Chiefs linebacker Justin Houston enjoying early liftoff to 2017 season

Pro Bowler tied for third in NFL with three sacks

Kansas City Chiefs outside linebacker Justin Houston, right, is healthy again and has three sacks so far this season. (Winslow Townson/AP Images for Panini)

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Justin Houston seems to be a little more on edge these days. But he has good reason.

 

After two injury-filled seasons, Kansas City’s left outside linebacker is finally healthy and his play is just one of many reasons the Chiefs will enter Sunday’s game against the Los Angeles Chargers undefeated at 2-0. Kickoff is set for 3:25 p.m. at StubHub Center, a 27,000 seat stadium that also is home to the LA Galaxy of the MLS.

Houston is tied for third in the NFL with three sacks, having recorded two in Week 1 against New England and one last week against Philadelphia.

“I feel good but I feel like I have a lot of improvement to do,” Houston said.

In 2015 and 2016, Houston missed 16 of 32 games with knee issues. In those two seasons, he recorded just 11.5 sacks total after setting a single-season team record with 22 in 2014. But that’s when Houston’s knee problems began. He hyperextended his left knee in November 2014 and had surgery three months later. But during the procedure it was found that his ACL was not working even though it wasn’t torn.

Houston played in 11 games during the 2015 season but appeared in just five last year. Houston, however, seems to be making up for lost time now and he had a key sack in the fourth quarter last week.

“The fourth quarter, I made a couple of plays,” Houston said. “But on that last (touchdown) drive, I have to do better. I’ve got to get in shape. My rushing has to be better.”

The Chiefs defense allowed Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz to cut a 14-point deficit to seven late in the game, and the Eagles then recovered the ensuing onside kick but did not score. Still, Houston saw there was a problem that needs to be corrected.

“That last (touchdown) drive was terrible,” Houston said. “To be the team we want to be, a championship team, the championship defense we claim we are, we have to get off the field. It should be three and out. That should have been the offense kneeling on the ball at the end of the game.”

Houston is hoping the Chiefs offense does just that against the Chargers (0-2), a team he has had success against in the past with five career sacks. The Chiefs are also leaning on Houston even more now with the absence of safety Eric Berry.

“Justin has always been a team leader,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “He and Eric are leaders on that side. He upped it even another notch, which you have to do when you lose a guy like Eric. And so the guys bank on him.”

That includes defensive end Chris Jones, who had three sacks and two interceptions against the Eagles and was named AFC defensive player of the week. Jones is hoping for a repeat performance against Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers, whom he got to know a little bit last season.

“He doesn’t curse,” Jones said of Rivers. “He just talks a lot of crap. You just have to respect that guy. He’s a pretty good quarterback.”

Rivers has been sacked just twice this season, but the Chiefs have already dropped the opposing quarterback nine times. And while Houston is hoping to add to that total Sunday, the only number he’s really concerned about is win No. 3.

“If I come out here and get 20 sacks in the game and we don’t dominate as a whole, it doesn’t matter what one person does,” Houston said. “It’s a matter of what we do.”

CHIEFS AT CHARGERS

When/Where: 3:25 p.m. Sunday, StubHub Center, Carson, Calif.

Records: Kansas City 2-0, LA Chargers 0-2

TV/Radio: WIBW (13.1), KDVV-FM (100.3)

Line: Kansas City by 3

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