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BOSTON (CBS) – The Patriots defense has been so incredibly ugly this season fans are grasping at any life lines of hope.
Following Sunday’s great escape against the Bills, there’s been another round of hand-wringing in Boston. Will another great season of Tom Brady and an explosive offense be submarined by a wretched D? Are we simply setting up for the inevitable: a shootout loss in the playoffs to a good quarterback?
Outside of the addition of Aquib Talib at corner, there are very few ways this defense can improve over the final seven weeks of the season. The defensive secondary will remain full of inexperience and injury-prone players. The linebackers will be shoddy in coverage. The run defense will hopefully remain consistent, despite a poor day against Buffalo.
So where can the defense turn?
Look no further than rookie Chandler Jones.
He has proven over the course of his first nine games he can be a standout pass-rushing beast in the NFL for years to come. He has the size, wingspan, and array of moves that can disrupt offensive lines and plunder pockets — all as a rookie. His polish will only improve, and the techniques that he goes to now should become even more effective as he makes his way through the early part of his career.
His height and length are reminiscent of Jevon Kearse, but his polish in getting to the quarterback is already more in line with Dwight Freeney.
How do I know?
I spent years watching both at Syracuse. My time at SU coincided with Freeney’s, and I’ve operated the website “Orange Fizz” for the past four years.
On the eve of Jones’ selection, we wrote the following analysis of why his stock had skyrocketed in the weeks leading up to the draft:
“If GM’s didn’t like Chandler, his stock wouldn’t be soaring. The combination of raw skill, insane measurables (he’s every bit of 6’5” with an absurd wingspan), a high motor and a coach’s dream off the field has led to his stock going from a 3rd-round advisory grade to the top half of the first round. It’s not one thing, it’s everything.”
I had the chance to meet and speak with Jones at the 2011 Big East Media Day in Newport, R.I.
He was charismatic and personable, but most important genuine. He was comfortable being the face of the Orange, and could naturally converse with anyone who approached him. He comes from a family of superior athletes (his brother Art plays for the Ravens, his other brother Jon “Bones” is one of the elite MMA fighters in the world), and a strong support group. On draft night, cameras showed his entire family and girlfriend, Cherynne Montanero, beside him celebrating. Combining his athletic gifts with his personality traits, SU observers knew he could make a splash early.
But after a dynamic first half of the season where he routinely killed opposing left tackles, his game has quieted. Teams are focusing more attention on him, and he may be hitting a rookie physicality wall. But on Sunday against Buffalo he also drew a holding penalty and helped provide coverage on Ryan Fitzpatrick’s strip sack. If the Pats can get after the quarterback more regularly, they can help their own secondary from getting shredded.
The best way to do this?
Continue to implement blitzes and creative pass-rushes. This can free up Jones to do one-on-one work instead of getting doubled, and use his athleticism to wreak havoc from unique places along the line.
After getting drafted, we at The Fizz noted:
“Jones will no longer see the constant double and triple teams like he did at SU. He will (be) in one of the most complex defensive schemes in the league, and Chandler’s intelligence and football instincts will be a huge advantage. Chandler can be used both as a 3-4 edge rusher and a 4-3 defensive end, and that versatility will allow him to get plenty of snaps.”
It’s that versatility that can help force quarterbacks to make quicker decisions, create big plays for the Pats, and potentially save a sinking defensive ship.
Tune in to The D.A. Show weeknights from 6-11pm on 98.5 The Sports Hub and follow Damon Amendolara on Twitter @TheDAShow.