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KANSAS CITY, Mo. Defensive player Melvin Ingram announced his presence at his first game with the Kansas City Chiefs, where he drove a block backwards into Green Bay Packers quarterback Jordan Love and forced an incomplete pass.
Ingram got one dismissal in nine games in the regular season and two more in the playoffs, but the Chiefs’ fortunes – as a team and defensively – changed after his mid-season arrival in a swap deal with the Pittsburgh Steelers. He had one of the biggest games of the Chiefs season in Week 18 of Denver when he forced a fumble in the fourth quarter, which was returned by teammate Nick Bolton for the winning touchdown against the Broncos.
Ingram, a potential free agent, had enough influence that when the Chiefs assess what they can afford in this offseason, they must also ask: Can they afford to let him go?
Improving passing rush is a priority for the Chiefs after dropping to 29th place in the NFL in sacks with 31. Ingram said during the playoffs: “I definitely have a lot of desire” to stay with the Chiefs, and the feeling seems to be to be mutual.
“His leadership and his approach, I think, lifted everyone else’s game,” said Chiefs General Manager Brett Veach. “I don’t think it was just a stroke of luck that the defense somehow picked up speed from there. We had a really good range of late-season football and I think he was a big part of that.
“He wants to go through the process of taking some time and get with his family and see where he wants to play and what makes sense to him. But I think if a guy like Melvin decides that he will return and play, think we would be at the top of his list and that is something we will work to keep the dialogue open with. “
The Chiefs are familiar with Ingram from playing regularly against him during his nine seasons with the Chargers. Ingram had 8.5 sacks in 15 career games against the Chiefs.
Still, Ingram was a surprise in some ways for the Chiefs.
“He’s a great teammate and you do not know those things about him when you see him from a distance,” defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo said late in the season. “He’s passionate about the football game and he’s a really intuitive football player. He gets football. When you go over and explain something to him or we do it this way because of, it makes sense to him. Some guys you train through years, they will shake their heads and say they have it, but you’re not really sure if they do.You know when Melvin says, ‘Yes, I know what you’re talking about. he certainly does.
“What’s great about Melvin is seeing him, not just on the field, but in the meeting rooms, around the building, around the guys, when he’s not out there on a certain rep. It was clear to me that this man loves football. He’s always here. He’s always around. He’s not just with defensive guys. I love the fact that he’s relational. “that one is like that instead of being off. your own, but I think he’s been a great addition that way, beyond what he’s done on the pitch.”
Ingram was actually able to be productive for the Chiefs, unlike some of their other new midseason additions such as wide receiver Josh Gordon and running back Le’Veon Bell, albeit in a very different position.
“Just came in and shopped in, just shopped in to what they were already up to,” Ingram said. “It’s the best way you can fit in anywhere. Do not try to come in and do your own thing. Do not try to come and be someone else – just shop for what they are doing and come in and do, what they need you to do. “
On his forced fumble against the Broncos, Ingram quickly came through a hole in Denver’s offensive line to hit returning Melvin Gordon as soon as he took a pass.
“He just has an ability to really understand blocking schemes and what offensive lines want to do, what coordinators want to do, and that helps him in a way to predict what’s coming,” said safety Tyrann Mathieu.
Chiefs had 4-4 before Ingrams arrival, 8-1 after. Seven of their top nine games in terms of pass rush victory rate came after he entered their lineup. The Chiefs allowed 27.5 points per game in their eight games without him, but 16 per game after he showed up.
It’s too easy to attribute all the credit to Ingram, but the Chiefs believe he was a big part of their turnaround.
“He’s playing mad,” Spagnuolo said. “I say it to him all the time. I say, ‘You play angry, and I love it. You’ve made everyone else angry, too.’ He’s had a couple of plays … where he just beats people around and I think it’s contagious and it helps us.
“It’s not just about bags. It is [that] he requires a double team, or if he drives someone into the quarterback, then the quarterback has to move his feet and then he falls into another. So that kind of thing is what we get and it helps. It helps a lot. “