The New England Patriots 2012 season was filled with highs (the emergence of Stevan Ridley, the blowout wins over the Houston Texans) and crushing lows (the loss to the Baltimore Ravens, both of Rob Gronkowski‘s broken left forearm injuries), and this is a new feature on the Musket Fire site that strives to capture all those moments. This feature will run through the offseason periodically under the name “Look Back”. Since this site is for the fans, please send me all of your suggestions on Twitter (@SorianoJoe, link is at the bottom of the piece if you need it), via email ([email protected]), or you can send it to our Facebook page.
Defensive end Chandler Jones‘s debut will be the focal point of the first piece, and I would like to start off by talking about his preseason debut (the regular season debut will be the main focus). Going up against New Orleans Saints veteran left tackle Jermon Bushrod, it seemed like Jones would have a rough outing in his preseason debut. However, Jones flat-out embarrassed his senior on the opposite side of the trenches, and even Bushrod joked about the whooping Jones gave him. Not only did Jones beat him quickly on pass plays, but he also outmuscled him against the run.
His play against the Saints on run defense foreshadowed the kind of season Jones would have in 2012. The Syracuse Orange rookie was supposed to be raw coming out of college, and some scouts believed that he wouldn’t be able to make an impact in run defense. Jones proved those doubts dead wrong with an incredible 2012 season against the run. In fact, Jones was better against the run last season than he was as a pass rusher.
That’s not to say that Chandler Jones couldn’t rush the passer, because he showed his pass rushing ability right off the bat. Easily the most consistent pass rusher on the Patriots last season, Jones was probably the only consistent pass rusher on the team (Rob Ninkovich had nice sack totals, but he wasn’t consistent). Playing against the Tennessee Titans and star left tackle Michael Roos in his NFL regular season debut, Jones proved his worth in the pros.
Roos is a daunting matchup for any defensive end to face, but it must have been difficult for Jones to come in as a rookie and face off against such a steady, talented veteran. But just as Jones dominated the high-priced Bushrod (well, he’s high-priced now) in the preseason, he won the battle against Roos in a game that counted.
Jones finished the easy Pats victory over the Titans with five tackles, a sack, and he pressured Jake Locker on a few other occasions. He was a constant thorn in the Titans side, and he also did an incredible job stopping the run. The left side of the Titans offensive line couldn’t get much going on the ground, and that’s thanks to the game Jones had against Roos.
I think Jones is a player primed for stardom and a breakout candidate within the next two seasons. It’s not often you see a rookie defensive end play that kind of run defense, and the sad part is that the ankle injury Jones suffered towards the end of the season really hurt his pass rushing productivity down the stretch. Jones still has a ton of upside to tap into as a pass rusher, and he can be a fearsome double-threat DE against the run and pass.
You can follow Joe Soriano on Twitter @SorianoJoe.