Most importantly, Walter Jones looked himself, dominating defenders and cutting off the edge rush.
The next drive starts with a really nice block by Jones. We talk so much about blown blocks, or pancake blocks, but the best block is the doin' your job block. Joe Tafoya (remember him?) attempts a spin move and Jones freezes him halfway, so that Tafoya is neutralized and the two make a very short conga line.
Both of Seattle's sacks allowed on Sunday were unequivocally Walter Jones' fault. In my Matchupalooza preview I mentioned he would be facing a very quick young pass rusher, Gaines Adams, and that if he had lost some lateral agility that Adams would be well suited to expose it. The good word is that Jones had no problem with the speedy young end, nor did he look at all overmatched against the rest of Tampa Bay's various ends and tackles that he squared off against. Athletically, Jones looked tip-top, mirroring well on his slide steps, pulling with ease, purpose and velocity and generally looking like the franchise left tackle we have come to know and love. How is it that he allowed two sacks then? Counter-intuitively, not because the 11 year veteran has slowed a step or lost some explosiveness, but because he blew his assignment. They were mental errors.
The first occurred on Seattle's drive stalling flea-flicker in the second quarter. The play looked pretty sloppy to start, with Alexander badly selling the run and lateraling a sloppy pitch back to Beck. Needless to say, the Bucs weren't fooled, but Jones was. Marcus Pollard was deigned to cut off the outside pressure along the left while Jones was working the stop-the-free-rusher job often assigned to centers. In other words, Jones had no set defender to block, but instead was assigned Alexander's rushing lane (that turned into a pass rushing lane after the pitch back). Jones spied the hole for a split second and then got distracted by something happening to his right, at this point Jermaine Philips flew right behind him and had Hasselbeck dead to rights. The whole play was botched, Pollard didn't stop the edge rush, Alexander didn't sell the run, Beck couldn't find a free receiver and hesitated to throw but the sack falls squarely on Jones who simply blew his assignment.
The second sack allowed is simpler but more troubling. On third and three of the Hawks second drive of the third quarter Greg Spires made an outside move and though Jones shaded him well Spires froze him and simply darted around his outside shoulder untouched. You don't see Walter Jones freeze up like that and I can't help but think he might have been protecting his left shoulder. Once Spires had a step on Jones to the outside it looked as if Jones just didn't want to risk sticking his left arm out there and potentially being reinjured.
A combination of caution and cluelessness might be expected from a player who missed most of the preseason because of an ailing left shoulder. I'm not too worried about the blown assignment, but if Jones is favoring his left shoulder so badly that he fears putting an arm on Spires one must worry about Jones' health. This is a developing story worth watching.
Walter Jones and Rob Sims are still working on their chemistry. Sometimes I'm not sure if Jones is simply blowing his assignment or if he just expects Sims to do something else. Jones completely missed pass blocking the outside against Mike Rucker, nearly leading to a sack and/or turnover. I have to credit Jones with the gaffe, because, that's how it looks. I can't know if Sims was supposed to pop outside, but can say if he had, about three rushers would have poured through untouched inside.
In my soaring, many-buttressed vision of the 2008 season, a crack exists that spans roof to foundation. Best as I try, through faith and historical precedent, to patch that crack, it won’t mend. And the ghouls that peak through, hungry, quick-footed and relentless, keep me awake at night.
Walter Jones is no longer the great left tackle he once was. The pattern of his failings makes me fear that injury, swift decline or an amalgam of each is very possible. Throughout 2007, when a defender reached the end range of Jones’ left arm, the point at which should he wish to maintain the block he’d be forced to hyper extend his arm, even slightly, Jones would bail. He’d disengage the block, sometimes attempt to reassume a comfortable position by moving his legs and then reengage the block, sometimes simply accept he was beat.
Unlike his enshrined peers, Jones is not capable of receiving in-game wonder cure, Cortisone, much less rank and file painkillers like Vicodin, Codeine, Anaprox, Indocin, Percocet and Percodan. Combined with his age, 34, his history of shoulder injuries and his gingerly, almost protective play...a bad, bad feeling wells up inside.
The good news is that the shoulder injury and intolerance for strong medicine are old news. Trials Jones endured, conquered for many seasons now. His play is no longer the once in a generation, freak-nastiness of the early Oughts, but his combination of solid pass blocking and sturdy, sometimes dominant run blocking still places him among the league’s best offensive tackles. He’s more than championship caliber. Healthy. Healthy, he’s more than championship caliber.