PHOENIX – In the NFL, there are some players who simply feel inevitable. You may succeed in containing them, but you won’t stop them.
The Chiefs have three of them.
The collective inevitability of Patrick Mahomes and Travis Kelce has powered the Kansas City Chiefs’ run to three Super Bowls in four seasons and helped them boast the most efficient offense in the NFL in EVE (our Efficiency Versus Expected model) in 2022 despite the loss of Tyreek Hill.
Mahomes and Kelce are card-carrying members of the superstar club, and it is past time for Chris Jones to have his application approved.
The defensive tackle has been the embodiment of consistency since he was drafted out of Mississippi State in 2016. His 65 sacks in that period are tied for the seventh most, while his 471 pressures over that span rank third.
It’s no surprise then that Philadelphia Eagles All-Pro right tackle Lane Johnson labeled Jones “the elite of the elite” ahead of a mouth-watering Super Bowl LVII matchup between the Chiefs and the Eagles in Arizona on Sunday.
Johnson’s effusive praise is reflected by Jones’ performance in both pass rush and run defense win rate. Jones ranks ninth in the NFL in 2022 with a pass-rush win rate (min. 50 rushes) of 58.0% and fourth in the league (min. 50 run defensive opportunities) with a 72.7% run-defense win rate. His aggregate of those two metrics of 54.8% puts him behind only Derrick Brown and Aaron Donald, who has been long considered the elite of the elite.
Jones was also fourth among defensive tackles with a 20.7% pressure rate during the regular season and 13th with a 26.5% run disruption rate. Donald, who led the league in pressure and run disruption rate, was the only player to rank higher than Jones in both categories.
It is not just the production and level of disruption that separates Jones from the majority of his peers, but the timing of the destruction he has so frequently wrought.
While Mahomes’ turnaround-sparking third-and-15 connection with Hill stands out as the defining play of the comeback victory over the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl LIV, the Niners might have succeeded in getting off the mat if not for Jones taking over and spiking Jimmy Garoppolo passes as if he was playing volleyball.
Similarly, the Chiefs might not even be in Arizona had Jones not blown past the attempted block of Cincinnati Bengals right tackle Hakeem Adeniji and hauled down Joe Burrow on the Bengals’ final offensive series of the game, ending a potentially decisive drive and giving the ball back to Mahomes to get Kansas City in position for the winning field goal in a thrilling 23-20 triumph.
That pivotal play saw him lined up on the edge and Jones’ 23.9% pressure rate when shifted outside in 2022 is 10th among all defenders with at least 50 edge plays. His success in quenching his insatiable appetite for destruction is not dependent on where he lines up, but why is Jones so consistently impactful in the clutch?
“I think it’s opportunity. As the game is played, more opportunities open up for me and I’m able to make a play,” Jones said this week. “Obviously they have their game plan in how they want to attack me, double team, or slide (the pass protection) my way or run away from me, so I have to be patient with that.
“I think that’s an evolving piece of my game, being patient, realizing what’s going on, realizing how the offense is attacking me, kind of react off it when I can.”
Offensive lines have found little success in attacking Jones regardless of the plan. His production in terms of pressures and sacks has come despite him being double-teamed on 93 of his pass-rush snaps, accounting for 46.5% of them. Against the run, the double teams have been more effective, with Jones defeating only two of the 45 he has faced when defending the ground game.
The Eagles’ talented offensive front on its own also poses a difficult test when it comes to the run game, as it allowed the lowest run disruption rate in the NFL during the regular season.
That could be considered an avenue to success for an Eagles team that has thrived in large part because of a diverse and devastating run game with quarterback Jalen Hurts at its heart. But Philadelphia’s ground attack is built around unpredictability, and that uncertainty does not exist without the threat of a passing game that Jones specializes in taking away.
The Chiefs succeeding in limiting an Eagles aerial attack teeming with talent is obviously in part contingent on their young defensive backfield excelling against the likes of A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith, but with Jones up front, their lives are a lot easier.
“You know that the quarterback has to throw the ball, quickly, so as a defensive back, when Chris is on it’s like, ‘we got about three seconds to cover, ball’s coming out, let’s do it,'” cornerback Trent McDuffie told Stats Perform. “Even dudes like Derrick Nnadi, Frank Clark, Mike Danna, George (Karlaftis), that defensive line having them has made it so much better for us on the back end.”
The assistance Jones and his fellow defensive lineman offer will be badly needed against an offense that racked up 253 plays of 10 yards or more in the regular season – a tally second only to that of the Chiefs (257).
Against an Eagles offensive line that ranks first in pass-protection win rate and second in run-block win rate, Jones might need to display particularly high levels of patience to get his chance to provide that help to the secondary, and he may be forced to take a less aggressive approach than usual due to the duplicitous nature of Hurts’ game, which allows the quarterback to emphatically punish defenders who overplay their hand.
The strength of Philly’s offensive line and the personalities they have in the trenches have seen the likes of Jason Kelce, Jordan Mailata and Johnson receive substantial attention in the build-up to a fascinating battle. Despite Jones’ exploits and the strides made by his lieutenants up front, the level of hype surrounding KC’s defensive line has been comparatively small.
That is not of any concern to Jones, who said of Kansas City’s D-Line: “We’re always overlooked so it’s all good.”
That feeling of being underappreciated was only be furthered at Thursday’s NFL Honors ceremony when Nick Bosa of the 49ers was named the NFL Defensive Player of the Year ahead of Jones (Opta Analyst’s DPOY).
But if Jones once again rises to the occasion against the Eagles to reprise his role of closer and ensure the Chiefs complete their rise back to the top of the NFL mountain, the superstar recognition Jones has long since deserved will almost certainly come his way.