out of them. To fail to acknowledge that means you are blind.

11-06-2011, 04:22 AM
I like this a billion times more than Bowe's "look at me" get on my back hand gesture.

Yeah... nice catch, but it's a ****ing team sport. Wish more guys on the team had Hali's mentality.

I agree.