Steelers coach Mike Tomlin was brutally honest about his decision to trade disgruntled defensive end Melvin Ingram to the Chiefs, saying “we prefer volunteers as opposed to hostages” in the Pittsburgh locker room.
“We didn’t weight their circumstances. We weighed our circumstances,” Tomlin said this week. “Not only the tangible element of our circumstances, but the intangible quality that makes us a team. When we moved him, we had an opportunity to get value for him, and so that was entertaining and interesting to us.”
Well, perhaps Tomlin should have weighed Kansas City’s circumstances at least a little bit.
Ingram’s trade last month for a sixth-round draft pick resulted in an about-face for the Chiefs defense, which had been historically awful through the first six weeks.
The Chiefs ended their failed experiment of moving Chris Jones to end, putting him back at tackle, and that changed the entire complexion of their defense.
It has been downright dominant the past six weeks, helping the first-place Chiefs (10-4) carry a seven-game win streak into their important game against — you guessed it — the Steelers on Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium.
The Steelers (7-6-1) are trying to keep pace with eight-win Baltimore and Cincinnati in the crowded AFC North.
“To be quite honest with you and blunt, Melvin no longer wanted to be here,” Tomlin said. “That’s more a function of us and the things we value and less about Kansas City, the things they needed or prospects of playing them later in the season.”
Ingram, a three-time Pro Bowl pick with the Chargers, signed with Pittsburgh in free agency. But he made just one start and had one sack over the first six games, and his playing time quickly dwindled to about a quarter of the defensive snaps.
At the same time, his discontent began to grow, leaving Tomlin open to moving him elsewhere.
Kansas City became a natural landing spot.
The Chiefs had been searching for pass rush help after their dismal start on defense, part of which can be traced to injuries to Jones and defensive end Frank Clark. And the opportunity to land someone the Chiefs were familiar with from his time in the AFC West, and who no doubt was familiar with them, made it a low-risk, high-reward trade for them.
“Melvin has brought a great attitude to the room,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said, “which is tricky, because if you come in and you’re a downer, that can pull everyone else down being a seasoned, veteran Pro Bowl player like he is. But he came in with a positive attitude, a great work ethic. He’s very intelligent. He knows the game. He’s studied the game.”
Ingram has started the past three games for the Chiefs, picking up a half-sack in two of them, and he played a season-high 57 snaps in their overtime win over the Chargers last week. But more important than his own numbers have been those of the rest of the defense, which has held five of its past six opponents to 14 points or fewer.
“I just go out and share what I’ve learned over the years through my experience and through my time,” Ingram said. “I guess that has an impact. If it does, it does. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t. That’s just me trying to pass down what was passed down to me on how to study film or how to approach the game and things like that. Nothing crazy.”
Meanwhile, Jones has benefited from his return to the interior of the defensive line. He had just two sacks over the first six weeks of the season, but he had 3 1/2 against Dallas a few weeks ago and has four over the past three games.
“What’s great about Melvin is watching 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 particular rep,” Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo said. “I love the fact that he’s relational. I think that goes a long way when you come in new in the middle of the season that you’re like that instead of off on your own, but I think he’s been a great addition that way, in addition to what he’s been doing on the field.”
NOTES: Jones was cleared from the COVID-19 list and returned to practice Thursday after missing last week’s game against the Chargers. CB Charvarius Ward also tested out of protocol and returned to practice. … The Chiefs had no new positive COVID-19 results on Thursday. They still hope to get TE Travis Kelce, WR Tyreek Hill and others back from the COVID-19 list before Sunday’s kickoff against Pittsburgh.