NEPD Editor: Oliver Thomas
Chandler Jones will play anywhere. But when the New England Patriots defense brought down quarterback Matt Cassel and the Minnesota Vikings offense Sunday, the 6’5”, 265-pounder’s versatility took a back seat to his innate ability.
He was put in position to get the most out of it.
A week after lining up primarily as a five-technique defensive end in a 3-4 front, Jones kicked out and stood up over the course of his 61 official snaps. And instead of occupying blocks for New England’s outside linebackers to slice through, the third-year pro received the green light to do so himself.
His length and quickness saw him to arc around offensive tackles. His strength and hand use saw him overpower tight ends.
Eight tackles and two sacks were the byproduct. It started early on.
Jones dispersed as an outside linebacker in the 3-4 – a spot in which he stayed for five cumulative snaps – as second-year pro Chris Jones returned to the lineup and stepped into the right defensive end spot.
The move afforded No. 95 an opportunity to work in space, attacking one gap with a head start instead of two without one. Those factors culminated in the 2012 first-round pick registering his first stop of the game on the first play of it – a five-yard run by halfback Matt Asiata.
The other Jones exited for a 4-3 showing on the second play, but he registered another, bulling tight end Rhett Ellison off the line of scrimmage from the nine-technique to wrap up wideout Jarius Wright on a jet sweep.
It yielded a loss of five.
Jones served as a seven- to wide nine-technique end in the 4-3 front for a total of 11 plays in Week 2. With Ninkovich spelling between two- and three-point stances as well, it was under these circumstances that Jones notched two tackles.
And as he veered around the edge and climbed up into the pocket as Cassel scrambled, he notched his first sack of the campaign. It landed a three-yard loss.
Jones continued to make plays of his own when the Patriots assembled in a 4-2 nickel sub package for a tally of 26 plays against Minnesota.
Varying between the seven- and nine-techniques once again, he added another two tackles as well as a shoelace sack as Cassel fled the pocket in the third quarter. It sent the Vikings back four yards.
His pressure had a hand in the secondary collecting three interceptions out of the nickel as well. The first two transpired over the first two occasions New England went to five defensive backs.
But while Jones’ alignment in the defense widened on Sept. 14, he did remain in the fold as a five-technique in a 3-4 – head to head with the offensive tackle opposite him.
These arrangements came to fruition when fellow bookend Rob Ninkovich stepped back opposite outside linebacker Dont’a Hightower.
Jones put his hand on the turf for five plays from there in the 3-4. And one of those plays – a two-yard rush – credited him with a tackle.
Like he has before, though, Jones resurfaced as essentially a tackle to witness one third-down incompletion from the 3-3 nickel. Within it, he was at the three-technique, mirroring the look of first-round defensive tackle Dominique Easley while the A-gaps sugared with linebackers.
The 24-year-old did, however, also shuffle over to the seven-technique for two plays in a 3-3 defense. Both plays resulted in completions.
Yet one of which resulted in Jones dividing the B-gap to put Cassel under duress.
Cassel remained under duress for much of the 11 snaps he faced against New England’s 3-2 dime defense on passing downs.
Under these conditions, Jones pinned his ears back with the element of surprise dissipated. He swiveled between the five- and seven-techniques. And he rushed.
But his teammates were the ones who accumulated an additional three sacks and an interception from the 3-2. Even so, his play within the front was integral to the outcome.
It remains to be seen how Jones will play within New England’s front in Week 3.
But, as evidenced by his field-goal block and 60-yard touchdown return – and as evidenced by his role as a wing protector on New England’s own field-goal unit – he will not be cemented to one role. He will not be cemented to one technique or front.
Though Jones reestablished himself as a disruptive edge player versus the Vikings, head coach Bill Belichick and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia made a concentrated effort to keep him in the top 11 when situations shifted personnel.
In the 3-4, that made him an outside linebacker for five snaps and a five-technique defensive end for five more. In the 3-3, it made him a three-technique defensive tackle for one snap and a seven-technique defensive end for two. In the 3-2, it made him a five- to seven-technique for a combined 11 snaps. And between the 4-3 and 4-2 fronts, it made him a prototypical seven- to nine-technique end for a net of 37 snaps.
Perhaps there isn’t one prototype.