Hopefully Jason Jones has become less of an unknown over the course of this multi-part series (I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII). Finally, it's time to bring things to a close and towards the end of this post the big picture will be the focus. Before that point we'll look at one final game from 2011, Week 14 versus the Saints. I picked this game because, similar to the Houston game earlier in the year, Jones has zero tackles. However, this zero tackle performance is much different than the lackluster performance we saw then.
Drew Brees' ability to manipulate the defense and the offenses ability to work the field horizontally are two attributes I thought would present a good challenge for Jones. The versatility and nuances in their scheme I hoped would provide a glimpse of how Jones has progressed as a lineman on the whole. Not to mention, their guard tandem is pretty darn solid. A note about the field; it was described by the sideline reporter as "OK to uneven," based on the opinions of players and coaches.
From the beginning, this one is not about statistics or results: we're looking for some of the little progressions that have occurred in his game, examples we can bring forward and combine with the plethora examples we've seen thus far. One thing that should be noted from the beginning is that he was in a passionate, Anthony Hargrove mode all game. Also, earlier in the series I wondered if Jones disappeared for stretches of games because his motor and effort led to periods of tiring. Now in his fourth year, Jones appears stronger throughout the 60 minutes on a more consistent basis - we saw him help seal the game in week 12 versus Tampa in a post last week. He will miss the final game of 2011, but he was super active in this one.
Let's get to it.
This first play tests recognition, instincts, and gives us an example somewhat new to what we've seen. Jones is lined up at right end with both hands down, a sign of the bullrush in this position.
Snap. Notice below how Jones comes free of the snap, as the left tackle blocks upfield. Jones has to stop and then read two things here; the potential handoff, but also the pulling right guard (no. 73) Jahri Evans.
This is not shaping up to be a run, as the lineman are basically setting for pass pro; time to go after the quarterback:
Jones is able to read the play, get skinny towards the inside and slide past the back, about to engage with the guard.
They lock, eventually Jones gets his left hand on Evans' right shoulder and pushes him off-balance.
Jones is free, Brees is in major trouble; notice the starred receiver.
Brees, somehow, gets the short pass off with Jones in his face. Jones throws Brees to the ground pretty hard here, too. I like this example because we see Jones' recognition improving from the defensive end spot, but also we see his ability to negotiate the offenses attempt to slow him down at the start.
We move to the end of the first quarter; on 2nd and 15 we see Jones standing up and threatening the right shoulder of the center pre-snap. Notice the six linemen for the Saints. Off the snap, he'll exchange an initial punch with the center and then cross into the space of stud left guard Carl Nicks:
Yeah, we can't see Jones. Based on what we've seen from him rushing inside in the past, one could expect Jones to be attacking the open A-gap off the left side of the center and inside Nicks. Do take note of the defender that looks to be on his way towards that gap (his helmet is currently just above no. 73).
As you can see, Jones has now dropped and previously said defender has the attention of the interior line. Brees is looking towards the receiver crossing the "right" 50. The right side of the pocket will collapse; Brees will pump, Jones will continue to move with Brees' eyes and Brees is forced to throw one up:
The New Orleans receivers are nowhere near the ball. Notice how Jones stuck with Brees and in his line of sight.
A dropped interception. We've seen him rush in a variety of ways standing up, but this intial rush and drop was a new variation. It proved to be relatively effective as well; Brees threw an ill-advised ball, when under pressure, into a lane that he couldn't quite see through because Jones was there.
On the next play Jones is in the same spot pre-snap. Again he'll go after the inside shoulder of the center, continue with active hands and push the interior of the pocket just a bit as he encounters a triple team:
We see Jones draw the attention of the entire interior line; as five men went out in route on 3rd and long, the defensive ends were able to get pressure one-on-one against the tackles. This causes the dump off to the starred man (Darren Sproles):
It looks like Jones is near tipping this pass; what's actually being shown is that among fighting the triple team, Jones maintains his awareness of the play and takes off downfield.
Not in the tackle, but there to make sure the play ends. The thing I took away from this play is that Jones is capable of being the nose man in a three man front - something we've seen in previous years - as the guy that draws attention and lets the rest of the team make the play around him.
This play from the second quarter builds on something we saw against both Carolina and Tampa Bay, and previously; sometimes Jones has trouble feeling the screen. However, presumably knowing the Saints have a heavily schemed offense, Jones was more ready in this game.
Jones blows by the guard with an inside move. Now he's staring at the back in front of him and also sees Brees looking downfield. On some prior occasions, we've seen Jones be too aggressive in similar situations and beeline to the quarterback. But on 1st and 20 and not needing to get upfield in a hurry, notice how Jones is ready to move with the running back:
Jones blankets the back, ball thrown to the ground. Good play by Jones, and I think this play speaks to the fact that Jones is becoming better at recognizing plays, as long as he is able to play with his head up and/or isn't in the process of getting taken out of the play. I think this shows him becoming more capable of blending aggression with keeping his head on a swivel.
This play I've included for a particular reason. To this point we've seen Jones play the weak side defensive end in an over front (think of this as Chris Clemons' position). Here we see Jones shaded off center in an over front; we've seen Jones thrive in certain situations and formations from the one tech, but the argument against him in that spot is that he is not a plugger against the run, like a Brandon Mebane. I think this example shows this theory, and why this particular alignment didn't put Jones in the best position to succeed:
The center takes Jones off the snap, and you can see the guard helping keep Jones out of the A-gap. This nudge helps the center gain inside position and leverage:
Jones is stymied and the B-gap is wide open for Sproles. We see how when Jones is not protected by bigger lineman drawing double teams or a linebacker may not be an ideal situation to put him (though, take this "declaration" as not-absolute based on the sentiments below at the start of the concluding section). This first down run sets up first and goal.
The final screenshots show some progression in Jones' game, as a defensive end playing the run. Here you see Jones getting into a four point stance off left tackle; notice the extra lineman on the other side of the offensive line. Now we'll see the motion that occurs pre-snap and how Jones adjusts:
Tight end is now aligned just inside of Jones...
Once the receiver comes down, Jones shifts onto the tight end and now has only one hand on the ground. Jones has keyed on something - perhaps noticing the unbalanced line on the other side, or the pre-snap motion that brings blockers in to help on his side, maybe it's neither - that made him go from thinking pass to run.
Jones will hesitate, get the tight end to lunge inside, then Jones bursts around:
Jones is pushing upfield hard and the back (Pierre Thomas) makes a heckuva' cut to the outside.
We see Jones ultimately missed the tackle and Thomas got the first down. But, what I took away from this play has little to do with the end result. We see Jones aware of his position on the line, the down and distance, and the offensive shifts. Even though he didn't make the play, he put himself in a better position before the snap with his own instincts. Given that Jones played inside in college and the move to the end is an adjustment for him, it's encouraging to see his mental progression in the learning position.
In figuring where Jones fits for this team going forward, my preference has been to stay away from bold declarations about how he will be placed. Though we know certain positions show more potential than others, I think too many unanswered questions remain about the 2012 off-season to concretely say Jones will play position X in situation Y. On Sunday Greg Cosell tweeted "So many hybrid defensive fronts in today's NFL. Very hard to be so concrete in where a guy can play or can't play. Why coaching so important." I think it's important to approach Jones' role with this mindset. My thoughts are composed after watching the 12 whole games from 2009-2011 I picked for this analysis, plus select shots from about six other games.
In Part IV Pete Carroll on Jones: "We're hoping that we can really feature him in all of our nickel package stuff and also fit him in to other situations that will suit him...But we'd like to see him as an inside rusher for those packages and then we'll play him some outside and times in some different spots that try to utilize his quickness..." Jones himself said he's more comfortable inside as a rusher and is prepared to play some 6-tech, but thinks he's capable as a play maker anywhere on the field. He takes pride in his effort.
Some things that have been shown a lot; his motor, ability to pursue and stay with the play downfield and with great effort, his active hands. He creates sacks for others and can make plays that don't show up on the stat sheet. He's quick, explosive and can get skinny through the line with solid body control for a man with his frame; one thing that stood out throughout is his suddenness for a long, big man. He creates turnovers in a variety of ways. He brings an element of uniqueness and we know this organization has no problem with that concept. He plays with fire and enforces attitude; he should fit with Red and co. just fine. I think these are some general reasons he fits on the team.
Rushing the passer: After Jones was primarily a left side of the line defensive tackle with select plays at other spots in 2009, we've seen him play pretty much every position (inside and out wide) along both sides of the line; playing with either hand on the ground; his repertoire with both hands down includes a strong burst off the line, playing inside or outside. We've seen him stand up on or behind the interior line, used as both an inside and outside rusher. While he is not good at everything he does, this form of versatility I believe will entice the coaching staff to experiment.
He is capable of winning with inside moves (rip,swim), one-on-one getting to the passer. His ability to rush both A-gaps when lined up on the left interior I think is his specialty. But, his combination of unique length and lateral quickness makes him capable of stunting both ways when lined up at most spots; capable of crossing the center or guard on an individual rush or across 2 or 3 gaps as part of a stunt. His repertoire is a bit more limited when standing up. A personal preference; I like Jones better rushing from behind the line instead of as a standup lineman. It creates space for him to work, opposed to hitting the line of scrimmage tall and having his momentum stunted. The bullrush from right end or spin/inside move from left end can effective - this includes rushing when lined up on the tight end - and could be something they explore if they decide to put him opposite Clemons. Though the outside rush is not his strongest suit, he can at least provide the threat.
His ability to disrupt passing lanes and simply cause havoc in the trenches with his activity will be an asset. Sometimes he can get drawn off his feet by pump fakes which works to his disadvantage, but he also can create sacks and we saw him trouble Peyton Manning by clogging throwing lanes.
I think Seattle's great size up front will help get him one-on-one and in space. I think he will benefit from not being the main focus, as double or triple teaming him will leave one of many capable players free. When the big lineman attract attention, Jones can work around them and gain momentum going upfield. I'm curious to see how they use Jones in conjunction with other blitzing pieces - Earl Thomas on the A-gap blitz and potentially other "staples" with new players that emerge - when threatening the interior.
Against the run: Hopefully they can find ways to protect Jones on running downs where he could get double or triple teamed - such as putting him between Mebane and Bryant in an under-type front, to throw out an idea. Linemen can get under Jones' pads or simply take advantage of the fact that there is a lot of Jones to grab onto with his big frame and 37 inch arms. We've seen him lose balance or simply get mauled to the ground in the trenches when times have been roughest. In goal line and short yardage situations, though, Jones has flashed making some really big plays lined up in a variety of spots on/around center.
He and Clinton McDonald together could create some real problems in short yardage and I think his ability to fire quickly off the ball with both hands on the ground is an asset. We've seen big-time penetration and playmaking: he can win one-on-one shooting gaps with quickness, power or technique; sometimes he'll out-motor others and beat a second man on his way to making the sack or tackle for loss - Parts II, III and IV show examples of the above. As we saw with the final screenshots above, he's becoming more comfortable using his pre and post snap skills to get in play making positions as an end. Over the course of these three years, I believe he has gotten better reading misdirection from the end spot as well.
I still prefer him working inside at tackle if I had to pick between the two - lined up nose to inside the tackle on either side - but Jones can play up and down the line, nose to 9-tech. If they simply want to find ways to keep him on the field, his capabilities at end will help the cause and I think could provide an opportunity to '...fit him into other situations that will suit him...'
The X Factor: In answering the question 'is Jones capable of seeing the field on every down,' I think it's imperative to consider Jones' ability in coverage and ask the question 'what is the appropriate amount to do this?' We've seen him in coverage quite a bit, we've seen his versatility when doing so, and we've seen him be effective. He's dropped from a hand-in-the-dirt position when lined up on both sides of the line, with or without a false rush step, into multiple areas on the field and sometimes covering more than just a short zone.
We've seen him drop on 2nd and mid, 2nd and long, on consecutive downs defending the redzone inside of two minutes. We've seen him cover the tight end on occasion and he looks capable simply swallowing up space in the middle of the zone, appearing comfortable moving sideline-to-sideline in pursuit and in coverage.
Take a look at this play. It's Jones in coverage about 11 yards down the field and the best video I have found to show Jones' fluidity. Now, I'm assuming you've watched it; when I said last week that Jones is kind of like a giant linebacker, I was thinking about this play in particular when making the bigger-picture statement. So, when thinking about the appropriate amount to drop Jones, well, we've seen him successful on a number of the limited occasions and I really want to know if this is something he can do more consistently. To an even more extreme degree; do we see him lined up as a linebacker every so often?
Personally, I think his ability to eat up space, read, move with the quarterback, and disrupt the field suits the defense and maximizes his skill set. Given that we know Gus Bradley will drop lineman, he's potentially salivating over what he's seen out of Jones in this regard. I think this will be a cool example to see how far the staff will go to accentuate potential versatility, as I think Jones presents a lot of interesting opportunities.
They signed him for a year, likely to build a projection of what he can bring over the next 3-5 years. If he thrives quickly, stays healthy and on the field (his profile shows the concern that he's had trouble staying on the field for an entire season), continues to become more consistent and proves a great fit sooner than expected; it's worth wondering how they approach his situation during the season and early next offseason. We heard John Schneider talk about market value in regard to Red Bryant and Marshawn Lynch; we saw them work the market well acquiring Matt Flynn, and erring on the fair/generous side with their players that were re-signed. I believe they will want to know Jones' true market value. If he is going to require a bigger contract to stay because of the upside - upside they are hoping to see - they should want to know the 'right' price for his services. Maybe they learn it's a big investment worth making. In the big picture, this was a very small risk - one year, guaranteed deal - at the right time as interior rush is a major area of need. Alan Branch got two years, $8 million or so last offseason and you see the two deals aren't that different (and they both come off the books at the same time). The key is learning the value each of these men have to the team going forward.
This is a passionate player and he noted he liked coach Bradley's passion. He came here because he believes the crowd can play into his game. Sometimes this organization sees players differently than others, and in this case I think that they need to explore how they can get him in position to make plays; convincing him he should buy into this role for the long term. The west coast is foreign to him and they have one year to sell him on why this is the place he should stay to explore his upside. I'm excited to see how they balance placing him in "conventional" roles so he remains effective in conjunction with pushing the bounds to see how they can craft him into the scheme.