Chandler Jones had been so close to knocking the ball from the hand of 49ers quarterback C.J. Beathard and then he finally did, an emphasis the Cardinals had been putting on their pass rushers of late.
The strip-sack – the defensive end also jumped on the fumble – came in the third quarter Sunday. But it came in the middle of Jones’ best overall game of the year. Even Jones understood that.
“You can definitely feel yourself heating up,” Jones said Monday. “Whenever I do feel like that, that I am pulsing a little bit, I try to spread it around,” Jones added. “That’s my biggest thing, to send it through other players. It’s contagious. If one player plays and he’s on fire, if you can get the other guys throughout the team, you can ignite a win, or at least some positive plays.”
It isn’t as if Jones has been invisible. He now has four sacks in five games, a pretty decent pace. But Pro Football Focus put Jones’ grade at 89.7 against the Niners, his tops in any game and the highest PFF gave for any edge defender this week.
Aside from that, the raw numbers caught plenty of attention. There were six total tackles, the sack, a couple of tackles-for-loss – including one violent takedown of a running back – and a crucial knockdown of a 49ers’ two-point conversion that prevented San Francisco from tying the game in the fourth quarter.
In a game of incredibly mixed results for the defense – five takeaways and only 18 points allowed, but also 33 first downs and 447 yards allowed against a backup quarterback – Jones stood out.
“I always envisioned Chandler playing that way,” coach Steve Wilks said Monday. “That’s the ability he has. He and I talked from day one and how I saw him as a big-time player and a difference-maker. And that’s how he played (Sunday). It really wasn’t the (play) call, it was him going out there, dominating the tackle, making plays, sack-fumble, you name it.”
The Cardinals are in a type of limbo defensively. There were flashes of success from a number of players. But the 49ers, as presently constructed, shouldn’t have been able to rush for 147 yards or run 92 offensive plays.
Wilks said he pointed out the obvious to his team Monday morning.
“We’ve created a negative play, and two plays later a guy is jumping out of his gap giving up a 17-yard run,” Wilks said. “It’s really execution by us.”
There is a massive test coming in Minnesota, against an offense that has proven explosive. Whether the defense can shore up major third-down problems – Wilks and his players may have broken the record post-game Sunday in their mentions of needing to “get off the field” – is a necessary step for improvement.
Jones said he believes the defense is getting better, although “the biggest thing is just everyone buying in to what the coaches are coaching.”
Jones, who did add weight in the offseason as the coaching staff transitioned him into the defensive end role, said he felt quicker this week “just with reps.”
“Going back to this new defense, I know you have a lot of reps in training camp, but those aren’t game reps,” Jones added. “This was what, our fifth game? You get more familiar with certain looks in certain positions. It’s starting to click.”
Wilks said that wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald (hamstring), tackle Andre Smith (hamstring), defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche (foot) and defensive end Markus Golden (knee) will all be day-to-day this week.
Some of the top images from the Cardinals' first win of the season