With defensive lineman Arthur Jones signing a five-year, $33 million contract with the Indianapolis Colts, the AFC now has a new contender in the arms race with the Denver Broncos and New England Patriots.
Jones, the former Baltimore Raven, has 100 combined tackles and 8.5 sacks in the past two seasons, per ESPN.
For the Colts, who gave up 234 yards rushing and posted just two sacks in their playoff loss to the Patriots, Jones’ ability is desperately needed. They now have a defensive lineman considered a cornerstone-type of player by Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller. That pushes Indianapolis into the top tier of the AFC, making Jones the key acquisition of this NFL offseason.
What makes Jones deserving of this praise is his balance and versatility. The 6’3”, 315-pound lineman is equally great as a pass-rusher and a run-stuffer. Jones can play both defensive end and nose tackle at a high level, morphing between roles as the team sees fit.
Versatile is often a code word for “player without a position.” However, Jones spent his first two seasons under defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano, now the Colts head coach.
Pagano knows how to play to Jones’ strengths, and it’s showing in the beginning of OTAs. The Indianapolis Star’s Stephen Holder reported on where Jones is lining up in Indianapolis’ practice:
In the Colts' base defense, Jones is lining up as the three-technique, otherwise known as defensive tackle…The Colts are taking a slightly different approach in the nickel defense. In that lineup, Jones is playing nose tackle, lining head up on the center.
This is the ideal way to use Jones. He can occupy blockers and clog running lanes on first and second down. When the offense is looking to pass on third down, Jones can provide interior pressure using his trademark strength and speed combination, exemplified in the video below and the GIFs throughout this article.
Although Jones’ freak athleticism is impressive, his snap-to-snap consistency is even better. Kyle J. Rodriguez, writer for Colts Authority, said in his profile of Jones that it was extremely hard to pick out one great or one bad play on film from him.
In fact, Rodriguez said that every play looked the same. Jones would easily hold his position and then disengage from his blocker to swallow the runner.
That type of consistency is just what the Colts need on the defensive line.
Last year, Indianapolis signed defensive tackle Ricky Jean-Francois to a four-year, $22 million contract. NFL.com’s Chris Wesseling called it a “leap of faith” for a player that rarely started in San Francisco. Jean-Francois proved Wesseling right, ranking 25th on Pro Football Focus’ 3-4 defensive end rankings (subscription required) in 2013. Nose tackle wasn’t a position of strength either, with Aubrayo Franklin underwhelming in his one season with the Colts.
The Colts’ weaknesses at defensive tackle and nose tackle were exposed often last year. They ended the regular season with 2,002 rushing yards allowed, 26th in the league, per ESPN. Then, of course, they were gashed by New England in the playoffs.
The addition of Jones should heal Indianapolis’ interior wounds. He won’t be coming off the field much, if at all, according to Holder.
With Jones penciled in as the starter at defensive tackle, Jean-Francois can go back to being a quality rotational lineman like he was with the 49ers.
At nose tackle, third-year pro Josh Chapman will see his first dosage of heavy snaps, and Jones replaces him in the nickel. This is vital since Chapman is a non-factor as a pass-rusher, as written by Matt Miller. Ageless wonder Cory Redding will start at defensive end on the other side.
Yes, the addition of Jones has changed the entire makeup of the Colts defensive line.
And the change will be noticeable. It was in Baltimore. The Ravens allowed 1.2 yards per carry more when Jones was off the field, according to ESPN Stats and Information. Jones’ presence makes an offense significantly less potent, and his versatility will help role players like Jean-Francois and Chapman play to their strengths.
Jones clearly makes the Colts defensive line better, but how does he affect the big picture?
Well, New England won’t have a free ticket to run up the gut against Indianapolis. Denver will have to worry about the presence of another pass-rusher besides reigning Defensive Player of the Year Robert Mathis. This gives Indianapolis’ budding offense, with Andrew Luck, T.Y. Hilton and Dwayne Allen, more opportunities to light up the scoreboard.
There is no question that the Patriots and Broncos also got better this offseason (a defense of Darrelle Revis, DeMarcus Ware and nine bags of peanuts would be considered formidable). They are still the two teams the rest of the AFC is doggedly pursuing, and the Colts are by no means better than them.
However, the addition of Jones vaults Indianapolis into the same discussion as New England and Denver, as Jones addresses their biggest need and allows the rest of the line to play in more suitable roles. In a top-heavy conference with few true contenders, that is one massive shift caused by one massive, unheralded lineman.