The Patriots defense looked about as good as it has
in a few years on Sunday. But while Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo performed at
their normal elite levels, it was the play of one rookie that made the big
Chandler Jones was largely overlooked heading into April's
draft. His injury history — mainly a nagging knee problem — caused concern for many teams, and after only two and
a half years of college ball there was a worry he'd be more of a project than a
producer in the NFL. Well, the early signs would indicate otherwise.
Jones, who was a monster on the edge all through the
preseason, translated his enormous frame and freakish athleticism onto the
gridiron in a meaningful way during his NFL debut. The 6-foot-5, 260-pound man-child
exposed the Titans offensive line on a number of occasions, even making three-time
Pro Bowl left tackle Michael Roos look silly on a few occasions.
To say that Jones' debut was a success could be viewed as an
understatement, but we'll go with that for now. He showed the type of burst anticipated
when Bill Belichick jumped up in the first round to get him at No. 21, getting
into the backfield on multiple occasions and forcing Jake Locker's hand, both
figuratively and literally, with his presence.
Jones' major contribution on the day was a strip-sack that led
to a defensive touchdown by fellow rookie Dont'a Hightower and what quickly
became a blowout by the Patriots. The defensive score was the big story off the
play, as it broke the game open and gave New England a 14-3 lead. But Jones'
effort off the edge was what truly impressed more than anything.
The play came on a third and 13 with the Titans trapped at
the 7-yard line deep in their own territory. Locker snapped the ball and
dropped back about three steps before trying to step up in the pocket and away
from Wilfork and the pressing Patriots pass rush. That's right where Jones
The 22-year-old end proceeded to fly right on past Roos on
the left side of Locker, jumped on top of the quarterback and quickly cut the
ball out from his hand. The immediate outcome was seven points, but the
takeaway was far more for the Patriots.
That type of aggressive pass rush hadn't been seen on a New
England defense, really, since Richard Seymour and Ty Warren were still controlling
the line of scrimmage. Andre Carter seemed to have a similar impact in 2011,
but his season was cut short by an unfortunate quad injury. That's exactly why
Jones was drafted, though, and it would seem he's living up to the expectations
far ahead of schedule.
With a defense that already features Wilfork bulldozing everything
up the middle and Mayo manhandling any soul daring enough to enter the second
level, a prominent pass rush led by a Dwight Freeney-esque freak like Jones could
only further solidify a defense riddled with questions after a shaky 2011.
Jones' presence off the edge will force opposing
quarterbacks to get rid of the ball earlier, which should in turn help New
England's young secondary build confidence and improve on last season's dismal
The reality is there are many keys to the Patriots making a
repeat run to the Super Bowl in 2012, but this early in the season none may be
more important than establishing a strong pass rush. And that effort weighs
heavily on the shoulders of the 22-year-old Jones.