The New England Patriots have a chance to move to 3-0 for the first time since their nearly magical 18-1 season six long years ago. Unlike 2007, however, the Patriots have won with their defense, rather than relying on a turbo-charged offense.
Second-year defensive lineman Chandler Jones is a big reason for the defensive renaissance happening in Foxborough. As a rookie, Jones rattled off six sacks in his first 10 games before injuring his ankle against the Indianapolis Colts. He never fully recovered in 2012 and was a shell of his former self down the stretch.
Now fully healthy, Jones has added some extra versatility to his repertoire—along with about 12 to 15 pounds of muscle, from my observations when talking with Jones during training camp this year.
Jones totaled two sacks in the Patriots' 13-10 victory over the New York Jets. Here is a breakdown of two plays that helped set the sacks up.
New England is in a four-man front, with Jerod Mayo "sugaring" a middle linebacker blitz. Jones is lined up wide with Vince Wilfork at the 3-technique on the weak side of the formation. Wilfork and Jones are about to run a "game" that is very familiar to fans of San Francisco 49ers teammates Aldon and Justin Smith.
Wilfork's job here is to fire into the right tackle and hopefully bring the guard with him. Justin Smith is quite adept—with questionable legality—at holding on to the guard and forcing him to follow. Jones set the tackle up with a quick outside move and will now start to dip inside the two linemen.
Ultimately, the left guard kept himself free from the grasp of Wilfork and was able to change direction in order to stay with Jones on the end-tackle stunt.
While the Jets won the battle, the Patriots won the war. The tackle and guard had to think about that stunt for the rest of the game. Not every play is going to be a sack, but the best get something out of their failures.
Against the Buffalo Bills, Jones notched three quarterback pressures. However, all three of those were recorded from the defensive tackle position.
According to research provided to me by Steve Palazzolo of Pro Football Focus, Jones has rushed the passer 13 times from the defensive tackle position this season. He has pressured the quarterback on 61.5 percent of those snaps, including one sack, two hits and five hurries.
When Jones lines up inside, his quickness and agility—which are merely average for a defensive end—suddenly become assets. Many defensive ends can't hold up in the land of guards and centers, but Jones' length and power allow him to make the transition.
Jones is lined up as a 3-technique on the outside shoulder of the left guard. Vince Wilfork is lined up as a 1-technique on the opposite side of the formation, while rookie Michael Buchanan is lined up outside.
Jones attempts a quick swim move on the guard which probably would have been successful in a one-on-one drill. Unfortunately, Vince Wilfork is trying to rush through the same "A-gap" that Jones is barging through.
Jones and Wilfork are both stopped by a triumvirate of Jets offensive linemen. Over the past few years, this is where the play would have stopped. Kyle Love, Ron Brace, Brandon Deaderick and Gerard Warren all would have been done at this point.
Jones, however, is a different kind of athlete.
Quickly disengaging from the offensive linemen and turning the corner, Jones now has a clear path to Jets quarterback Geno Smith.
Jones turns on the speed and lays a big hit on Smith. He was flagged for a high hit on the play, but the ability that he flashed emerging out of the trash is going to come in handy in Foxborough.
Dirty Wins Better than Pretty Losses
New England fans have grown accustomed to exciting 35-31 shootouts, but getting some dirty wins harkens back to the glory days of 2001, 2003 and 2004.
If the Patriots are going to get back to those lofty heights, Jones needs to continue making plays from a variety of spots. Each new stunt that he runs, each new position or technique that Jones lines up at results in opposing linemen spending more time in front of the video screen.
If defenses start keying on Jones, look for Buchanan and Wilfork to pick up the slack. Until then, expect to see Jones doing plenty of dance moves on Sunday.