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Chandler Jones won’t let you ignore the Cardinals

Retired NFL defensive end Stephen White wants to enlighten you about one of the NFL’s best rushers you’re not paying enough attention to.

NFL: Arizona Cardinals at Minnesota Vikings Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Quick, who led the league in sacks last year?

No Googling! And no asking Siri, either.

OK, I’ll spot you his initials: “C.J.”

Still stumped?

Don’t feel bad, I am sure you are not alone.

I talked a few weeks back about how underappreciated a guy like Demarcus Lawrence is, but Chandler Jones might actually have it worse. Jones led the league last year with 17.5 sacks, and that’s a full three sacks more than Lawrence or Calais Campbell who ended up tied for second place with 14.5. How many times does Jones’ name pop up in the conversation about top pass rushers in the league, however?

Hell, does it ever?

It just feels weird that the reigning sack champion doesn’t get much love.

And let’s be clear, last year definitely wasn’t a one-year blip in production for Jones. He has been putting in work for quite awhile. In his first six seasons in the league Jones topped double-digit sacks in all but two years, and in one of those two he only played in 10 games. The guy is a baller who tends to get tons of pressures on top of the sacks as well, and he’s a kickass run defender to boot.

Jones should be a household name at this point, but, for whatever reason, he continues to kind of float just under the radar.

I can’t force people to get acquainted with Jones, if they aren’t already, but thanks to his tremendous game against the Vikings on Sunday, I can damn sure talk him up. He was all over the field for the Cardinals and his play helped keep them in it for most of the day. Watching the film, I certainly took notice.

In addition to the two sacks Jones was a part of, he had a tackle for a loss that I want to talk about. Those three plays showcased his impressive skill set and technique in different ways, and are certainly worth discussion.

All it takes is one guy

The first play I want to talk about is the tackle for a loss. Now, I am positive that the end-around the Vikings tried to run with 3:30 left in the first quarter looked awesome when they drew it up on paper. In fact, their offense probably thought they had a chance to score when they called it at the Cardinals’ 23-yard line. To explain why they were wrong, I’ll first try to explain what was supposed to happen on that play.

The Vikings had one running back and one tight end in the game, 11 personnel. The tight end, David Morgan, was initially lined up to the right, beside the right tackle, with two wide receivers, Adam Thielen and Stephon Diggs, outside of him in a trips formation. Another wide receiver, Laquon Treadwell, was out wide to the left and the quarterback, Kirk Cousins, and running back, Roc Thomas, were lined up in the shotgun with Thomas to Cousins’ right. Just before the snap Morgan motioned back into the backfield to stand to Cousin’s left in the gun.

The whole offensive line was supposed to give a quasi zone run look to their right with Morgan blocking straight ahead as if he was trying to cut off the backside edge rusher as if Minnesota was running a split belly or split zone play. Normally that kind of look would tell the edge rusher to crash inside of Morgan’s block to make the tackle if the running back cuts back or, at the least, make him cut back one gap wider.

In the backfield, Thomas was supposed to take a track as if they were running a speed option and he was the pitchman, with Cousins reading the end man on the line of scrimmage before deciding to keep the ball or flip it to Thomas.

In reality, however, this was all an elaborate ruse, and the play was never actually meant to go to the offense’s right side.

Rookie left tackle, Rashod Hill, and the center, Pat Elflein, carried out the zone fake for a couple of steps, pretending to try to cut off the inside linebackers on the second level. Then, Hill ran back to the left to block the cornerback to that side, while Elflein drifted a little to the left then hung around and waited for the Cardinals to react to what happened next in the backfield. At the same time Treadwell was ran at an angle to crack on the backside safety, Tre Boston.

Thomas stopped and reversed field to receive the ball from Cousins who was still running to the offense’s right. Then, Thomas took the ball and continued on a surprise end-around. He should have had a nice alley set up for him with Morgan, Hill, and Treadwell blocking all three of the backside defenders.

And that might have been the case, too, if it weren’t for Jones being such a freaking bad ass.

Hill, Elflein and Treadwell all did their job reasonably well, but Morgan, frankly, got his ass handed to him by Jones. That didn’t turn out to well for Thomas. It should have been a relatively easy block because, in theory at least, Jones should have been fooled into crashing down hard inside to try to make the play from behind.

Even with Jones not hauling ass down the line, he should have been caught in a damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation once Thomas reversed field because if Jones comes inside, Thomas could easily bounce it outside and still have a lane to run up the field. If Jones tried to fight outside, Thomas would likely have been able to turn up the field even sooner in that schemed up alley with a full head of steam.

In theory.

Unfortunately for the Vikings, they didn’t seem to have considered a third possibility of how this play would turn out. That instead of picking a side on Morgan and giving Thomas an easy run read, Jones would just bench press Morgan back into the backfield so deep that Thomas couldn’t bounce outside with out losing a lot of ground, while Jones maintained the ability to fall back inside by keeping his arms fully extended on Morgan.

I can’t say for sure if the whole organization didn’t consider that possibility, but Thomas didn’t seem to get the memo. He ran that end-around for the first few steps like he just knew he was going to have a clear path of green grass ahead of him. If not for Jones, he probably would have had smooth sailing too. After all, everybody else did a pretty good job blocking their guys.

But all it takes is one guy to ruin a play that looked good on paper.

By the time Thomas noticed there was someone standing between him and getting back to the line of scrimmage it was already too late. When Jones saw Thomas coming he escaped off Morgan’s block, lowered his pad level and lit Thomas’ ass up like Jones was channeling 1997 Bill Goldberg. Thomas’ feet flew up in the air, shortly thereafter his torso was slammed into the turf as he went down for a loss of 4 yards.

Not gonna lie, I let out a loud ass Ric Flair ”WOOOOOOOOOO!” when I saw this play live, and I regret nothing.

Jones not only smartly recognized that the Vikings were trying to play him for a sucker, he also did a picture perfect job of playing off the block, then exploded into the ball carrier and almost caved his chest in. It just doesn’t get much better than that!

A perfectly executed move

Later on in the game the Vikings were facing a third-and-9 from their own 36-yard line with a little over four minutes left in the first half. Jones was at his normal spot as the stand up right outside rush linebacker, lined up in a wide five outside of Hill. Jones took three long steps upfield before flawlessly executing one of my favorite pass rush moves of all time — the long arm. Jones stabbed Hill in his chest with his inside hand with his inside arm fully extended.

Jones has got some long-ass arms, by the way.

Hill tried to counter, as offensive tackles so often do against a long arm, by trying to shoot his punch at Jones in an effort to fight force with force. But the whole point of using a long arm move is to get a tackle to shoot their punch in the first place. When they do, the pass rusher can then target the tackle’s outside arm/wrist and swipe it to shorten their corner and allow them to escape off the tackle’s block. I have to say that there there aren’t many pass rushers today who are as efficient at utilizing a long arm as Jones, either. When Hill took the bait and shot his punch, he was pretty much already torched.

Once he saw the punch coming, Jones grabbed Hill’s outside wrist with his outside hand. Then Jones basically took Hill’s wrist and tossed it inside which of course forced the rest of the left side of Hill’s body to follow suit. Then, in one motion, Jones crossed over Hill’s outside foot with his inside foot and ripped off Hill’s block with his inside arm which was no longer stabbing Hill in the chest. Jones slipped by Hill so cleanly with that move, I’m not sure Hill even realized he was beaten until it was already too late.

Jones wasn’t content just to sack Cousins on that play. He actually reached all the way around with and spiked the ball out of Cousins’ hand to force a fumble, too. That fumble ended up rolling up the field, and fortuitously, right into the hands of a hustling Budda Baker who took it to the house. In the blink of an eye the Cardinals went from down seven to tied at 10-10 due to a defensive touchdown that came together in no small part thanks to Jones’ efforts.

Leaving a rookie left tackle on him one on one was probably not a great idea on Minnesota’s part in the first place. And he wasn’t done making them pay.

Gravity-defying shit

OK, so I know that technically Jones was only credited with another half a sack on Sunday, but he clearly didn’t need any help taking Cousins down on the play where he was credited with half a sack. His teammate, Markus Golden, ended up earning the other half of the sack after fighting off a cut block because he got to Cousins at the exact same time as Jones, but whether Golden was there or not, Jones was going to get Cousins on the ground. So, his half sack weighs just as much as a whole sack in my thinking.

The play started with Jones once again standing up on the right side in a wide five technique. Arizona had their inside linebackers walked up, showing blitz, so Minnesota decided to slide their whole offensive line to the left towards Jones, leaving the running back, Latavius Murray, one-on-one with Golden on the other side. This should have made things easier for Hill, knowing he had help from the left guard if he needed it. Hill could set super wide for Jones’ speed rush without worrying about Jones beating him with an inside counter-move.

But, of course, that isn’t quite how it ended up going down.

Hill did set pretty wide, but he didn’t set quite wide enough to force Jones to use an inside move. In fact, when Hill tried to lead with his punch after setting so aggressively, Jones simply did a quick wiper move with his hands to swat both of Hill’s wrists inside. Hill made a serious tactical error while he was setting because he was so sure that he could force Jones wide that he stopped his feet to load up on his punch. Once Jones swatted his forearms before Hill could even lay a hand on him and with Hill having all of his weight going forward, you might as well have poured some sauce on him because he was barbecue chicken.

Being the elite tactician that he is, Jones didn’t leave anything to chance. He ripped, then re-ripped with his inside arm to make sure that Hill couldn’t recover and continue blocking him. Jones did have somewhat of a problem here, though. Hill’s wide set actually had forced Jones a little deeper than the quarterback, so he wasn’t exactly close to Cousins by the time he had Hill in his rearview. But that was when Jones’ outstanding athleticism came out to play.

After he cleared himself with the second rip move, the 6’5, 260+ pound Jones dropped his pad level so low to the ground that he might as well have been slithering across the turf. This dude was doing the Michael Jackson lean, defying all the laws of gravity and shit, for three whole steps before he exploded out of his hips and tackled Cousins around his legs.

Like, I had to watch that on super duper slo-mo about 10 times before I could really believe my eyes weren’t deceiving me. I’d initially thought Jones was crawling on the ground before he took Cousins down, or maybe that he took a knee or something, but nope!

That cat is just special, mane.

The Cardinals were down 27-10 at that point, but Jones was still fighting, and that sack came on a 3rd and 3 which forced the Vikings to punt on the next play. Arizona ultimately couldn’t pull out the victory on Sunday, but you would be hard pressed to say Jones didn’t give a winning effort, however.

I know there were other guys with more sacks this week, and they played well too. But at the end of the day, I felt like Jones had the best overall game out of all of them. He was responsible for two sacks, had a tackle for a loss, and notched four other tackles (none of which came on plays where the Vikings gained more than 3 yards), broke up a pass at the line of scrimmage and got in one other hit on the quarterback. It’s also worth noting that both of his sacks as well as the pass break up came on third downs.

Simply put, Chandler Jones played his ass off on Sunday, and for his efforts he earned my Hoss Of The Week honors for Week 6 of the 2018 NFL season.

Right now he is also tied with four other players for the third highest sack total in the NFL this season with 5.5, so I’d say its definitely past time we all start saluting that man.