KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- It’s easy to see why Kansas City Chiefs outside linebacker Justin Houston is among the NFL’s best pass-rushers. Houston is as graceful and fluid as they come and has great anticipation, the quick first step, closing ability and all the other tools of the great ones.
His pass-rush partner on the other side of the defense, Tamba Hali, is more difficult to figure. Nobody ever praises his athleticism. It sometimes looks like a struggle for Hali to get his 275-pound body from one end of the Chiefs’ locker room to the other, much less to beat an opposing offensive tackle and make his way to the quarterback.
It’s impossible to argue with the results, though. Hali is sixth in the NFL with 6.5 sacks, three behind Houston, the league’s co-leader along with Robert Mathis of Indianapolis. Hali was originally credited with 3.5 sacks last week against the Oakland Raiders, which would have put him at 7.5 this season.
But after reviewing the video, the NFL took away a sack early in the fourth quarter when it determined Oakland quarterback Terrelle Pryor’s intent on the play was to run, not pass.
Those results can be difficult to explain, unlike with Houston.
“I’m not the athlete everybody wants me to be, but with my hard work I kind of make up for it,’’ Hali said. “I’m not like a freak of nature like guys like [Julius] Peppers, 6-7 and can run. I’m not that. I’m what I am. I take what I have and I just utilize it and I’m OK with that.’’
Hali is as relentless a pass-rusher as there is. He gets some of his sacks from sheer effort and a refusal to give up on a play.
“Whether it’s practice or games, you’re going to get one speed and that’s full speed,’’ coach Andy Reid said. “Every snap; you know what you’re going to get every day whether he’s sick or whether he’s healthy. He’s going to bring it and work his profession to the best of his ability.’’
That doesn’t give Hali enough credit for his other gifts. He’s stronger than he might look. He’s not fast over a long stretch but moves quickly in short bursts.
Then there is Hali’s physical conditioning, something he credits for having missed just two games in his 7½-year NFL career. He often gets stronger as the game goes on. Before having one of his sacks against the Raiders changed to a tackle for a loss, Hali had two fourth-quarter sacks last week.
“I always say that when you make it to this level ... everybody’s good,’’ Hali said. “The difference between you and those guys is going to come down to how well-conditioned you are. Endurance in this league, if you’re well-conditioned, you can definitely take advantage of players if they start to get tired.’’