You have reached your limit of free articles this month.

Enjoy unlimited access to

Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks.


  • ePAPER

You have read of premium articles.

Get unlimited access to all of our breaking news, in-depth coverage and bonus content- exclusively for subscribers. Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks


Welcome to

This subscriber-only site gives you exclusive access to breaking news, in-depth coverage, exclusive interactives and bonus content.

You can read free articles of your choice a month that are only available on

Ex-UGA star Houston back in form for Chiefs

Justin Houston missed five games last season and wasn’t the same when he returned for the playoffs. Houston ended up having knee surgery in February, missed the first nine games this season and looked rusty when he returned to face the Buccaneers two weeks ago.

Then everything changed for Kansas City’s top pass rusher during a victory at Denver on Sunday night.

Houston dominated the Broncos so thoroughly that they benched right tackle Ty Sambrailo. He had three sacks, nine pressures, four tackles for loss or no gain and drew a holding call. Houston also forced a fumble that resulted in a safety and led to a Chiefs return touchdown on the ensuing free kick.

It seems the former University of Georgia standout is healthy again, just in time to chase Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan on Sunday at the Georgia Dome.

“Perfect timing, right?” Ryan said.

Chiefs safety Eric Berry, the former Creekside High School star and Houston’s close friend, said his teammate is just getting started.

“He’s just going to keep playing ball,” Berry said. “I know him as a person and I know how determined he is and how hard he worked getting back on the field. I’m excited to see what he can do.”

Houston’s performance against the Broncos wasn’t out of the ordinary considering his pedigree. The Statesboro native has been voted to four consecutive Pro Bowl selections and got an All-Pro nod in 2014, when he led the league with 22 sacks.

But Houston’s performance was remarkable because he was questionable to even play this season after the February ACL surgery. If Houston doesn’t yet have his normal explosiveness it was hard to tell against the Broncos because he was plenty quick enough and craftily set up his speed rushes with power moves.

“As a pass rusher when you have the speed to get off the ball and force a tackle out of his technique so early, it’s like beating someone to the punch,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. “When you have a great ‘get-off’ you can put the pressure mentally and physically on an offensive line. We know we have our hands full. He’s a terrific player.”

Houston isn’t the only capable pass rusher the Falcons must contend with on Sunday.

Chiefs outside linebacker Dee Ford, who has 10 sacks this season, missed the Broncos game because of a hamstring injury but returned to practice on Wednesday. He’s expected to line up on the right side of the defense opposite Houston.

The Chiefs rank just 24th in the adjusted sack rate metric calculated by Pro Football Outsiders. But the Falcons figure to see a much more formidable pass rush with Houston rounding into form and Ford back in the lineup alongside him.

“It’s impressive the depth they have, especially on the edge,” Falcons left tackle Jake Matthews said. “It’s going to be a challenge but we feel ready for it and we feel like we can compete with them and block them and give Matt a chance to make plays.”

Matthews and his line mates have good reason to feel confident after they had probably their best game of the season in pass protection on Sunday against Arizona. The Cardinals have one of the best pass-rushing units in the league but the Falcons were held to three sacks and seven total pressures against Ryan on 39 drop backs.

For the most part, the Falcons effectively protected Ryan against other opponents with strong pass rushers including the Eagles, Packers, Broncos and Panthers.

“We’ve played a lot of really fronts this year so I think we are tested,” Ryan said.

Also, Falcons right tackle Ryan Schraeder is a better player than Broncos Sambrailo and Donald Stephenson, who replaced Samabrailo against the Chiefs before Sambrailo eventually went back in the game.

Schraeder said the key to facing Houston’s speed rush is to get far enough back in his pass set to cut off Houston so he doesn’t have a “short corner” to Ryan. Schrader said it helps him to face teammate Vic Beasley, who is developing into a strong speed rusher in his second season.

“We’ve just got to get after those guys, man,” Schraeder said of the Chiefs. “They are going to come with a lot of speed, they are good pass rushers. It’s going to be a challenge but we are up for it.”

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Atlanta Falcons

5 things to watch at Falcons OTAs this week
5 things to watch at Falcons OTAs this week

The Falcons will start their organized team activities (non-contact practices), a week behind most other teams because they were cited for excessive contact last season, on Tuesday. The team had three OTA sessions taken away by the NFL. In addition to Tuesday, they will practice on Thursday and Friday, June 5-6 and June 8-9. The mandatory minicamp...
Falcons’ offense set tone, now division rivals trying to copy script
Falcons’ offense set tone, now division rivals trying to copy script

The Falcons and their video-game offense last season led the NFL in touchdowns, points and percentage of games in which opposing defenses appeared to either hyperventilate, pass out or say, “To hell with it. I’m out of here.” They wound up in the Super Bowl. It follows that when Tampa Bay general manager Jason Licht wrote the word...
Trek through post-Super Bowl psychological valley awaits Falcons
Trek through post-Super Bowl psychological valley awaits Falcons

In the wake of the most historic collapse in Super Bowl history, the Falcons, individually and collectively, must take a long walk through a psychological valley. Some have started and completed the trek. Others have put it off. Others will just try to move on to the 2017 season unabated. The Falcons are set to start Phase 3 of their offseason program...
5 things to know about the Falcons on Friday
5 things to know about the Falcons on Friday

Here are five things to know about the Falcons on Friday: SAINTS OFFSEASON CHAMPS: We asked y’all to vote on who won the offseason among the NFC South teams. Apparently, a lot of folks are impressed with the Saints signing of running back Adrian Peterson because they won in a landslide,...
Mercedes-Benz lights up the new stadium
Mercedes-Benz lights up the new stadium

Mercedes-Benz USA held a ceremonial illumination of its logo and name on the new Falcons stadium Thursday. The company, which landed the stadium naming rights in August 2015, lit its iconic three-pointed star and the Mercedes-Benz Stadium script on the exterior of the $1.5 billion building for the first time at 6 a.m. The star and script appear in...
More Stories