In a late-July session with reporters at Kansas City Chiefs training camp in St. Joseph, Missouri, our Pete Sweeney asked Chiefs defensive tackle Chris Jones if he had a number of sacks in mind for a season goal.
We ask these kinds of questions all the time. We expect to get answers like, “I’d just like to keep improving my game,” or “I’m not interested in statistics. I’m only interested in helping my team win.”
Those are good answers, of course. But Jones wasn’t fooling around with that.
“Lead the NFL,” he told Pete and the other reporters present — many of whom then filed stories about Jones’ goal.
Four months later — and after nine starts in 11 games — Jones has 9.0 sacks. He’s had at least one in each of the last seven games, and two in each of the last two. He’s tied with teammate Dee Ford and Denver Broncos linebacker Bradley Chubb in seventh place, with ten other players between them and Aaron Donald — who leads the NFL with 14.5.
Jones also has an interception that he returned for a touchdown and four forced fumbles, along with 24 solo tackles, 13 tackles-for-loss — which leads the Chiefs — and 15 quarterback hits.
And oh, yeah... Jones was named AFC Defensive Player Of The Month for November.
Speaking to the media on Thursday, Chiefs defensive line coach Britt Reid said that Jones remains “dead serious” about his goal, but that early in the season, it might have caused him to lose focus on all of his responsibilities.
“There has to be an even balance there,” Reid said. “You can’t be rushing the passer on run downs. There’s no sacks on run downs. He has gotten a lot better. Early in the season, he was probably taking too many shots when he shouldn’t have been. Obviously, we weren’t stopping the run very well. Us tightening that up — and him understanding you can’t get a sack every play — I think that has helped him.”
Jones was asked about — and acknowledged — Britt Reid’s remarks when he took his turn before reporters on Thursday.
“It’s just more so about maturing throughout the season — realizing things you didn’t realize early on, and you kind of realize now,” Jones said. “I just look at it as the maturity and the coaching of coach Reid.”
But even before he was asked about what Reid had said, Jones showed that he clearly understands what his position coach wants from him. This emerged when he was asked if it was an active competition for sacks among Chiefs pass rushers.
“Of course it is,” Jones responded, getting chuckles from the reporters. “But we have to play within the schemes of the defense. But it’s [still] a competition. We can’t let that be brought down. That’s the fire of this defense. We’re going to compete.”
For his part, Britt Reid said that Jones’ improvement through the season wasn’t just about understanding when it was appropriate to rush the passer.
“[He] is a tremendous athlete and a tremendous football player. Really, his study habits are probably the number one thing. That, and just working on playing the run. We always knew he could rush the passer. Just playing the run and his study habits are probably the number one things that have improved with him.”
On Friday, Andy Reid said that Jones’ improvement started in the offseason.
“I’ll take you back to the offseason, when he got himself in great shape,” said the head coach. “That’s the way he’s gone about his job. He’s playing fast. Does he have things to work on? Yeah, he’s got things to work on. But his effort has been there — it’s an every-snap thing — and the best part is that he’s still got room to grow.”
Jones mentioned that one of the things he’s learned this season is that even when rushing the passer, it isn’t all about getting sacks.
“That’s the biggest thing — getting pressure to the quarterback,” he said. “Whether it’s making him move off his spot, or throw off his back leg — whatever it is — there are different ways to affect a quarterback other than getting a sack. It kind of took me three years to realize that.”
Jones has a new perspective on his season goal.
“There’s no pressure. If I get a sack, I get a sack. If I don’t, I don’t. I just try and make sure I run the scheme of the defense, play hard for my teammates, and affect the quarterback.”
With five games to go, Jones’ goal isn’t out of reach. But even if he doesn’t attain it, there’s little doubt that this season has established him as one of the Chiefs’ defensive stars.