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USA Today Sports Media Group
USA Today Sports Media Group
Doug Farrar

Super Bowl LVII: Chiefs DL Chris Jones is set to test the Eagles’ NFL-best offensive line

It is amazing to consider that Sunday’s AFC Championship game marked Chiefs defensive lineman Chris Jones’ 13th postseason appearance, and he didn’t have a single sack in his first 12 playoff performances. This included Kansas City’s win over the 49ers in Super Bowl LV — a Jones game so dominant, it could be argued (as I did) that he should have been named the gane’s Most Valuable Player. You can completely disrupt an offense without sacks, and Jones has done it more often than most.

That said, when Jones finally broke his sack drought against the Bengals on Sunday, he did it with authority. Jones had two sacks, and he also had three quarterback hits and five quarterback hurries. Cincinnati’s injury-ravaged offensive line, which looked impressively solid against the Bills in the divisional round, had no shot of keeping Jones at bay. Nor did the rest of Kansas City’s defensive line fail to eat. Joe Burrow was pressured on 21 of his 49 dropbacks. Burrow took five sacks, and under pressure, he completed just five passes on 13 attempts for 81 yards, no touchdowns, both of his interceptions, and a passer rating of 20.5.

Others on that Chiefs line got their work in, but Jones was the superstar. The Bengals tried just about everything to stop him short of double-teaming him on every play (it was about half the time), and nothing worked. Jones played all over the line, and got pressures from the left and right edges, and from the left and right defensive tackle gaps.

“Yeah, he’s so good,” Burrow said of Jones after the game. “He makes it so hard on you. He’s so big, strong and physical. He really understands what you’re trying to do to him up front. You have to give them credit, they had a really good rush plan. They let their big-time pass rushers go to work.”

There was an element of last year’s AFC Championship game that stuck in Jones’ craw all season long, and he was more than ready to prove his readiness this time around.

“I think I planned for this game – my whole offseason was dedicated to this game. I missed a few big plays last year, unfortunate they were able to move forward, and I put that on my shoulders. So this offseason, I dedicated my whole offseason to making sure that when that moment calls, for me specifically, that I’ll answer the call.”

Not that Jones played badly in that game — he had six quarterback hurries in 34 pass-rushing snaps — but this time around, he cranked things up several levels.

As for that first sack (and the second), Jones claimed not to care about it (and them).

“It’s been a lot made by you guys,” Jones said with a laugh. “Y’all make it bigger than what it is. I really personally do not care about stats in the playoffs. My job is to make sure that I play hard, play physical, set a different side of the line of scrimmage and make my teammates around me make plays. Rather it’s taking the double team the whole game or rather it’s getting the one-on-one and winning. I think you guys blow it out of proportion. It doesn’t really matter to me, but I’m glad that you guys can have another story that Chris Jones finally got a sack.” 

Well, in that spirit, let’s get past the obvious and dive into what Jones did in what amounted to a perfect pass-rush clinic.

Using pure power to impose his will.

(Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports)

Bengals right guard Max Scharping will likely see Jones in his nightmares for a good, long time. Scharping, playing in place of the injured Alex Cappa, did his best against the Chiefs’ primary pass-rushing threat, but there are times when you just have to acknowledge that the man getting ready to go up against you is going to kick your butt. Jones did it with technique, as we will see, but he also had reps in which he just got his paws on Scharping and pushed him right back into the quarterback.

Scharping’s nightmare began early in the game, but let’s start with this bull-rush Jones gave him on a six-yard Burrow completion to tight end Hayden Hurst with 1:59 left in the first half. Burrow was lucky to get the ball out at all, because Jones had taken his right guard and kicked  him right out of the club.

This quick pass to Tee Higgins with 39 seconds left in the first half was second verse, same as the first: Scharping doing his level best to counter Jones furious rush, and failing from the first step. Two big pushes, and Scharping was backed up a good five yards, which is kind of ridiculous.

With 3:13 left in the third quarter, the Bengals had third-and-17 at their own 18-yard line down 20-13, so we’re dealing with an obvious passing situation. Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo forced one-on-ones to Jones’ side (the left defensive side) with an overload, and Scharping once again had to deal with Jones’ straight power. That did not go as Scharping would have hoped, and then, nose tackle Khalen Saunders did a great job of chasing Burrow out of the pocket. Burrow’s throw to Tee Higgins was successfully defensed by cornerback Trent McDuffie, and the Bengals were punting.

Chops, swipes, swims, and rips.

(Syndication: The Enquirer)

Of course, Jones’ game is about much more than pure power — he’s got amazing speed and quickness off the snap, and a full array of techniques developed to embarrass just about any offensive lineman he’s up against.

On this sack with 7:07 left in the first quarter, Jones was aligned on Scharping’s outside shoulder, and gave him a perfect swipe move to clear Scharping’s arm. Then, Jones used leverage to convert speed and power to the takedown.

With eight seconds left in the first half, Jones forced a Burrow incompletion by taking left guard Cordell Volson across his face, and then using a swim move to separate to the pocket, blowing up center Ted Karras along the way. If you were to take one snap from this game to explain why Jones has been perhaps the NFL’s best interior pass-rusher throughout the 2022 season, this would be an excellent choice. Pretty much everything you want is clearly on display.

Also, the Bengals kicked a field goal on the next play, as opposed to scoring a touchdown. Pretty big situation there.

Here’s another swim/arm-over used effectively against Volson — this time with 10:03 left in the third quarter, and this time on a stunt with end Frank Clark. Cincinnati’s protection kind of fell apart to Jones’ side on what became a desperate heave by Burrow in the general direction in tight end Mitchell Wilcox, but that doesn’t negate Jones’ effort against Volson, nor how he was able to turn on the jets to the pocket. When you have 6-foot-6, 310-pound defender who can move like this, it’s just one more problem for every opposing offensive line.

Jones’ second sack of the game came with 44 seconds left in the game, and this was another killer for the Bengals in a crucial situation. The game was tied at 20, and Cincinnati had third-and-8 from their own 35-yard line. This time, Jones was aligned outside against right tackle Hakeem Adeniji, and this time, Jones used a rip move to drive past his alleged obstruction to Burrow’s kitchen.

Jones will obviously be the Eagles' primary pass-rush focus.

(Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports)

The Eagles’ offensive line, led by run game coordinator and offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland, have two weeks to figure out how to deal with Jones, and that offensive line is unquestionably the NFL’s best.

That’s the good news for Philly in Super Bowl LVII.

The bad news is that Jones has been ramping up his game of late to a particularly preposterous degree. Per Net Gen Stats, Jones leads all defensive tackles with 44 pressures since Week 10, and he has nearly doubled his pressure rate from 6.9% in the first nine weeks of the season to 13.2% since Week 10.

Chris Jones was probably the MVP of his last Super Bowl, and the way he’s playing now — even against the best offensive line he’ll have faced all season — it would be foolish to assume that he can’t have a similar impact this time around.

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