This was just the type of performance that the unit sorely needed.
Leading the way was the Chiefs’ All-Pro defensive tackle Chris Jones, who was just named to his fourth consecutive Pro Bowl. Jones ended the day with four tackles, a sack, a tackle for loss, four quarterback hits and a total of nine pressures. He was a consistent force in the middle on the defensive front that pressured Seattle quarterback Geno Smith all afternoon.
Coming into the season, many wondered if 2022 would be Jones’ last year in Kansas City. After this season, he has only one year left on his contract — and the Chiefs could save $20 million against the cap by trading or releasing him.
If Jones were having a down year, that decision might be an easy one for general manager Brett Veach — but that isn't the case. In fact, Jones is having one of his best seasons. He currently has 36 tackles and is tied for seventh in the league with 12 sacks.
After the game Chris Jones had it was awesome seeing him get a sack to close it out. Lined up as a 4i he attacks with power first, then swims into the B gap. Two-hand punch and extension then works inside, create separation, and finish with a sack. #12 on the year. pic.twitter.com/sULNnkUtVW— Caleb James (@CJScoobs) December 26, 2022
That is his best sack total since 2018, when he tallied 15.5. In 2022, he has arguably been the best interior defensive lineman in football.
This performance does not come as a surprise to many — including Kansas City head coach Andy Reid.
“Chris has grown up right before us,” noted Reid during training camp. “I think we’ve seen that. He’s going wild out here every day. Maximum effort. He’s in great shape. Over the last few years here, he’s really dedicated himself to being in tip-top shape and pushing himself. He’s a fun-loving guy, but he’s learned to funnel that into when he’s on the field.
“It’s all business — and that’s how he’s gone about it.”
Another factor in Jones’ success — along with the rest of the defensive line — has been new defensive line coach Joe Cullen, who arrived in Kansas City with 15 years of NFL coaching experience. The Chiefs now have 45 sacks for the season, which ranks fourth in the league. While some have argued that Kansas City has had to rely on blitzes to get pressure, 32.5 of these sacks have come from the defensive line. That number alone is more sacks than the entire defense had in 2021, when it ranked fourth from last.
Get you a coach as hyped as Coach Cullen pic.twitter.com/ICuhuRYBDk— Kansas City Chiefs (@Chiefs) September 18, 2022
Cullen and his assistant Terry Bradden have the group playing at a high level — and Jones is leading the way. You will be hard-pressed to find a better athlete. At 6 feet 6 and 310 pounds, he defeats constant double teams and destroys anyone that tries to block him one-on-one. While all the praise he receives usually relates to his sack numbers, he is consistently good against the run, too.
As good as Jones has been this year, there is one concern: his snap count.
Chris Jones snap percentage (haven't updated today)— Nate Christensen (@natech32) December 19, 2022
2019: 646, 58.46%
2020: 693, 64.47%
2021: 628, 56.12%
2022: 720, 82.85%
The load Jones is carrying right now is insane and unsustainable. It's almost impossible for a DT to be playing that many snaps and be amazing all season
As our own Nate Christensen has pointed out, consistently playing more than 80% of the snaps may be very hard for Jones to sustain. To prepare for their playoff push, the Chiefs might very well bring that number down over the final two games of the regular season.
The bottom line
The Kansas City defense goes as Chris Jones goes. He is the unquestioned leader of this unit — and when he is being vocal (and playing at a high level), good things happen. He needs four sacks over the next two games to beat his best season — and has a great chance to do so. He should be a candidate for defensive player of the year.
Since he will turn 29 next year — and will be coming off a season with many snaps — the Chiefs may hesitate to offer Jones a contract extension. But I believe he has a lot left in the tank. Kansas City needs to figure out a way to keep him on the roster for the next few years.
There’s just one thing Jones hasn’t yet done. In 13 postseason games, he has yet to record a sack. That drought should come to an end during the playoffs. If the Chiefs do make it to Super Bowl LVII, Jones’ dominant play is likely to have had a lot to do with it.