Joe Cullen, a UMass grad and Tampa Bay’s defensive line coach, once said that “the greatest play in defensive football is the sack-forced fumble.”
Also called a strip-sack, it can leave the opponents’ signal caller in a crumpled heap, exposing their offensive linemen as unworthy protectors. Part home invasion and part smash-and-grab, it happens in an instant – like a Nile crocodile clamping its jaws on an unsuspecting wildebeest at the watering hole. The ensuing change of possession often manifests itself as a major momentum swing.
Indeed, the strip-sack has produced some monstrous, intimidating, and game-changing plays. Yesterday at Ralph Wilson Stadium, Patriots defensive end Chandler Jones added himself to the highlight reel in Inside The Pylon’s Defensive Play of the Week.
Buffalo has just taken over with 2:15 left in the first half following a New England punt in a 7-7 game. On 1st and 10 from their own 26, the Bills break huddle with 11 personnel: one receiver split wide left, another in the left slot, and a third as flanker to the right. Tight end Scott Chandler sets up strong-side right while running back Fred Jackson forms a wing left of quarterback Kyle Orton, who is in the shotgun.
The Patriots line up in a 4-2-5 with nickel personnel showing Cover 1 and Devin McCourty as the lone deep safety. Cornerbacks Darrelle Revis, Alfonzo Dennard and Kyle Arrington are lined up over Buffalo’s left wideout, left slot, and right flanker respectively. Linebackers Jamie Collins and Deontae Skinner are joined in the second level by strong safety Patrick Chung:
On the far right of the defensive line, Jones (circled in yellow) lines up against Bills left tackle Cordy Glenn (circled in red):
Here’s how the play unfolds:
The First Step ‒Jones is aligned in a wide 9 technique (though not nearly as wide or acutely angled as the alignments used by Buffalo’s defensive ends). Off the snap, the Patriot displays one of his best assets by taking a huge stride forward with his right leg. It covers nearly nine linear feet of turf.
Side to Side ‒ Notice how Jones’ first step is towards Glenn’s left shoulder, while his second is towards the opposite shoulder. It’s clear Glenn cannot contend with Jones’ lateral quickness, and the Patriot puts the backpedaling Buffalo lineman on his heels even before any contact is made between the two.
The Engagement ‒ In general, defensive ends don’t want to engage their blocker by grappling with them as it only gives the opponent a chance to do likewise. On a pass rush, a DE’s objective is to get around the tackle as quickly as possible to pressure the pocket, and to do so using agility rather than strength. While a defensive tackle might attack the shoulders of his blocker and fight force with force, Jones instead puts a stiff-arm to the top of Glenn’s chest. By going at his opponent’s center, Jones exploits the girth of the 345-pound tackle by limiting his arm reach and leverage. Glenn’s left arm reaches out for Jones’ right shoulder, but Jones swats it away. However, the tackle is able to grasp Jones’ left sleeve with his right hand.
Pulling Away ‒ Glenn’s grip on Jones’ jersey proves futile and actually helps lead to his own demise. Jones makes his move, ripping his left arm and shoulder away from Glenn while again taking an enormous stride deeper into the backfield. The tackle is pulled ahead and topples forward as the defensive end exits, stage right.
The Tomahawk ‒ Jackson (#22), who had stayed back momentarily to pass block, moves ahead through the gap to receive a screen pass that will never be launched. With Orton now all alone, Jones is able to shed a desperation recovery attempt by Glenn and then goes airborne to assault the quarterback. He attacks with precision, first wrapping his left arm around Orton’s left shoulder, and then dropping his right arm onto Orton’s throwing hand with a violent and powerful hammer strike. The passer loses his grip on the ball instantly. From the snap, it takes Jones less than three seconds to get to Orton and jar the ball loose.
Cover the Pig ‒ While falling to the ground, Jones sees the ball take a fortuitous nose-first bounce off the turf. Still in mid-air, he reaches out to grab it with his right arm like a cobra striking at prey, drawing it in towards his torso. It nearly squirts out from under him, but Jones is able to secure the recovery. A deflated Orton shakes his head, unbuckles his chin strap, and trudges back to the Buffalo sideline.
Celebrate ‒ Jones is no Mark Gastineau, but he gets jiggy with it. The Patriots would eventually capitalize on the turnover, taking the lead for good with a field goal.
In his Know Your Enemy breakdown, Inside The Pylon’s Dave Archibald told us that Buffalo’s offensive line was one of the NFL’s weaker units. On their right side, tackle Seantrel Henderson was beaten for three sacks yesterday by New England’s Rob Ninkovich. However, Dave also touted Glenn as the team’s best lineman despite a physique better suited for the guard spot than tackle.
For Jones to pull off such a play against Glenn was impressive. The third-year defender, who played for Bills’ coach Doug Marrone at Syracuse, has been inconsistent since arriving in New England, but plays such as this (one of his five tackles on the day) illustrate the talent and explosiveness that make him such a tantalizing athlete.
Follow Mark on Twitter @mabrowndog.
Follow Mark on Twitter @mabrowndog.