ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --** More than a few eyebrows arched when the Patriots took defensive end Chandler Jones with their first-round pick in 2012. But as has been the case myriad times in the 21st century, a perceived Patriots draft gamble was proven right.
The No. 21 overall pick emerged with 11.5 sacks this year, and along with defensive end Rob Ninkovich, gave the Patriots pass-rushing threats on both sides of the defensive line.
Jones has been less of a sack threat in recent weeks; he has just one sack since his take-down of Peyton Manning in Week 12 pushed his season total to 10.5 sacks through 11 games. But Jones continues to generate pressure; he was credited with six quarterback hurries by ProFootballFocus.com in Week 17 against Buffalo.
He has also emerged as one of the Patriots' best run defenders, and has improved at setting the edge this season. Since giving up 280 yards on the ground to the Broncos in Week 12, New England has shaved 26.9 yards off its average rushing yardage allowed per game and 0.26 yards off its average permitted per carry, and Jones' emergence against the run is a primary cause of their improvement.
Even if Jones doesn't generate sacks, there are other ways in which Jones can be effective against the pass, and his task goes beyond pass-rushing. As with Ninkovich, he is also responsible for identifying screen passes before they develop and not being caught out of position.
"The biggest thing is…reacting, playing the play and reacting," said Jones. "They have a good offense. They have a lot of weapons. You just have to eliminate certain players. That screen is something you would react off of."
As Jones gains more experience, he reads and reacts quicker, making him a disruptive threat among the Patriots' front seven.