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Film Room: Chandler Jones against the run: The good, bad and ugly

Diving into free agent signing’s weakness

Arizona Cardinals v Tennessee Titans
Chandler Jones
Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

For the most part, the Las Vegas Raiders have drawn a lot of praise for their work during the offseason, especially their signing of Chandler Jones.

The prolific pass rusher has 107.5 career sacks which are the most in the NFL since he entered the league in 2012. Also, outside of 2020 when he only played in five games, he’s never dipped below 42 pressures in a single season and has racked up more than 65 in five out of his ten years as a pro, per Pro Football Focus.

However, if there’s one drawback to the Jones’ signing that a few people in the media have pointed out, it’s his play against the run.

Jones has never been known as a run defender with his single-season PFF run-defense grade topping out in 2015 at 72.3. To make matters worse, he’s coming off a career-low and the sixth-worst run-defense grade (40.4) among edge defenders last season. Part of the reason for that is the 10-year veteran missed seven tackles as a run defender – tied for the sixth-most – at a rate of 17.1 percent – tied for the 25th-highest. He also had a run stop rate of just 6.2 percent which ranked 58th at his position.

So, where does the former Cardinal and Patriot need to improve against the run? And on the other side of the token, what are his strengths that he can build on as a run defender?

Areas of Improvement

We’ll start with the bad and take a look at Jones’ lowest-graded game as a run defender (29.8) from last year against the Minnesota Vikings.

Minnesota has a lot going on in our first clip. They break the huddle in a bone formation from the shotgun – consider this the modern version of a wishbone formation – and motion Dalvin Cook (No. 33) out wide into the slot. Then, the offensive line gives a power run look to the left with a fake to Alexander Mattison (No. 25) to get the defense to flow to the strong side or their right.

However, watch quarterback Kirk Cousins closely. Cousins technically throws a tap pass to Cook on the jet sweep before the fake to Mattison to really confuse the defenders and test their discipline.

With the right tackle (No. 75) bluffing on the first level and releasing up to the linebackers, Jones is put one-on-one with the fullback, No. 30 CJ Ham. With everything going on, Jones is a little late to recognize that he needs to get outside of Ham and set the edge. Plus, he doesn’t get his hands ready to play the cut block, so he gets chopped down like a tree and Cook can get to the outside. Luckily, for the Cardinals, the safety does a great job of coming downhill and filling the alley.

Again, this is a tough play with all the movement the Vikings have going on, but defensive coordinators would hope they can rely on the 10-year veteran to be a little faster at recognizing the play design to set the edge and force the ball back inside.

Here, we’re going to see another example of Jones struggling to play the cut block and showing some shaky instincts.

Minnesota calls a much simpler split zone run concept where the outside tight end (No. 83) is going to motion pre-snap and work across the formation to protect the backside post-snap. Because of this, the Vikings leave Jones unblocked initially and will have the tight end take care of him.

With Jones playing as a standup linebacker on the line of scrimmage, he should have no problem seeing No. 83 coming, and after getting unblocked, he needs to squeeze and get underneath the tight end’s block as the spill player. Squeeze means to work horizontally down the line of scrimmage to help make the backside cutback lane smaller, and spill player means it’s that defender’s responsibility to “spill” or make the running back to go outside.

However, the Cardinal works a little too far up the field instead of coming straight down the line of scrimmage and, again, doesn’t have his hands ready to play the cut block. That helps open up the cutback lane for the running back and pick up about five to six yards on the play.

Granted, this isn’t all Jones’ fault as the defensive tackle (No. 94) on his side gets blocked into Scottsdale and picks the middle linebacker (No. 58) who is scraping over the top to play the outside. And the backer doesn’t help himself out by working downhill for his first few steps before trying to get around to the outside.

I could almost copy and paste everything that was said about the last clip and put it here, minus having to play a cut block.

Minnesota has a split zone called and leaves Jones unblocked on the backside. He does a good job of getting his eyes inside and it appears like he sees the tight end coming, however, he works around or outside of the block instead of going underneath it. That opens up the cutback lane for Cook and it’s a first down run.

This next clip is another example of how Jones needs to squeeze down the line of scrimmage when unblocked on the backside.

The Vikings call a mid-zone run and the Cardinals do a great job of plugging up the gaps on the play-side. Cook has nowhere to go so he cuts it back and since Jones works about a yard too far up the field after being unblocked again, the cutback lane is there. It also looks like Jones doesn’t quite have the speed he used to have to close on Cook and make the tackle at or near the line of scrimmage.

Then, we see one of Jones’ seven missed tackles against the run as he tries to punch the ball out instead of wrapping up and trying to minimize the damage. That’s an example of making a bad play worse as the defense can live with a three to four-yard gain on first and ten, but a chain-moving carry will frustrate the hell out of a defensive coordinator.

As we transition to the positives, let’s look at a near-perfect rep from Jones.

Minnesota runs a power lead right at our subject with Ham coming to kick him out. This time, Jones is the force player, meaning he’s responsible for setting the edge and forcing the running back to go inside, and he does a much better job of using his hands to take on the fullback’s block.

When Cook bounces it to the outside, Jones is right there to make the play, he just doesn’t bring his feet with him and lunges to make the tackle. Still, he’s at least slowed the ball carrier down enough to let the pursuing defenders get involved and help force a negative play for the offense. Ideally, this would be his tackle for loss, but he does get bonus points for getting off the ground and not quitting on the play.

Strengths

Moving on to Jones’ highest-graded game as a run defender (78.8) from last season, we’ll dive into his performance against the Chicago Bears.

Our first clip is going to show a dramatic difference between the two games we are studying.

Chicago has a zone run called and leaves Jones unblocked on the backside, likely thinking he’ll work too far up the field again and not be in a position to make a play on the running back. However, this time he works straight down the line of scrimmage, and the front- or play-side of the defense does a great job of plugging up their gaps again. The latter forces the running back, David Montgomery (No. 32), to cut it up or to the backside and into Jones, who’s in a perfect position to make the tackle.

That keeps the offense to a one- to two-yard gain instead of the first down run we saw above. Go back and watch the couple of zone runs and compare how far the Cardinal works up the field to this rep. On this one, he works straight down the line of scrimmage which is going to be especially important if he’s lost a step.

One element of Jones’ game against the run that really stands out to me is he refuses to get blocked by tight ends.

Against this outside zone from the Bears, he does a great job of attacking Cole Kmet (No. 85) and resetting the line of scrimmage. Kmet and Jason Peters – the left tackle, No. 71 – are supposed to be combo-blocking Jones to secure the edge and give Montgomery a lane to the outside.

However, the edge defender beats the man he’s lined up across from, which is textbook for how to take on a double team. There’s not much the tackle can do after that and the running back sees the defender win at the point of attack and starts to cut it back to the inside.

Even though Jones does get reached a bit toward the end of the play, he’s still done his job by playing in the offense’s backfield and effectively setting the edge. Plus, he might have the freedom to duck inside here with the linebackers flowing hard to the outside post-snap.

This is a great example of making the play without actually making the play.

How about another example of Jones setting the edge against a tight end?

Again, the Bears call an outside zone and put Kmet on Jones, a matchup that favors the defender. The latter takes the fight to the former and has great hand placement to get extension and get off the block fairly easily. As soon as Montgomery gets the ball, he knows the outside lane isn’t going to be there.

To cap the play off, Jones doesn’t quit, pursues to the ball and factors into the gang tackle to get a TFL. These are the types of plays defensive coaches love to see.

Chicago figured out Kmet blocking Jones was a mismatch as they’re going to run another outside zone from the same or a similar formation as a couple of plays ago. However, this time they’re going to add a split zone action where k is essentially going to pull and secure the backside while Peters goes to kick out Jones.

Putting a former All-Pro on a former All-Pro isn’t a bad idea, but the defender does a great job of playing with his hands in front of him and using them to defeat the block. I also like how Jones takes a step to the outside while maintaining a wide base after engaging with Peters. That helps Jones show color to the outside to take that lane away and get leverage on the block to be in a position to make the tackle.

The A+ grade on this play would be to make that TFL, but that’d be asking a lot and it looks like Peters might get away with a little hold at the top of the block. Regardless, Jones has done his job on the play by forcing Montgomery to cut the ball inside once again, and he at least slows the back down enough to let one of his teammates get the glory.

Let’s wrap things up with one more example of the difference between good Jones and bad Jones on the backside of a zone run.

The Bears put Kmet back on him, probably thinking they’ll be okay since those two are on the backside. With the safety – Jalen Thompson, No. 34 — walked down into the box, Jones is responsible for the strong C-gap – the space between the right tackle and tight end.

Kmet knows that and is trying to execute a backside cutoff, which is essentially just a reach block, so he works hard inside. But Jones counters by taking one jab step to the inside and working around our outside of Kmet and using his hands to defeat the block in the D-gap. This is risky because the defender is technically leaving assignment early, but it is something you can get away with when you’ve been working a blocker all game long.

Also, notice how Jones comes straight down the line of scrimmage after defeating the block to make contact with Montgomery at the line of scrimmage. That’s much better than what we saw against the Vikings.