By Matt Derrick
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The return of Chris Jones to the Chiefs defense on Sunday introduced a new wrinkle that could prove pivotal as the Chiefs head into the second half of the season and navigating a rash of injuries along the defensive line.
“I got to be on the outside,” Jones said. “I didn’t see as many double teams as I get in the inside, so it was fun.”
Jones earned second-team All-Pro honors a season ago in racking up 15 1/2 sacks from his tackle position. After accounting five quarterback hurries, a sack and seven total pressures against Minnesota, however, opposing offenses will likely see more of Jones on the outside.
Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo began pondering the idea of giving Jones snaps at defensive end earlier in the season. Jones played three snaps as a pure edge rusher in Week 3 against Baltimore and another in Week 5 against Indianapolis. But before the plan could get fully implemented, Jones suffered a groin injury that pushed him out of the lineup for three games.
When he return on Sunday, the Chiefs entered the game with just two healthy defensive ends with Frank Clark and Alex Okafor sideline with injuries. That forced Spagnuolo to accelerate the plan.
“Certainly when he came back last week we didn’t have all of our defensive ends, so he helped us out there,” Spagnuolo said.
Jones played every position on the line in Week 9 against Minnesota, including 32 snaps on the outside of the line, most of them as a true edge rusher. Jones occasional plays defensive end when the Chiefs go to a substitution package with three down lineman, but playing as a pure edge rusher is new for Jones.
“It was a challenge because when Spags first told me, you got to know this and they’ve got a lot of drops depending on who’s in the game and what formation,” Jones said. “It was a challenge, but it was a challenge I was looking forward to.”
Head coach Andy Reid has seen this strategy before. When Spagnuolo served as defensive coordinator for the New York Giants, Reid recalls the coach using Michael Strahan and Osi Umenyiora in an unorthodox look against his Eagles.
“He took his two All-Pro defensive ends, one year when we played him in Philadelphia when he was at the Giants, and moved them inside of his inside players,” Reid said. “That was effective for him that game. He has that kind of flexibility in his mind and in his scheme. He tries to maintain that flexibility there.”
Tanoh Kpassagnon has occasionally done the reverse of Jones, playing 109 of his 350 snaps at an interior position instead of on the end. The Chiefs have frequently deployed him as an additional rusher on third downs and obvious passing situations.
“Some of that has to do with getting in the right situations to do it,” Spagnuolo said. “I don’t know if it’s something were we put him in there in a consistent basis because I think he’s really comfortable and does some good things on the edge as a defensive end in what we call a six-technique.”
Jones can still terrorize offense’s from inside as well. With Sunday’s game tied and Minnesota facing a third-and-17, Jones lined at defensive right tackle and used an inside move to get past guard Pat Elflein. He wrapped up quarterback Kirk Cousins in forcing an incompletion, a pivotal play in setting up the Chiefs for a game-winning field goal on the ensuing drive.
Playing on the edge, however, likely remains part of the game plan for Jones. Even with Clark returning to practice this week, Jones took part in position drills at defensive end during the portion of practice open to the media.
He says he doesn’t have a preferred position – “Wherever they put me, I’m going to be dominant at,” Jones said. But he wouldn’t mind a permanent change if it’s in the offing.
“I told Spags that it would be nice if I could just play that the rest of the year, that would be wonderful,” Jones said. ‘But got to get my guys healthy and get them back out there. But it was fun.”
Matt Derrick is the lead beat writer for ChiefsDigest.com and a contributor for Sports Radio 810 WHB. Follow him on Twitter @mattderrick.