Defensive Line All-Stars: Breaking down Week 15's standouts
After another slate filled with sacks, stops and stuffs, let's review the standout performers from the trenches during Week 15:
Defensive Lineman of the Week: DL Chris Jones, Chiefs
Even in a losing effort, Chris Jones was probably the best player on the field on Thursday, finishing with three tackles, 2.5 sacks, one pass deflection, and eight (!!!) quarterback hits against the Los Angeles Chargers. In the process, he tied the all-time record for the most consecutive games with at least one sack (10).
At 6-foot-6 and 310 pounds, Jones might appear to be another gargantuan defensive tackle who eats up space and dominates against the run - but that couldn't be further from the truth. In reality, Jones possesses an electric get-off, incredible quickness, and a wide array of footwork and hand techniques, making him a nightmare for slower-footed offensive guards to block on passing plays. Jones' second sack against the Chargers is a great example of his ability to generate pressure using quickness:
Here, Jones is aligned over the outside shoulder of the right guard, and is looking to run an exchange stunt with Justin Houston (No. 50) to his left. The idea is that Jones will immediately penetrate the line and pick off the right tackle so Houston can get free to loop behind him inside. However, because the right tackle quickly engages Houston, Jones can't pick him off and instead becomes a traditional pass-rusher in a matchup with the guard.
From there, Jones uses a perfectly timed one-hand swipe to stymie the right guard’s punch and clear contact, giving him space to dip and rip at the apex of Philip Rivers' drop before flattening toward him for the sack.
It's pretty impressive that although Jones is meant to set up his teammate, he's able to adjust in the blink of an eye, beat his own blocker, and bring down Rivers. There are less than a handful of defensive tackles with the awareness, quickness, flexibility, and hand timing to make that play.
And Jones wasn't done, saving his best for last:
Here, Jones is again aligned over the outside shoulder of the right guard. Once the ball is snapped, he immediately takes a jab step toward the guard's inside edge. That leads the guard to lean inside while widening his base, which makes it more difficult to recover.
Next, Jones redirects back to the guard's outside edge and uses a forklift move with his arm to clear contact. The guard actually does a good job of re-establishing his hands (although his base is all over the place), but Jones keeps his own hands combat-ready. He effortlessly sequences into a stab with his inside arm while executing another forklift move with his outside hand to clear contact a second time.
From there, Jones drops his pad level and turns a tight corner to Rivers, whom he eventually helps bring down after crawling around in the pocket.
Overall, Jones' performance was simply one of the best by any interior lineman in the league this season, as Los Angeles couldn't slow him down. It's time to recognize him as one of the premier players at his position.
Pass Rush of the Week: DE Khalil Mack, Bears
Though he had numerous outstanding plays against Green Bay, this sack from the second quarter is the most impressive:
Here, Mack aligns in a two-point stance outside of Green Bay's left tackle before firing out of his stance and beginning with a slight inside jab step. Mack then expands his rush back outside, executing a quick stab with his outside hand as he places his inside hand on the right tackle's inside forearm.
Once his hands are in place, Mack forklifts the tackle's arm, which clears the point of contact and knocks him off-balance. And despite an egregious hold from the tackle, Mack's able to hit Aaron Rodgers with his back, which contributes to bringing him down for the sack.
The entire sequence encapsulates Mack as a player - he continually accomplishes rare feats on the back of outstanding timing, technique, and power.
Run Defender of the Week: DT Grady Jarrett, Falcons
Lost in the Atlanta Falcons' disappointing season has been the outstanding play of defensive tackle Grady Jarrett, who deserves to be ranked in the non-Aaron Donald tier of elite defensive tackles. And Jarrett was at his best against the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday, finishing with seven tackles - two for a loss - two quarterback hits, two sacks, and a forced fumble. He certainly would have been our "Defensive Lineman of the Week" if not for Jones' incredible performance broken down above.
Instead, we'll highlight Jarrett's performance in the running game, as the Falcons held the Cardinals to just 60 rushing yards on 22 carries (2.73 yards per attempt). This play - in which Jarrett completely blows up an attempted draw on a delayed handoff - is a great example of his efforts:
Here, he's aligned with an outside shade over Arizona’s right guard, who pretends to start pass blocking after the snap in an attempt to get Jarrett to rush upfield past the ball-carrier. However, Jarrett doesn't take the bait, as he knocks the guard off his spot with a powerful two-hand punch before getting in the running back's path for the stop.
Jarrett's often recognized for his quickness and hand techniques, but he rarely receives enough credit for the sheer amount of power he generates at the point of attack. That's exactly what we see here, as Jarrett knocks his man backward and takes down the running back behind the line of scrimmage.
In the Spotlight: DL Henry Anderson, Jets
The more surprising production came against the pass, as Anderson entered Saturday's game with just three sacks this season and proceeded to double that total against the Texans. At times, Anderson benefited from Houston quarterback Deshaun Watson holding the ball too long - but certainly not on this play:
Here, Anderson's aligned directly over the center. Once the ball is snapped, he slants to his right and engages the left guard while attaining superior hand placement. That hand placement allows Anderson to move the guard off his spot and walk him into the backfield.
The guard then attempts to re-anchor, but Anderson does well to work inside with an exaggerated arm-over move that clears contact before bringing down Watson.
Anderson's length and strength - which allow him to be effective against the run every week - were on full display during that sack. And while he's never going to be a star and often doesn't show up much on the stat sheet, the 27-year-old's capable of being a valuable role player with the odd big-time performance. In this case, it was almost enough to help the Jets upset the heavily favored Texans.
John Owning is a football writer at theScore. He has written for Bleacher Report and Football Insiders. He was also the lead NFL content editor at FanRag Sports. John provides analysis on the Dallas Cowboys for the Dallas Morning News and edits for The Quant Edge. Find him on Twitter @JohnOwning.
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