If Chandler Jones is right, the rest of the league should be worried.
“Am I at my best?” the Cardinals defensive end mulled aloud Thursday.
“I wouldn’t say this is my best football, no. To some people, they might think that … but there’s a lot of plays Sunday that I left out there.”
When he says he left a lot of plays out there, Jones is talking about a game in which he had six tackles, two for loss, a sack, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery, all as the Cardinals notched their first win of the season. He had two other quarterback hits on C.J. Beathard and swatted down a two-point conversion attempt that would have tied the game.
Jones was everywhere you looked on the field, and people far outside of Levi’s Stadium took notice. He was named the NFC Defensive Player of the Week in recognition of his performance. If this isn’t his best football, opposing teams are going to have their hands full.
Coach Steve Wilks saw the game as the standard for Jones rather than an outlier.
“I’ll always envision Chandler playing that way,” Wilks said Monday. “That’s the ability that he has, being a Pro Bowl player. He and I have talked from Day 1, when I first got here, and how I saw him as a big-time player and a difference-maker out there. That’s what he played like (Sunday).”
Jones led the league in sacks last season with 17, but this was the first time he received Player of the Week honors as a Cardinal.
Being the league leader had been a long-time goal for Jones, who is now in his seventh year. He’s put up solid numbers each season, and he hopes to continue building Sunday in Minnesota. There, he’ll face Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins, who has been sacked 14 times in five games.
The most recent meeting between Jones and Cousins was in Washington last December. Jones had a nine-yard sack on Cousins and also delivered a massive hit from the blindside that reverberated throughout FedExField later in the game.
Now, Cousins has switched teams, and Jones has switched schemes. The Cardinals made the move to a 4-3 defense this offseason. Jones, who has four sacks in five games, went from linebacker to defensive end. The exact position is less important to him than the prospects that come with it.
“Any opportunity where I can line up and rush the quarterback, that’s the position I like,” Jones said.
He’s been asked about perhaps being underrated a number of times, but Jones would rather impress those in the locker room than anyone else. So far, he’s been successful in that.
“He’s one of the premiere defensive ends in the National Football League,” defensive coordinator Al Holcomb said. “I think he goes about his business in a quiet-like fashion, which is perfectly fine. And if he continues to play like this – which we’re counting on him doing – then the recognition will come naturally for him.”
When talking about recognition like this, Jones is unassuming. Even with an individual award, he’s quick to credit his teammates: “For that sack, I had guys being covered. For those tackles for loss, other guys, linebackers were taking the blocks,” he said.
He views weekly honors as more of a popularity contest than something to truly put stock in. He prefers less subjective categories. Either way, those around him know the award is a testament to how he can impact any given game.
“It was great, particularly for a guy like Chandler who I think has tremendous upside in just being a difference maker in this league,” Wilks said on Wednesday. “He has proven that last year with the number of sacks that he recorded. So he can take over a game at any time.”
Individually, Jones always wants to improve on his numbers from last year. An improvement in sacks would mean an updated franchise record. But overall, his main goal is to help lead the team to more wins. If he keeps playing the way he has been, the Cardinals defense can feed off of that.
“Being at his best on game day, coming to play and impacting the game, because he can wreck a game,” Holcomb said, on the expectations for Jones moving forward. “When you have one of your leaders, one of your star players perform as they did, it picks up the other 10 men in the huddle. And they’re trying to match his intensity, and his play, and his production.”
“So it’s great for the defense – it’s great for the team, in my opinion, as a whole – when you have an individual who can step up and play as he did, and now, he’s showing the leadership that we’re asking him to show. He’s doing it by example, and it’s paying off.”