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Sacks Record Close For Chandler Jones, But He's Already Made His Mark

Linebacker's season -- and Cardinals career -- fills record book

Cardinals linebacker Chandler Jones is all smiles after his four-sack performance in a win in Seattle last weekend.
Cardinals linebacker Chandler Jones is all smiles after his four-sack performance in a win in Seattle last weekend.

The misses stick with Chandler Jones.

There was Lamar Jackson in Baltimore. Matthew Stafford in the opener. A stunt in Cincinnati – Jones thinks he ran the line game with Rodney Gunter – that didn't hit home but should've. There were even a couple Sunday in Seattle, close plays lost in Jones' dominant performance that featured four sacks that did happen.

At this point, all that potential math matters.

With one game left, the Cardinals' outside linebacker has 19 sacks this season, a performance that not only broke his own franchise record but gives him a chance – however unlikely – to reach the NFL record of 22½ in Sunday's season finale against the Rams in Los Angeles.

"It's out there in front of him, he knows that," coach Kliff Kingsbury said. "He plays like his life is on the line."

Jones downplays the possibility, insisting he wasn't aware until teammate Larry Fitzgerald said something – "Larry is a huge stat guy," Jones said – but admitted it would be remarkable. Even to reach 20 is noteworthy.

"Nineteen is cool but 20 is even better," Jones said. "We'll see what happens."

Even if Jones were to be shut out – he had one-half sack against the Rams when the teams met earlier this month – it wouldn't distract from what has been a Pro Bowl year, a potential All-Pro year, a year where Jones has made a case for NFL Defensive Player of the Year.

Jones became only the third player in NFL history to have a pair of four-sack games in one season and the first in 33 years. Denver's Karl Mecklenburg did it in 1985. Philadelphia's Reggie White did it in 1986.

He leads the NFL in sacks and forced fumbles – eight of those – and has a chance to become only the seventh player to lead the league in both categories.

"He's at an all-time elite level, he's in a zone," said former Cardinals defensive end Bertrand Berry, the last Cardinal before Jones to tally four sacks in a game. "To have 18, 19, I know Chandler and the competitor he is, he knows about 6 or 7 he should've had."

Sacks didn't become an official NFL statistic until 1982. There were players before then – Deacon Jones, Alan Page, Jack Youngblood – that wreaked havoc on passers in the past, players whom historians have tried to credit.

But the vast majority of the top sack masters have come since it was made a stat, which only makes sense. The early 1980s is when the NFL slowly became moving toward the passing league it has become today, and with it, the evolution of pass rushers.

The day Berry got four, in November of 2004, it came against the New York Giants and a stationary Kurt Warner, just a few months before Warner signed with the Cardinals. The Cardinals knew Warner's primary target was tight end Jeremy Shockey, on routes that took time to develop. Berry knew the Giants left tackle, Luke Petitgout, well – the two were teammates at Notre Dame.

"Kurt was the type of quarterback that was going to hold on to the ball and was willing to take that hit to get the perfect play," Berry said. "Which we appreciated later on, but at the time, it was great for us."

Berry had 14½ sacks that season, a season total Jones has already eclipsed twice in four seasons in Arizona. Jones also had 17 in 2017, when he also had a career-high 28 tackles for loss. Jones is just 6½ sacks shy of the franchise record of 66½ set by Freddie Joe Nunn, and Jones hasn't even played half the number of games with the Cardinals as Nunn did (131 to 63).

What impresses Berry about Jones aren't the sacks themselves but the manner in which Jones must get them. The Cardinals haven't had a consistent pass-rush threat on the other side of Jones since Markus Golden's best year in 2016. Often, teams have been able to run on the Cardinals, limiting Jones' opportunities as well.

Barry Bonds in his heyday would see only about two or three pitches per game that were hittable, Berry noted.

"But he found them," Berry said. "What Chandler is doing is the equivalent of that."

Jones is going for more than sacks these days. Pushed hard by linebackers coach Bill Davis, the strip-sack, even if he doesn't actually hit the quarterback, has become more important and a reason Jones has so many forced fumbles.

"I'm at a point in my career where I want to get the ball," Jones said.

He is definitely still getting the quarterback too. Misses, however memorable, are rare.

"It's all about perception," Berry said. "You are downgraded or upgraded based on team success and for him, he's been grossly underrated. To get 13 sacks last year? With that (2018) team?

"He's going to be one of those guys who, when he retires and you look back on his stats five years after he's done, you're going to be like, 'This dude was a beast. Why haven't we talked about this guy more?' "

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