Chris Jones is the longest-tenured member of the Kansas City Chiefs defense, and now following the recent departure of safety Tyrann Mathieu, Jones has become the Chiefs' clear-cut best player on that side of the ball. For one reason or another, Chiefs fans don't always view Jones that way, so his importance to the defense often becomes questioned. It's true that Jones has not had the statistical output of an elite pass rusher since 2018. However, that is not due to a performance decline, but instead to unfavorable circumstances.
Jones broke out in 2018 with 15.5 sacks. He recorded a sack in 11 straight games, an NFL record. Though the Chiefs' defense struggled as a unit, the pass rush led the league in sacks. While Jones was a massive part of that production, he also had help from edge rushers Dee Ford and Justin Houston. Things changed after the 2018 season when Ford and Houston were let go as a part of the reshaping of the Chiefs' defense. Frank Clark was brought in to be Jones' counterpart, but Clark hasn't fully lived up to expectations or to his contract.
No matter how great a pass rusher is, they need help around them. Without help, the opposing offense can throw every guy at the stud rusher on the line. Jones has been the only above-average pass-rusher on the Chiefs over the last three years, allowing defenses to key in on him and throw double teams his way.
These double teams often come in the most crucial moments. Watch the adjustment the Cinncinati Bengals made to stop Jones in the AFC Championship Game:
These are conductive third downs in the AFC Championship Game. On both plays, the Bengals have their center roaming free, waiting for Jones to make a step inside. On the first play, Jones is too quick up the arc, which forced an incompletion. On the second play, the right guard takes an uncomfortably large step to force Jones to the inside. The guard can afford to do this because he knows once he gets Jones to move inside, help is on the way. The Chiefs' defense fails to get off the field, and the drive ends in a Cinncinati touchdown.
This sequence of plays is a perfect example of how opposing teams key on Jones in the postseason. The most shocking statistic of Jones' career is that he has yet to record a playoff sack. He has played in 12 playoff games during his time with the Chiefs.
Fans use this against Jones to argue that he is not a clutch performer or shrinks in big moments. However, sacks aren't the only way a defensive lineman can affect the game. One of Jones's biggest strengths is his ability to bat passes down at the line of scrimmage. In the fourth quarter of Super Bowl LIV, Jones batted down multiple passes that changed the outcome of the game. Without those plays from Jones, the Chiefs are probably still searching for their first championship since Super Bowl IV.
Jones took over the fourth quarter of Super Bowl LIV, but he also has the ability to take over entire games. This ability is rare. Not many pass rushers can wreck an opposing offense's game plan, but that's exactly what Jones did against the Dallas Cowboys this past season.
After dealing with injuries and having a slow start to the year, Jones needed a game like this to get him on track. Jones was a one-man wrecking crew. The Chiefs lined him up all over the line of scrimmage. Whether it was in the B-gaps, over the tackles or outside the tackles, it didn't matter; Jones got to the quarterback.
The same way Patrick Mahomes makes life easier for his running backs, Jones does that for his fellow pass rushers. Due to the attention Jones draws, it takes attention away from others and frees up rushing lanes for his teammates.
Here, the Chiefs are bringing a blitz. Due to the threat of Jones in the middle, the Denver Broncos ask their right guard to chip Jones. Jones recognizes this and engages with the guard's hands to slow him from blocking Melvin Ingram off the edge. As a result, Ingram has a free path to the quarterback and records the sack.
Despite missing three games last season, Jones had the third-most pressures for a defensive tackle and 10th most of any defensive player. Even though opposing teams are designing game plans to stop Jones, he makes his presence felt and impacts the game. With the addition of George Karlaftis, a healthy Frank Clark and improvements from the younger pass rushers, Jones should be in for another double-digit sack season, showing why he's one of the best players in the NFL.