"Right now the red dot is on him," Houston said of Hali, who parlayed a similar start to his career into a five-year, $60 million contract before last season.
"Hopefully it stays on him," Houston said, "so I keep getting sacks."
Houston's breakout finish last season earned him the Mack Lee Hill Award, given to the club's top rookie or first-year player, and his first three games this season put him in select company.
His 9 1/2 sacks since that night in Chicago, a span of eight games, are tied for most in the NFL with Jared Allen of the Vikings and DeMarcus Ware of the Cowboys.
"Physically, he's an absolute freak," Hali said. "I think Justin is learning how to go about the technique. ... The kid is good."
His production has been invaluable, since Hali was suspended for the season opener for testing positive for a banned substance and has been held without a sack in his first two games back.
"The speed of the game has slowed down," Houston said. "I feel like I'm doing my job. They brought me in here to put pressure on the quarterback."
Like most young players, Crennel is keenly aware that Houston would rather pin his ears back and go after the quarterback on every down, rather than drop back into coverage or play the run.
But he still finished with 70 tackles last season, sixth on the team, and is fourth on the team in stops this season. He also is tied for the team lead with a couple of pass deflections, a big reason the Chiefs' overall defense has improved dramatically from Week 1.
"He understands that in our system we ask him to do more," Crennel said. "When he does more, he helps the team. I think that's what he is concerned about, helping this team win."
Online: http://bigstory.ap.org/NFL-Pro32 and http://twitter.com/AP_NFL