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Film room: What’s going on with Chandler Jones?

Trying to find a ghost

Arizona Cardinals v Las Vegas Raiders
Chandler Jones
Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Chandler Jones was one of the Las Vegas Raiders’ prized free agent signings this offseason. So much so that not only did the Raiders give Jones a three-year, $51 million contract, but they also traded away Yannick Ngakoue, the team’s sack leader in 2021, and were willing to take on $8 million of dead cap space in the process.

However, the 11-year veteran has been disappointing, to say the least, through the first two weeks of the season. He only has five total tackles, one for loss, with no sacks and just four pressures so far. To top it off, he’s missed three tackles, so he’s whiffed almost as much as he’s made plays, and ranks 93rd out of 112 qualifying edge defenders with a 51.2 overall grade from Pro Football Focus.

To put it simply, that’s far from what the Raiders were hoping for when they signed Jones this offseason.

So, what’s the issue? Is doing things in the games that just don’t show up on the stat sheet? Or is he just playing like a 32-year-old who is past his prime? Let’s roll the tape and find out!

We’ll kick things off with some positivity from the season opener.

Jones shoots inside hand to sell the stab move and get Slater to throw his punch. Once Slater takes the bait and starts to lean just a little bit, Jones knocks his arms down to win around the edge. But the ball is out fairly quickly and Bilal Nichols wins too so nothing comes of it for Jones. Also, this isn’t the cleanest rep either as Slater does a solid job recovering and Jones doesn't clear his lower half, allowing Slater can ride him past the quarterback for another yard or two and maintain the pocket.

Here, the Chargers run a split inside zone where the tight end comes to kick our subject out on the split zone action. They also add in a wrinkle with the misdirection by the fullback, taking his first couple of steps to the right and working back to the left.

Jones doesn’t get underneath the puller or tight end as he should and that leaves the inside gap on the backside open for Austin Ekeler to cut it back. This isn’t a huge gain but Los Angeles gets five easy yards on the ground and I don’t think Jones makes this play if Maxx Crosby doesn’t get a hand Ekeler to slow Ekeler down in the hole.

Working underneath pullers as the spill player in run fits was another issue when the Raiders signed Jones.

This next rep is similar to clip one. It’s the same move but Slater doesn’t fall for the fake stab and keeps his shoulders back. That makes it more difficult for Jones to knock his arms down and get him off balance because his momentum isn’t leaning forward like it was on the previous rep. At that point, Jones needs to counter and try something else.

He does do a good job getting on an edge and taking the outside lane, but since Slater is still attached, Slater can ride Jones past the quarterback and give Justin Herbert room to step up in the pocket. What Jones should do is once he reaches Herbert’s level, take his inside arm and tuck it under Slaters’ armpit for a rip move to help turn the corner and bend. That’ll help him take an efficient path to Herbert and be in a position for a sack once Herbert starts to scramble. This issue came up a couple of times against L.A.

This is probably the best play the veteran has made as a Raider.

Vegas is down 11 at the beginning of the fourth quarter and has Los Angeles pinned deep in their own end. The Chargers bring in one of their backup offensive linemen to play tight end and run duo, but Andrew Billings beats the center across the center’s face to take away the inside gap and force the running back to bounce.

On the edge, the Bolts have a tight end lined up as a receiver to pin Jones inside with a chip block before working up to the backer. However, Jones absorbs the contact and takes on the tight end’s/offensive lineman’s block with his hands to say in his gap. That also allows him to break free and make a shoestring tackle for loss, keeping the safety opportunity alive.

The Chargers run outside zone to the right in the clip above, putting Jones on the backside of the run. With the Raiders calling a slant to the left and Crosby setting the edge, the running back has to cut it inside. The defense’s call also puts Jones in a perfect position to make the tackle near the line of scrimmage.

However, instead of coming straight down the line of scrimmage, he pivots near the hash to take on the tight end’s block which creates more space for the running back to come downhill. He needs to stay on his path down the line of scrimmage and just keep the tight end on his hip as the tight end is going to ride him into the running back anyway. But that doesn’t happen so he has to lunge to make the tackle, misses and the Chargers tack on about five more yards.

This is a situation where the defender just needs to trust that the play call is going to put him in a good position to make the play. Hopefully, that’s something that improves as the season goes on and he gains more confidence in the scheme.

We’ll see an example of Jones trying to turn speed to power, which is something he’s been known for in the past. However, he doesn’t seem to have the same speed off the edge and change of direction to generate enough force to execute the move effectively by collapsing the pocket and/or getting a sack.

Now, this is later in one of the Cardinals’ long second-half drives, but this was Jones’ third play of the drive as the coaching staff just gave him a few plays off, so if he’s out of gas by then, that’s a big issue. Hopefully, that’s a result of missing time during training camp and not being in game shape, which can get better as the year goes on. But if it’s not, this could be a bad sign moving forward.

I’ll wrap this up with some encouragement for you.

The Cardinals try to chip Jones but he does an excellent job of recognizing it to avoid the block and get back to rushing the quarterback. Against the tackle, we see him go for that one-arm stab move once again but this time he mixes in some excellent use of hands to get Humphries’ hands off of him and win around the edge.

Obviously, he doesn’t hit home with a sack, but Jones does show some solid bend to get a hit on the quarterback and make sure Murray checks it down. With how dangerous Murray is when scrambling — as we all saw last week — you’ll take that defensively. These are the types of reps you want to see from Jones as eventually, they’ll start turning into production. Plays like these just need to start happening more frequently...