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Inside Man: Chandler Jones bringing pressure from defensive tackle spot

09.16.13 at 1:17 pm ET
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Chandler Jones

Chander Jones

Since Mike Wright left the game in 2011 because of concussion issues, the Patriots have lacked a steady pass-rushing presence on the interior of their defensive line. But the sight of Chandler Jones working part-time on the interior for the first two games of the 2013 season may offer some hope that New England may have found — at least on an occasional basis — someone on the interior who can get after the passer.

Over the last year-plus, the Patriots have utilized several possibilities along the inside in hopes of finding someone who could push the pocket and get after the quarterback. From Albert Haynesworth to Jonathan Fanene to Jermaine Cunningham, no one has been able to consistently pick up the role of interior pass rusher in New England.

But on nearly 20 occasions last Thursday against the Jets, the Patriots were able to move Jones from defensive end to defensive tackle. (That’s on the heels of doing the same thing in the regular-season opener against the Bills.) And on almost every occasion, New England was able to see positive results from the move — Jones was able to consistently create havoc for the offensive lines, which struggled to match up with him, and he frequently got into the backfield after the quarterback, coming away with a pair of sacks on Geno Smith.

It was clear the longer, leaner Jones presented a unique challenge for the interior linemen of Buffalo and New York, who were more used to seeing stouter, more physical play from the likes of Vince Wilfork, Tommy Kelly and Joe Vellano.

“I think anytime you move those defensive ends inside, they obviously are a little bit smaller physically,” said Patriots coach Bill Belichick, “but the quickness and the length they have over most traditional defensive tackles can cause those inside guys – guards and centers – some problems in protection just because they’re not used to seeing that type of player inside.”

“Obviously when he’s inside, those guards just start sweating, because it’s not easy for a tackle to block Chandler. Then, you put him on a guard who’s not used to somebody who can move and has those ‘Go-Go Gadget’ arms from about five feet away,” defensive end Rob Ninkovich said on WEEI Monday.

As stated, the Patriots have used defensive end on the inside on a handful of occasions before, with the last attempt coming last season when Cunningham was bumped inside a few times. The Florida product (who compares to Jones physically, in that he’s 6-foot-3 and 255 pounds) had his moments at the defensive tackle spot, most notable in 2012 against the Jets when he had two tackles and half a sack in an overtime win over New York. But Cunningham, who struggled with injury over the last year-plus, was cut loose by the Patriots this summer.

That’s when Jones entered the picture as a possibility. He made his bones as a defensive end in college as well as his first year in the NFL, and finished his rookie year in New England with six sacks from the defensive end spot. Now, with an occasional stint at defensive tackle — as well as the presence of Kelly, his fellow defensive tackle who has shown a good ability to cave in the pocket when needed — it appears the Patriots have that boost inside they’ve craved the last couple of years.

(One of the things that makes the move of Jones possible is the play of rookie defensive end Michael Buchanan, who moved into Jones’ spot on several occasions when Jones moved inside. While he might not be ready for a full-time role as a defensive end at the NFL level, Buchanan showed a good burst off the line, as well as a nice ability to set the edge.)

It’s debatable how consistent a presence Jones could be as an interior pass-rushing presence, as defensive tackles are traditionally bigger and more physical types who can also hold up against the run (by way of comparison, Jones checks in at 6-foot-5 and 265 pounds, while Wilfork is 6-foot-2 and 325 pounds). If a team sees Jones in the middle on a short-yardage play, theoretically, it would be easy to check down into a run and go after the longer, leaner presence in the middle.

“I think it’s a tradeoff,” Belichick said. “Chandler has all those attributes: He’s long, he’s very athletic and he’s not nearly as big as our defensive tackles, so that’s kind of the tradeoff.”

But when it comes to passing downs, the Patriots may have found their inside man in Jones.

“It was a new position. Coach Belichick came up to me and asked me to play it, and I’ll do anything I can to help this team win. He told me to play down there and I played down there. It was fine,” Jones said after the game. “Every game I get to play, I’m going down there and offering some different looks and lining up in different parts of the field. Just a new experience for me, and I’m excited to keep growing.”

Read More: Albert Haynesworth, Bill Belichick, chandler jones, Jermaine Cunningham Print  |  Bark It Up!  |  Digg It
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