Jones in ‘rare air’ as DPOY debate rages on, secondary confident in play
TEMPE, Ariz. — Pencil in Arizona Cardinals linebacker Chandler Jones for yet another impeccable season in 2019.
Jones has remained a constant bright spot for the 5-9-1 team, getting to the quarterback 19 times and forcing eight footballs to the turf.
So with one last showdown left to play, a new franchise sacks record and two four-sack games already under his belt and just 2.5 away from firmly planting himself atop the mountain of All-Time greats, teammates and coaches from all sides of the ball wait in anticipation for what the LB has in store come Sunday.
“What he’s done is incredible,” defensive coordinator Vance Joseph said after practice Thursday. “That’s a huge year. If he gets 20 sacks, that’s rare air. I was in Houston when [J.J.] Watt won his first [Defenseive Player of the Year] award and it was a special year. He’s doing it. If he gets one or two [sacks] this week, he’s the guy in my opinion.
“It’s the best player on defense award, not the team’s award, so in my opinion, if he gets 20 sacks that rare air, and that’s NFL history, so he should be the player of the year.”
With being that close to the new NFL sacks record, one that was last broken in 2002, Jones has to be an obvious candidate, if not clear choice, for Defensive Player of the Year honors, right?
Don’t be so sure.
Those in the Valley have seen the linebacker wreak havoc on opposing quarterbacks every Sunday this season. But the reality is, the rest of the country is watching others like Patriots CB Stefon Gilmore and Bills CB Tre’Davius White, two players on teams locked in for the playoffs, perform much more often, giving them an advantage over Jones.
And while it’s easy to get caught up with the tallies in the win-loss column, Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald is solely focused on the commotion on the field.
“I know Stefon Gilmore’s had an unbelievable year, White’s had a great year … but I don’t think anybody’s been more dominant than Chandler. Buffalo’s won 10 games, Patriots have won 12 games. Those guys are playing the lead, those defensive players get a chance to [make plays]. Those teams are trying to catch up.
“We’ve been trailing in a lot of games this year, even games that we’ve won and Chandler, what he’s done has been unbelievable. … You look at all the teams that are playing at a high level, there’s usually guys on the defensive side that reap the rewards because they’re on really good football teams. That’s not the case with Chandler, so I think that’s even more special about what he’s been able to accomplish.”
The debate over the 2019-20 DPOY winner will certainly rage on until the name is finally announced.
But inside the Cardinals locker room, the team’s unofficial Chandler Jones for DPOY slogan reads, “numbers don’t lie.”
Confidence starting to blossom in young Cardinals’ secondary
Taking a trip back to the start of the regular season, one of the weakest areas on the defense was the secondary.
A season-ending injury to cornerback Robert Alford, paired with All-Pro CB Patrick Peterson on the shelf with a six-game suspension, followed by a bumpy transition back to the field, certainly didn’t help.
But with three good defensive games in a row and a two-game winning streak, Peterson is seeing the young group grow into a more cohesive unit, as the secondary looks to carry the late-season momentum into the offseason and beyond.
“We know this is going to be the secondary next year,” Peterson said after practice Thursday. “We’re starting to grow that confidence in one another. You can tell by the way we play, the energy we have now there’s no uncertainty anymore. It’s guys that get the call, know the call, play the call. … Guys are really dialed into the gameplan and Vance [Joseph] is doing a great job of making sure it’s nice and simple for us, so we can just go out there and play fast.”
Peterson’s words were evident in Week 16’s 27-13 win over the Seattle Seahawks, a game where the defense locked down MVP-candidate Russell Wilson and the offensive attack that has kept the Seahawks in the hunt for the No. 1 seed in the NFC. Stealing the show was linebacker Chandler Jones’ sack total, but it was the secondary who gave the LB the time to get to the QB.
“It was very impressive, I knew Pat P. was going to play good again, he’s back to being himself from a confidence prospective,” defensive coordinator Vance Joseph said. “He knows the defense now I think, enough to play well each week. … The pass rush was obviously on fire so that helps, but those young guys are playing good football right now. Hopefully it shows again on Sunday morning.”
Limiting the pairing of Tyler Lockett and D.K. Metcalf, who accounted for more than 150 yards and two scores a week prior, to a combined one catch for 12 yards was a huge victory for the young secondary. Leading the young DBs was Chris Jones, who knocked down three passes and made three tackles. Byron Murphy Jr. and Jalen Thompson also contributed with a pass defensed apiece.
It’s not by coincidence, either.
“We’re just like offensive lineman, the longer those guys will be able to stay together, the more continuity they’ll have. Same with the secondary,” Peterson said. “The more we’re able to be together as a unit, the better we can be.”
And with most of the secondary under contract for 2020, any confidence gained in the team’s final outing on Sunday will only help keep the ball rolling into the new year.