By Matthew Marczi
As Jarvis Jones’ rookie season continues on, the most recent first-round draft pick of the Pittsburgh Steelers does seem to be becoming more comfortable in the defense.
Jones, of course, was benched a few weeks back for not being on his assignments after returning from a concussion that allowed head coach Mike Tomlin to re-insert Jason Worilds into the starting lineup.
Perhaps the demotion has helped Jones as he strives to master Dick LeBeau’s system. When he is only expected to come in on a rotational or situational basis, it is much easier to limit his responsibilities, which allows him to play more naturally. Whether or not that has made a difference, the fact is that the rookie is beginning to see more success as a pass rusher.
It does help that Jones rushed the passer more against the Buffalo Bills than he had in any other game this season. This past game, he had 30 pass rushes; his previous high was 20 against the Cincinnati Bengals.
It just so happened to translate into his most productive day as a pass rusher yet in his young career, registering four total pressures, including his very first sack. So how did he get each one of them?
Late in the first quarter, on a third down play, Jones was brought on to the field in place of Vince Williams in order to rush the passer. He lined up outside left tackle Cordy Glenn, who set wide to block him. As Doug Legursky and Eric Wood double teamed Cameron Heyward, Jones crossed Glenn’s face and beat Legursky’s help to get penetration. Though Glenn recovered, the penetration by Jones caused E.J. Manuel to flush out of the pocket and rush his throw, which was incomplete.
His second pressure came in the fourth quarter, after LaMarr Woodley left with an injury and he was forced to come in fulltime. In the dime, Jones lined up in a traditional set, and he forced Glenn wide before using a spin move to get inside him and find a lane to the quarterback. With the pressure from both outside linebackers, Manuel threw erratically and was intercepted by Ryan Clark.
On the next drive, Jones finally put him down, though his first career sack was fairly non-descript. The Bills left C.J. Spiller to pick up Jones, who used his arms to absorb and sidestep the cut block. By the time Manuel turned to his blind side, he was already being brought down.
At the goal line near the end of the game, Jones and Clark both got pressure on Manuel, who appeared to fumble after Worilds caught up with and hit him. Once again, he simply crossed Glenn’s face after lulling him outside. I don’t know about his 40-time, but his short-area quickness seems up to the task.
The development of Jones’ pass-rushing toolkit will be an integral ingredient in the future of the Steelers’ defense. At least that’s the plan, because if not, they might have to start from scratch again. Rookies very rarely get a chance to show what they’re capable of in Pittsburgh as it is, so it should not be an indictment that he lost his starting job as a rookie. He is continuing to get better while he waits in the wings for his next chance to start, which may very well be tomorrow.