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On a situational basis, the Chiefs’ Chris Jones is a good defensive end

Kansas City’s 2021 experiment with Jones on the outside didn’t work. But in 2022, he (and the staff) figured it out.

NFL: AFC Championship-Cincinnati Bengals at Kansas City Chiefs Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Going into 2021, the Kansas City Chiefs decided that star defensive tackle Chris Jones would have more snaps at defensive end. The team didn’t intend for Jones to be a full-time defensive end — but with injuries (and a lack of depth on the roster), the team decided to experiment with Jones playing outside more often; it was something Jones had long wanted to do.

The results weren’t great. In Jones’s first six games of that season — in which he was aligned outside the tackle for a majority of his snaps — he only had 21 pressures and three sacks.

It wasn’t just a lack of pass-rushing productivity, either. Jones also struggled in defending the run in space. Moving Jones from his best spot created downsides both inside and outside — so Kansas City ended the experiment.

In 2022, Jones continued to play some defensive end — but the team reduced his outside-the-tackle snaps from 26% to just 9% of his total. This time, however, Jones performed well in those outside reps, collecting five of his sacks from that alignment — mainly when the Chiefs were in dime defense.

Let’s see how he did it.

Outside swipe

When playing defensive end, Jones’ favorite pass-rushing move is the two-hand swipe. Against most tackles, his first step is limited — so in order to get around the corner, Jones uses elite hand quickness. Jones knows that most tackles don’t have the functional strength to deal with his bull rush, so he takes advantage of that by getting them to extend their arms and lean into him. That allows Jones to swipe through their outside shoulders to get around the corner.

Jones might not have top-tier explosiveness or bend, but he’s incredibly coordinated and balanced. His timing on his pass-rushing moves is perfect. He’s able to turn through contact and get around the corner with balance. He might not dip his hips and shoulders as well as 240-pound players, but his balance and functional strength keep him from being knocked from his path.

On this play, Jones uses that two-hand swipe to quickly clear the corner — but then, watch how Jones avoids the running back’s chip.

For a player of his size, Jones’ coordination and deceleration are impressive. When combined with his hand quickness, those traits more than compensate for his lack of burst stemming from his size.

Length to clear hands

Jones also utilizes his 34 1/2” arms (and his strength) to clear tackles’ hands. Since they’re at a density disadvantage, most defensive ends struggle to clear these punches. Jones, however, doesn’t have this problem.

Here we see Jones use a forklift move to raise the tackle’s outside arm, which gives him an angle to run around the arc. The tackle is set to deal with a bull rush, but Jones is able to get his hands clear to give himself an angle for a sack.

After years of playing defensive tackle — usually against shorter interior offensive linemen — Jones knows how to maximize his length with pull moves. In these situations, Jones gets offensive linemen to lean on him, which allows him to pull through their chests. This reduces the ground Jones has to cover to get upfield, giving him a shorter angle to the quarterback.

He can even use the same technique against bigger, longer tackles — because Jones has a strength advantage over them, too. Over the years, he has perfected his timing and pass-rushing plans. With his combination of length, power, balance and hand quickness, he can unlock any move he wants to use.

All of those traits came up during 2022’s biggest moments — including the final defensive play of the AFC Championship game. Here, Jones uses a forklift move to clear the tackle’s arms, giving him a shorter angle to the quarterback. Years of pass-rushing experience (and coaching) all come together, giving Jones a playoff moment few of us will ever forget.

Use of extension and power

When he’s playing outside, everything Jones does comes from his length, extension and power. He has refined his game enough that he can also deal with counters — but when Jones lands his hands into your chest, he’s going to move you backward. Jones’s power is an effective changeup for him. This is especially true against tackles who are worried about him clearing their hands. If a tackle punches late, Jones will ride him into the pocket.

On this play, Jones moves new Kansas City tackle Jawaan Taylor right into the pocket with a bull rush. Taylor takes a good pass set — and is in a good position to take on Jones’ bull rush — but Jones is so strong that he can simply move Taylor backward, allowing him to fall into the quarterback’s lap. Taylor’s technique and pass set were perfect. He was simply beaten by a stronger player.

It’s crazy how Jones' power is the best part of his game as a defensive end. While it’s his change-up move, most tackles still struggle to stop it. In 2021, Jones lacked the counters to set up a bull rush effectively — but in 2022, he was able to unlock that move. This opened up his entire game on the outside.

The bottom line

In 2021, it wasn’t that Jones couldn’t function as a defensive end. But being used there so often, his explosiveness drained away. He already lacked quickness while matched up against tackles — so by the end of a game, it was a glaring issue.

So in 2022, the Chiefs were smarter about using Jones that way. They aligned him outside when he had an effective matchup against a weaker tackle — in in those situations, he played well. Jones also refined his game, adding more countermoves and utilizing his hand quickness and length. That made him more effective at a position he loves to play.

We should expect that in certain situations during the 2023 season, Kansas City will continue to align Jones to the outside. With the addition of defensive lineman Charles Omenihu — who can be effective on the inside — the Chiefs will also gain flexibility in their matchups. That is always important in big playoff games.

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