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The Colts’ most expensive offseason-pickup, former Baltimore defensive end Arthur Jones was hyped as one of the league’s best available free agents this year. As a former Raven, it was rumored for weeks that Jones would be a potential Colts target, and the franchised validated those rumors by signing Jones early on the first day of free agency.
Jones has been a rotational defensive end in Baltimore for the last three years, including starting 19 games over the last two years. A fifth-round pick in 2010, Jones didn’t play much during his rookie year, but he got into the rotation in his sophomore season, playing 281 snaps that season. Jones wasn’t particularly effective, notching a PFF grade of -1.8 during that year (+0.2 against the run).
To start 2012, it didn’t seem like Jones had improved much from a mediocre sophomore season. But he came on strong during the second half of the year in 2012, racking up a +10.9 grade from Week 11 through the Super Bowl. That strong second half carried into 2013, where he became one of the Ravens’ most consistent defensive linemen. Unfortunately for Baltimore, cap issues forced them to allow Jones to leave, and he signed a five-year, $33 million contract with Indianapolis.
So what exactly did Arthur Jones do in Baltimore last season to garner such a large contract? For that, we go to the stats and film to get as complete a picture as we can.
As always, we start with the numbers.
Across the board, Jones was a step above the Colts’ defensive ends in 2013. Cory Redding finished with comparable numbers in a few metrics, and a higher PFF grade, but also had over 200 more snaps. Jones’ snaps being about the same as Jean Francois, who missed six games last year, is a bit concerning. Can Jones handle being a high-snap starter after Cory Redding is gone?
But, overall, the numbers are definitely in Jones’ favor. The one that sticks out the most for me is his run stop percentage, which is significantly greater than any other Colts defensive end. Jones’ percentage of 10.0 was sixth among 3-4 defensive ends last year. In comparison, Jean Francois’ 6.7 was 21st. Granted, this may have been a by-product of the talent on the Baltimore defensive line, but with Jones joining the fold in Indianapolis, the difference may not be as great as one would think.
The numbers show that Jones is a pretty clear upgrade at defensive end, a significantly better piece of the puzzle. But why? What is it about him that makes him valuable? For that, we go to the tape.
The biggest thing that stands out to me about Jones is his consistency. Jones does the same thing every play. He does the same thing every game. You know what you’re going to get from him. In part, you can see that in his Pro Football Focus grades from last year:
Jones had just two games that were even remotely poor last season, and routinely had standout performances. There wasn’t any one or two exceptional games inflating Jones’ grade, and his strong stretch didn’t all come bunched together in one hot streak. By comparison, Redding had five negative grades last season, while Jean Francois had six.
That consistency is most evident on film. It was extremely hard to pick out any one exceptional, or bad, play by Jones, as they all pretty much looked the same. Jones did a very good job of using exceptional strength and leverage to hold his position on each play, rarely giving up ground against the run. When the play happened to come his way, Jones showed strong awareness to release from his blocker and bring down the runner:
A little difficult to see, but that’s what Jones did: reduced the amount of open space for the runner. And this was against Larry Warford, the Lions’ outstanding rookie guard who had a much easier time with Terrance Cody than he did Jones. Jones actually forced Warford to have one of just two “red” games of the season in PFF’s grading.
One of the things I like about Jones is that he goes low for running backs as soon as he disengages from the block. He times it really well and very rarely missed a chance to make a tackle. That diving low sacrificed some balanced, and a quick back could avoid it if he saw it coming, but Jones’ timing kept that from happening holding off his dive until the last possible second.
To reiterate the point of Jones’ strength, leverage and awareness, here’s a similar play, but with more room to see it happen.
From the All-22 look we can see just how much of an advantage Jones’ strength gave him on this play:
Look at how much the rest of the defensive line, not the edge rushers (blue) have been driven back on the draw play (red). Jones (yellow) has stayed right up on the line of scrimmage, and he’s able to get a body on C.J. Spiller before he can pick up the two yards the rest of the offensive line has pushed for. Again, this was fairly common for Jones, the question was just whether or not the play ran towards him or not. According to ESPN Sports and Information, the Ravens allowed 1.2 yards per carry more when Jones was off the field.
Jones’ job against the run was pretty basic in 2013, he played mostly as the 3-4 defensive tackle. If I could shamelessly promote this piece from last summer:
“In the Colts’ scheme, the nose tackle sits on the one-gap to the strong-side (usually the center’s right shoulder). The 3-tech defensive end is on the weak-side, on the guard’s outside shoulder. The 5-tech defensive end is on the strong side either directly on the tackle or on his outside shoulder. Meanwhile, the rush outside linebacker (ROLB) slides down in a 9-tech rush spot on the weak side (way outside the tackle, on the outside of where the tight end would be).
The nose tackle in this scheme generally is responsible for eating space and occupying both the center and the right guard (or the left guard if the tight end is on the left side). The 3-tech defensive end is usually sealing off the backside of runs, and needs to be able to hold his ground and keep the edge, but is more of a chaser from the backside and gap penetrator in pass rush. The 5-tech defensive end needs to be strong, since he is usually facing the run head-on on the strong side, but he also is often the DL’s strongest pass-rusher opposite the ROLB.
The Colts and some analysts differentiate between the three and five-tech defensive ends by listing 3-tech’s as defensive tackles (although not as nose tackles).”
Jones did the job as a 3-tech well, but he played more of the 5-tech in 2012, and is capable of playing anywhere on the line in short stretches.
While Jones’ basic responsibilities shown above, he did flash the athleticism to pull off more explosive moves:
Jones does his job in crashing down the line on the play, but sees Spiller cut back and spins off of the block and goes in pursuit. And yes, he did get the tackle.
Now, when it comes to pass rush, Jones rarely showed off any impressive pass-rushing moves, and he wasn’t particularly explosive off of the snap. He’s not the kind of player who gets a lot of penetration, either against the run or pass. He managed 4.5 sacks last season, and they pretty much all came from him pushing straight back into the pocket, like this:
Here’s another example, where Jones was able to get a push back, and then dips just enough to get the guard turned and off balance:
His lack of pure explosion off the snap and a limited (and/or non-existent) means he’s never going to be J.J. Watt, but if we refer back to the numbers, his efficiency rushing the passer is pretty good from the 3-4 end spot. He’s consistently pushing, consistently attacking, and that leads to plays. He isn’t an elite playmaker, but he’ll give you that reliable space-eating in the run game and occasional burst of pass rush.
The best word I can use to describe Jones is “solid.” And consistent. Did I mention he was consistent?
The fact that Jones was able to cash in on such a large contract after one (and a half) breakout season is, to some degree, concerning. Jones’ full contract value of $33 million is 12th in the league among defensive ends, and that’s a list that is very heavy on 4-3 ends. According to Spotrac’s list, Jones’ contract value of $33 million is the fourth-most for 3-4 defensive ends.
Is Jones in the top five most valuable 3-4 ends in the league? No. Of course, that conversation would include players who haven’t yet reached their second contracts, like J.J. Watt. And Jones’ guaranteed money ($10 million) isn’t egregious at all. Jones is overpaid, but no more so than most top free agents are.
But in order to continue to be worth his large contract, Jones will need to continue his consistently stout play in an environment that doesn’t have quite the plethora of talent on the defensive line that Baltimore did. Personally, I’m not too worried.