KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Lining up for a third-and-9 play against the Denver Broncos on Sunday, Chiefs linebacker Dee Ford flipped a switch in his mind, rocking back and forth on his heels in anticipation of the snap.
“Always, every third down,” Ford said after Sunday's 30-20 win against Broncos. “This is how we train. If you're a good team, and I'm pretty sure every team practices those situations, the mindset flips.”
That mindset drove Ford to one of the best games of his career on Sunday, helping him pick up three sacks, two forced fumbles and four hits against Broncos quarterback Case Keenum.
“A three-sack game never feels normal,” Ford said. “Now that's the expectation but it doesn't always happen that way.”
Ford's three sacks tied for the second-best of his carer. He tallied a career-high three and a half sacks at Indianapolis in 2016. He picked up three sacks against the Chargers in 2015. But Sunday's performance might have been the best of his career when combined with a career-high two forced fumbles, one of which led to a turnover.
He now has a career-best four forced fumbles on the season. Ford says he's not doing anything different going after quarterbacks, but that's all about better execution and efficiency.
“It's all instinctive and that's the progression that you practice,” Ford said. “You break pass rush down to the get off, to the move, to the finish, which the strip-sack is part of it.”
Rookie linebacker Breeland Speaks, who picked up a sack and recovered one of those forced fumbles, Ford seems to always have his eye on the ball in the quarterback's hand.
“Von Miller and Dee, they're two of the best at it,” Speaks said. “They're looking for that ball, and they know exactly the right spot to hit that quarterback's hand to make it drop. You just watch those guys, they're perfect at it.”
Defensive end Chris Jones, who contributed one of the five Chiefs' sacks on the day, said Ford's performance so far this season helps make life easier for everyone else on the defense.
“You know, all the attention is on Dee,” Jones said. “He is a great pass rusher, I'll give that to him. Just keep it up, consistency lightens it up for the inside guys."
Entering the season, Ford felt poised to recapture the form that helped him pick up 10 sacks through the first nine games of the 2016 season. But a series of injuries limited Ford to two sacks during the last seven games of 2016 and the entire 2017 season.
With eight sacks through the first half of this season, head coach Andy Reid believes all the hours in the training room working to regain that form have paid off for Ford.
“It's great to see because he has worked so hard to be back where he can play and be strong enough to endure a season,” Reid said. “You are pulling for him. Those are the guys you pull for. I'm glad he's having success.”
Much has been made of this being a contract season for Ford. He's eligible for free agency after the season after five seasons in Kansas City. He could be in line for a big payday with a strong, healthy season this year. He sees that thought creeping into his mind at times.
“It does but I shut it off because I've said this before, I don't even do this for money,” Ford said. “There's not a lot that I need at this point in my life. I'm not motivated by money. I love to play. I put a lot work, a lot of time into this game, into my craft. Money is not the motivator. The game is the motivator and the privilege to be able to play and play at a high level.”
Ford believes more sacks and big plays can come his way in the second half with the Chiefs defense continuing improvement.
“We're getting better,” Ford said. “We've still got a long way to go, a lot of things to clean up, especially me individually, and it starts with the individual and we all know that so we're just going to keep working.”