NEPD Staff Writer: Oliver Thomas
The New England Patriots’ defense could boom in 2013. And if it does, it will be because second-year defensive end Chandler Jones booms as well.
In 2012, the first-round draft pick amassed six sacks and three forced fumbles over the first eight games. He flashed explosion off the line. He swung around the blind side to make plays. He looked the part of a 6’6”, 260-pound pass-rusher. But when an ankle injury hampered his health in the second half of his rookie campaign, his overall effectiveness was hampered, too.
Yet now, entering year two of his development, the Syracuse Orangeman is readying himself for the next step. In an interview with Patriots Football Weekly in May, Jones acknowledged the responsibility that comes along with his sophomore season in Foxborough, Mass:
“I feel like you can go two different ways in your career with year two,” said Jones. “I feel like this is the year that establishes you as a player.”
Vying for establishment, Jones added 10 pounds of muscle over the offseason. He is more refined in his hand and arm movements, following technique sessions with a boxing trainer. He’s doing the little things in the hopes of making a big difference.
But can the 23-year-old’s hard work off the field translate to further success on the field?
In the Aug. 16 preseason tilt versus the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, it certainly did.
Closing the Pocket
Dangerous edge defenders do more than sack opposing quarterbacks; they create windows of opportunity for others to do so.
Last Friday night at Gillette Stadium, Jones closed the pocket and allowed his teammates to capitalize on his disruption. It transpired on the opening series for New England’s first-team defense.
On a 1st-and-10, the Buccaneers showed “12” personnel with tight ends Luke Stocker and Tom Crabtree playing in-line and fullback, respectively. Countering that, the Patriots came out in a 4-3 base defense.
Jones lined up in the seven-technique, shading the left tackle. Concurrently, middle linebacker Brandon Spikes stood off and planned to shoot the interior.
Tampa Bay quarterback Josh Freeman took the snap from center and faked a handoff to halfback Doug Martin. Meanwhile, Jones approached the 6’5″, 340-pound left tackle Donald Penn, and Spikes blitzed the strong-side B-gap.
By the time Freeman turned his attention to his targets downfield, Jones was in his rearview mirror. The right end thrust through his blocker’s arm lock, beating his man to the corner with his feet and leverage.
Jones’ triumphs shriveled the pocket, forcing Freeman up towards the line of scrimmage. The problem, however, was that Spikes was looming there after defeating Martin.
A moment later, Spikes had Freeman down for a sack and a four-yard loss. Jones was a key contributor in making it happen.
The play took only 3.4 seconds to conclude. With that in consideration, the sack was more so about limiting the QB’s space than it was about the secondary outlasting the receivers.
There simply wasn’t enough time for Freeman to get rid of the ball, as Jones and Spikes zeroed in rapidly.
Running the Arc
On the third play of the Buccaneers’ second series, the offense left the huddle in “11” personnel. Freeman stood in shotgun next to tailback Mike James, Stocker stood in a three-point stance and the wide receivers split out.
The Patriots reacted with a 4-2 sub package, which saw Rob Ninkovich stand up outside the tight end and Jones put his hand on the turf across from him.
Freeman gathered the ball and went through his reads. He saw the Bucs’ halfback slip out on a screen to the flats. Yet in his peripherals, he also saw the clock ticking with Jones attacking Penn.
Jones’ jump caught Penn on his heels. He used that to his advantage by staying low, extending his arms and burrowing as he turned the corner.
Those factors got Penn disheveled, with his knee bend giving way along with his angle.
As Freeman prepared to unload a check-down pass to James, he stepped up in the pocket. That subtle movement afforded Jones enough time to shove his block inside the hashes.
Consequently, he found himself within a yard of the passer. He was able to maintain a low pad level, cast his 35.5-inch arms out, leave his feet and haul Freeman down by the waist for a sack.
It was a four-yard loss. And it only took 3.7 seconds from snap to impact.
Two plays after getting to Freeman, the Patriots were trying to force a punt on a 3rd-and-10 by anticipating the pass. The 4-2 sub grouping crept up to the line along with safety Adrian Wilson to defend Tampa Bay’s “11” personnel.
The extra heat helped Jones plot a slight stunt from the nine-technique, where he was shading the tight end.
Freeman inherited the snap and eyed his tight end, who was tripped up in his route by Jones and covered by Wilson. Simultaneously, Rob Ninkovich carved towards the outside shoulder of right tackle Demar Dotson.
The disturbance of the tight end helped slow Tampa’s progression. Not only did it aid Ninkovich in beating his assignment, but it aided Jones in reversing field to shoot the A-gap between the guard and center.
Ninkovich lunged out to get a hand on Freeman’s right arm, which wasted enough time for Jones to permeate the backfield.
Dotson grabbed the back of Ninkovich’s jersey in a last-ditch effort, which drew penalty flags. But with Jones accelerating down the runway and Freeman spun around by New England’s left end, the last-ditch effort could not save the Bucs’ pass protection.
Ninkovich and Jones worked outside and inside in tandem for the takedown.
In less than three seconds, Freeman was dragged down for the sack. The seven-yard loss would be the final play of his evening.
Halting the Run
Although Jones was credited for two sacks against the Buccaneers, he did more than pursue the quarterback.
Once the second quarter was underway for Tampa’s third drive, rookie signal-caller Mike Glennon entered the game for Freeman and Peyton Hillis entered the game for Martin and James.
The Buccaneers operated out of “12” personnel in an I formation. In turn, the Patriots operated out of a 4-3. Jones set up shop over the “Y” tight end.
Glennon harnessed the snap, left guard and Hillis planned to take the off-tackle carry.
Jones, though, had different plans.
The down lineman clubbed at Stocker’s block, disengaging himself as he sliced through the C-gap of the O-line.
Shortly thereafter, Jones’ arm movement and sidestep eclipsed the tight end, who had overcommitted. The pulling 6’5”, 303-pound left guard Mike Remmers was already a stride outside Jones, which left him unable to shield for Hillis.
The back took the handoff, but had one less void to run through.
Jones’ burst into the offensive backfield caught Tampa Bay’s blockers out of position. He used his long limbs to dive at Hillis and rope him up by the legs.
Jones’ surge to the ball-carrier handed the Buccaneers negative yardage. He transitioned a 1st-and-10 into a 2nd-and-14. Two downs later, Tampa had to send out the punt team.
The contest was over for New England’s first unit. They departed with the shutout still intact.
Jones departed with a tackle for loss, two sacks and two quarterback hurries in a limited sample size. He proved to be far from a one-trick pony, making stops with a variety of moves in both the pass game and the run game.
The numbers validate that sentiment.
Jones’ pass-rush productivity versus the Bucs graded out at 50 percent, according to Pro Football Focus. No 4-3 defensive end exceeded the prolificacy of No. 95 during the second week of the preseason.
It only took him 11 snaps.
Now exhibition games may hold little weight in terms of wins and losses, but a lot can be taken away from individual wins and losses. And by forging through his matchups, it’s safe to say Jones left for the sidelines as one of the winners of Week 2.