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How Chris Jones dominated the Eagles

Chris Jones had a fantastic rookie season. I knew it, you knew it, fans of CERTAIN other teams knew it. But not everyone knew it.

I wrote about Jones and his rookie season here. In that article, I broke down how much impact Jones had in a lot of ways that don’t end up in the box score. There’s no stat for “forced quarterback to pull the ball down and scramble” or “crushed the pocket and prevented the QB from escaping,” or “forced the RB to go outside and into a wall of defenders.” Which is unfortunate, because it often means that good play by defensive linemen (particularly interior linemen) goes unnoticed.

When I’d talk to people about Chris Jones, fans of other teams who hadn’t seen him much (and even some Chiefs fans) would roll their eyes and say something close to “the guy had two sacks all season, don’t tell me he’s an impact player.” Unfortunately, people who make such generalizations rarely care to hear about non-box-score impact and defensive line intricacies, and so the conversation often ended there.

Apparently Chris Jones was not all right with being left out of the national conversation.

Jones exploded onto the scene against the Eagles (well, at least in the eyes of those who ignored his previous contributions), racking up three sacks and an interception in a performance that is almost certainly going to get him consideration for defensive player of the week. In that performance, Jones demonstrated the traits that have given him so much success in his young career, and additionally (upon review) showed some improvement in the few areas he struggled last season.

Watching Chris Jones play football has become one of my favorite things over the last year and a half, as his brutish strength and surprising athleticism often lead to plays that are a joy to watch. And so there was no way I was letting this opportunity to review his film get away from me. Because it’s important to note not just that Jones had three sacks and a pick (box score stuff), but how well he played throughout the game, including in ways that perhaps escaped notice during broadcast viewing.

If you’ve never read a DL review by me, we’re going to track wins and losses against both the pass and the run (“PR” mans “Pass Rush” in the chart, “RD” means “Run Defense”), neutral plays, pressures/hits/sacks, stuffs (individual stops of a run two yards or less), and effective double teams (double teams forced on the offense by Jones’s play, not merely schematic). Let’s look at those things, then talk about how Jones looks starting off in his second season after missing most of the preseason due to injury.

A couple of things to note about those numbers...

First, a 12.9 loss percentage is very low for a defensive lineman. For frame of reference, last year Dontari Poe lost on around 34 percent of his snaps (he had a rough year, but still). Bennie Logan, in a year where he had very solid film, had a loss percentage of 17.6 percent (a very acceptable number for a DL). Defensive linemen are going to lose more often than offensive linemen, it’s just a fact of the game (and why we don’t see more 3-0 games in football).

Last season, Jones posted a loss percentage of 23.9 percent, a bit higher than what I’m comfortable with from a good player on the line. So seeing him lower that loss percentage so drastically, even in just one game, was very nice.

Additionally, it’s worth noting that Jones didn’t have a single loss by my review against the run. This is important, because last season Jones was a decent run defender, but also a flawed one who allowed too many losses on runs in his direction. This was often not a matter of getting beat by the linemen he faced, but more a matter of Jones failing to locate the ball and getting caught up in the scrum. We’ll get back to that shortly.

Jones, it should come as no surprise, had plenty of wins rushing the passer, and that was in rather limited snaps. Jones came off the field quite a bit against the Eagles, even in obvious pass rushing situations, as it seemed like Bob Sutton was intent on rotating defensive linemen throughout the game to keep everyone fresh. Jones was even subbed out for the majority of the Eagles’ final TD drive, which drove me a bit crazy.

While I like the idea of helping guys with their energy level (crucial on the defensive line), I would’ve liked to see Jones play more pass rushing snaps, as he was clearly the best DL in that area by far (though Logan, Allen Bailey and Rakeem Nunez-Roches all had some good snaps).

But that’s besides the point. What those numbers show is that Jones had a VERY successful day, with fantastic win percentage to go along with his very low loss percentage. In short, Jones gave the Eagles problems all day, which is part of what he had five effective double teams in just 31 charted snaps.

Of course, we all saw the pass rushing. In the GIF to open the article, we see Jones’s unnatural strength to simply move aside his blocker. His long arms and brutish power make him very difficult to stop one-on-one, and he’s a very good handfighter for a young player. Additionally, on that snap Jones demonstrated his quickness once he was past the first blocker, closing on Wentz before the center could help.

That wasn’t the only snap Jones demonstrated his power. He did it again on his second forced fumble of the day.

As a blocker, there have to be few things more humiliating than being used as a battering ram against the guy you’re trying to protect. Jones walks the RG back to Carson Wentz, then shoves him back hard enough to slam into the ball, knocking it loose. Jones then attempts to shed the blocker to pursue Wentz, but the RG gets away with a hold. Of course, the damage is done, though I don’t believe either player was aware of it.

Even if all Jones had going for him was his strength, he’d be a very tough assignment for any blocker. Unfortunately for interior linemen, that’s not all he brings to the table.

Jones has a great first step and consistently shows impressive agility for a lineman his size. He’s got a great swim move that he doesn’t flash a ton, but when he does (much like the push-pull that he only uses on occasion) it often proves deadly.

Here, he blows past the LG almost immediately and closes on Wentz with frightening speed, brushing off the G’s attempt to recover. But what shows off Jones’s impressive athleticism even more is what happens next.

Wentz makes a really nice move in the pocket (he really played quite well despite pressure, and definitely has the look of a future franchise guy) to send Jones flying past him. Wentz then resets and prepares to throw the ball down the field. You can clearly see that he thinks he’s got just a full second, as Jones ran by him at full speed. The assumption seems to be that there’s no way a 310-plus pound lineman could stop from a full sprint and turn back around in time to reach him.

Except that’s exactly what Jones does. If you think it’s easy to stop on a dime and go 180 degrees after running as fast as you can, think again. Especially after just going around a 300-pound human trying to stop you. Try it sometime. Take off at a full sprint trying to tackle someone, then have them step aside at the last moment. See if you can stop and turn immediately to pursue. Now remember that Jones is a much, much larger human than you are. So impressive.

Jones is a genuinely frightening pass rusher with a full tool kit of moves and incredible physical gifts. Additionally, if the game against the Eagles is any indication, he’s improving on his closing and finishing of quarterbacks. Offensive coordinators are going to have to account for him every snap he’s on the field, or they run the risk of their QB getting run over.

Where I really saw a change in Jones from last year, though, was in run defense. Keeping in mind the wildly small sample size available to us from this game (and the the fact that the Eagles are a poor running team), Jones looked significantly faster locating the ball while engaging with blockers than he did last year.

The other angle of this play:

On this play, Jones uses his strength to stand up the LG and hold up at the line. However, rather than just getting caught up in fighting the line, he keeps his eyes up and flashes his helmet outside, locating the ball carrier. The runner, as he’s taught, then heads towards the inside gap away from the side Jones is flashing to. Jones, in an impressive show of strength, throws the G to the right and flashes to the OTHER gap, still keeping an eye on the runner.

The RB then tries to break outside, seeing there’s no where in the interior to run. However, because Jones has maintained discipline with his eyes, he tracks that movement and immediately throws the LG aside (this time to the left) in order to stop the runner at the line of scrimmage.

The strength Jones demonstrates here is great, but what I like even better is that Jones maintained discipline and stayed within the defense. Too often last year on run defense downs, Jones would either get sucked into individual battles with OL (losing sight of a runner who would go past him) or would crash the wrong gap like a bull in a china shop, leaving the other gap open. I didn’t see a single snap like that against the Eagles.

Run defense discipline (along with pad level, which is still an issue) was Jones’s primary issue last season. So far, he appears to be addressing that and playing smarter, rather than just trying to always win the battle right in front of him. If he continues to do so, he will have eliminated the only real weakness he’s shown as a player (yes, his pad level is high, but he wins anyways so it’s tough to care about that).

Jones’s pick also demonstrated increased awareness on his part. Now yes, part of that was simply a lucky bounce in his direction. However, the reason Jones was able to take advantage of said lucky bounce was because he saw and reacted to the screen play developing rather than getting sucked into a futile rush. That’s a veteran move from a young player who by his own admission didn’t always know what was going on last year. It’s also a wildly encouraging sign for a guy with the potential to be an All-Pro level player.

As far as national narratives go, this game was Chris Jones’s first dominant performance. I disagree, as he’s had dominant games in the past. It’s just finally showing up in the place most people look: the box score. And it’s great to see a guy who has been doing so much get some recognition. If he continues to display improved field awareness to go along with his considerable gifts, I don’t think it’s even close to the last time he puts up numbers that catch everyone’s eye. I just hope people pay attention in between those games, because he’s well worth watching every time he steps onto the field.

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