TEMPE, Ariz. — Arizona Cardinals defensive coorinator Vance Joseph has spent his career, both as a player and a coach, around some of the NFL’s best pass-rushers.
He played with Hugh Douglas with the New York Jets in 1995. He coached on teams that featured Von Miller in Denver, J.J. Watt in Houston, Ndomukong Suh and Cameron Wake in Miami and Justin Smith in San Francisco.
But none have compared to Chandler Jones, the long, limber outside linebacker who Joseph now coaches in Arizona.
Joseph said he’s never seen anyone like Jones, whose 97 sacks are the most in the NFL since 2012 and could soon be among the fastest to reach 100 sacks in a career. Jones and Watt, who has 98 career sacks, could become the 35th and 36th members of the sack century club since the league officially began keeping track of the stat in 1982.
“Chandler’s body type is so unique,” Joseph said of the 6-foot-5, 265-pound Jones. “As an outside backer, his height and his length and his long strides with his pass-rush moves, his know-how of how to pass rush, it’s unique.
“You can’t compare Chandler to any pass-rusher in the league. When it comes to measurements and style, his style is a combination of obviously awkwardness, length, power and know how. He’s been a top-tier rusher in this league for about five or six years now.”
Jones has one sack this season and it came in Week 1, a drought of three games after another sackless performance Sunday in Carolina. Kingsbury said teams are planning for Jones more this season after his 19-sack season in 2019.
“They definitely know where he’s at,” Kingsbury said Monday. “They’re sliding protections that way using backs, tight ends and the ball’s coming out quick.
“Guys are kind of finding their football legs and I expect his production to pick up, but I thought he played a really nice game [Sunday], the sack production just hasn’t been there.”
Getting 100 sacks at all is a unique feat, though. Jones — who has played in 123 career games — will finish as one of the 10 fastest to reach the mark if he can get three more by the middle of December.
“He been consistent like that since he came in the league since he was with the Patriots,” Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald said. “… He’s got technique, he uses long arms well, he’s got different ways — he switches up on the offensive linemen to keep them guessing and not let them get a jump on him. So, he’s just overall rounded, one of them special type pass-rushers.”
Getting to 100 will put Jones in an “elite club,” said Jared Allen, who had 139 career sacks and currently ranks fifth fastest to 100 — with Watt at 116 games closing in — behind Reggie White (96 games), Lawrence Taylor (106), DeMarcus Ware (113) and Bruce Smith (115).
“Not only does it put you in an elite club, it puts you in a consistent club,” Allen said. “It lets people know that you weren’t a couple-year guy, you had a couple big seasons, you weren’t just a fluke. It means you consistently, year-in and year-out, when people knew your name, you consistently put up numbers.
“And it really makes you a master of your craft. It really does.”
It would mean “a lot” to reach 100 sacks, Jones said.
“It seems so close but also far,” Jones said. “But that’s something that I’ve always wanted to accomplish.”
Jones doesn’t look at himself as the prototypical pass-rusher, because he’s not. His wingspan of 7-foot-1.75 inches is tied for the widest in the league this season, according to ESPN Stats & Information. His combination of power, quickness and length allows him to get by tackles with ease off the edge and be able to reach by them for strip-sacks without having to bring quarterbacks down.
Matt Patricia, the Detroit Lions coach who was Jones’ defensive coordinator in New England, nicknamed the nimble pass-rusher “Gumby.” That flexiblity helped him lead the NFL with 27 forced fumbles since 2012, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
It’s what Jones does when he begins his pass rush that makes him so effective. He tries to use the same stance on every play, a piece of deception on his part, or as Allen used to call it: “present the same pitch.” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan called Jones “very unpredictable.”
“A lot of my moves, you don’t see them across the league,” Jones said. “A lot of times you see me doing unorthodox moves, jumping and twisting and turning but it feels like that’s what makes me me. And that feels good that no one else does that.”
Offensive tackles, Joseph said, don’t know how to defend him. If they try to quick set him, he’ll power by them. If they’re soft with their set, he can run by them. And then he can beat them inside with his quickness.
“It’s frustrating because he’s a rusher with it all,” 49ers tackle Trent Williams said. “So no matter how much you study him, there’s still that X factor that he can get you with, and that’s what makes him so good.”
Allen said that’s what makes the best pass-rushers. “Pass rushing is, it’s an art form,” Allen said. “It’s a lot like martial arts. You have to take advantage of the other person’s mistake and the key is how do you force them into a mistake?”
Shanahan raved about Jones’ football intelligence and ability to recognize plays and freelance within the Cardinals’ scheme. Washington coach Ron Rivera said Jones has the “whole package.”
Jones has flown somewhat under the radar despite being one of the top pass-rushers in the game for nearly the last decade. Despite making the NFL’s All-Decade team for the 2010s, and coming off an All-Pro and Pro Bowl season in 2019, you won’t see Jones hawking pizzas or sneakers during commercial breaks on Sundays. Part of that likely stems from the circumstances in which Jones came to the Cardinals. In March 2016, he was traded from the Patriots following a January incident in which he showed up shirtless to the Foxborough police station at about 7:40 a.m. before being hospitalized after having a bad reaction to a substance he put into his body.
Jones has moved past the incident and has had an event free four-plus seasons with the Cardinals off the field. And teammate Justin Pugh says Jones is somewhat driven by being overlooked nationally.
If Jones has proven one thing over the last nine years, though, it’s that there’s only one Chandler Jones — and, as Joseph said, he’s without comparison.
“That actually flatters me,” Jones said. “It feels good. I actually pride myself in being unique.”