News & Analysis

Why prove-it year for Chandler Jones is smart move by Cardinals

GLENDALE, AZ - SEPTEMBER 11: Arizona Cardinals linebacker Chandler Jones (55) howls after getting to New England Patriots quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo (10) for a sack during the fourth quarter. The New England Patriots take on the Arizona Cardinals in the season opener at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz., on Sept. 11, 2016. (Photo by Barry Chin/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

The Arizona Cardinals have placed the franchise tag on Chandler Jones, their No. 1 edge rusher coming off his first season in Glendale. Jones was brought over in a trade with New England a year ago precisely after the Patriots decided that they weren’t going to commit big money to Jones, given some of the off-field concerns that were beginning to raise their head.

Jones enjoyed the best season of his career for Arizona, and teaming up with interior lineman Calais Campbell, formed one of the league’s most potent disruptive duos along the defensive front. Campbell is also scheduled to hit free agency, so the Cardinals still have plenty of work to do, but Jones was an obvious candidate for a franchise tag.

Jones finished the 2016 season with 66 total QB pressures, which isn’t the highest total of his career (he had 73 in 2013 and 68 in 2015 with the Patriots), but it was by far his highest pass-rushing grade over a season (86.5) thanks to how those pressures developed.

Not all pressure is created equal, and the same stat can come about as a result of a clean-up play, where somebody else flushes the QB into you, or you can beat your blocker quickly and generate quick and intense pressure on the QB. Jones was generating decisive pressure more this season than he has in the past—but playing the Seattle Seahawks' offensive line twice in a season will help with that.

The two games against Seattle, in fact, account for three of his 12 sacks and 15 of his 66 pressures over the year. If Jones could only play LT George Fant and the Seahawks 16 times a season, he’d break the NFL sack record and generate 120 pressures on the season.

Sadly, when Jones faced better tackles, he often found himself struggling more. Jake Matthews of the Falcons blanked him entirely when it comes to pressure—his only such game of the season—but he was also kept comparatively quiet by the Patriots in Week 1.

Jones' 2016 season actually fielded a staggering level of terrible offensive tackles. He had seven games facing off against a tackle with a PFF overall grade of under 50.0, including five games of facing those with a grade of under 40.0, and three against a player under 30.0. He only faced tackles with a PFF overall grade of 75.0 or higher three times in the season, and while he definitely exploited that weak schedule to excellent effect for the Cardinals, it raises the question of how hard that is to do, and how easy it would be to replicate.

If nothing else, the Cardinals should be able to get Jones to prove it for another season against a weak slate of NFC West tackles that doesn’t look like improving dramatically any time soon.

Now the team can turn its attention to trying to keep  Calais Campbell around, while S Tony Jefferson may find himself as the odd man out in Arizona’s priority list when it comes to free-agency money.

Know tomorrow, today. Western Southern Financial Group.

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