When the Arizona Cardinals acquired three-time Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt, it invoked tantalizing images of a prospective tandem of Watt and Chandler Jones. Since 2012, Cardinals star Chandler Jones and Watt are one and two, respectively, for total sacks in the NFL. Quietly, or perhaps not, the Cardinals have acutely paired two of the best defensive players of the last decade. Since the announcement, the two stars have been inextricably linked. Cardinals media has shown the two together frequently, beginning with Watt’s first visit to the Cardinals facility. Recently, on Media Day, Cardinals fans and frightened NFC West quarterbacks caught a brief look at what the destructive duo will look like together in Cardinal red, in what has been Jones’ only appearance in an official team capacity this off-season. What remains to be seen, however, is how JJ Watt and Chandler Jones will be deployed on the field.
JJ Watt and Chandler Jones Could Be A Dangerous Tandem For the Arizona Cardinals
What Does Watt Have Left in the Tank
Speaking recently to Cardinals media on ‘The Big Red Rage,” defensive coordinator Vance Joseph spoke about the acquisition of J.J. Watt from the Houston Texans. Joseph, whose relationship with Watt stretches back to the latter’s rookie season in the NFL, pointed to schematic familiarity as a defining factor in Watt’s decision. He won his first Defensive Player of the Year award in the Wade Phillips defense.
Watt’s film showed not a player bound for the scrap heap, but rather that he just escaped one. He could help out in Arizona. In particular, Joseph conceded that the team’s run defense last season “wasn’t as good” as previous seasons. Watt led the NFL in tackles for loss against the run in 2020. A dominant interior force is an integral facet of the 3-4 defense, as Joseph explained. As the strong side defensive end, lined up over the tackle in a 5 technique, Watt will be at the point of attack. Arizona’s run defense has found both its literal and spiritual core in Watt. In turn, the move will free up the athletic talents of the Cardinals young inside linebacker duo of Zaven Collins and Isaiah Simmons.
A Destructive Desert Duo
Cardinals broadcaster Ron Wolfley asked Joseph about how the tandem of JJ Watt and Chandler Jones may potentially line up on the defense. Despite coyly suggesting that Watt was to be a run-stuffer first, Joseph couldn’t help but begin to fantasize about what the two stars offer in his scheme. Both are versatile and productive, so Joseph has a range of options from which to choose when it comes to properly utilizing their abilities.
Joseph confirmed that there would be times where the two would literally team up on the same side of the formation. According to Joseph, Watt can shift to a 3-technique, lined up in the B-gap as a vertical rusher attacking the weak side guard. That will allow the weak side linebacker, Chandler Jones, to isolate the tackle on the outside. This, in turn, gives Jones the option to either rush outside or come underneath.
Keeping Protections Honest
However, Vance Joseph indicated that, for the majority of snaps, the Cardinals defense would attempt to divide the offensive protections by splitting JJ Watt and Chandler Jones on opposite sides of the formation. The beauty of the 3-4 front is that it provides the defense the opportunity to dictate to the offense “who blocks who.” The 3-4 front essentially guarantees that one of the two stars will get a one-on-one. Aligning Watt over or outside the strong side tackle will prevent a double team because the tackle has to prioritize the SAM or strong-side outside linebacker. On the interior, the nose tackle will occupy the center. J.J. Watt will subsequently have a one-on-one block with the “poor strong side guard.”
The intricacy and adaptability of Joseph’s scheme have become glaringly apparent. Whilst conceding that leaving a tight end in to ship the SAM linebacker will allow the tackle to slide inside and double team Watt, Joseph noted that, as long as the strong side guard is tied up with Watt, the offense cannot slide any help to Chandler Jones on the weakside.
Joseph was quick to admit that certain offensive formations could effectively neutralize the threat posed by Jones and Watt, but not without compromising other areas of the offense, particularly in the passing game. The offense can bring in another tight end to block in a max protection look. That will leave two wide receivers out in the pattern, with a four-over-two advantage to the defensive backs. Joseph will revel in the opportunity to play more zone or shell coverages to blanket a consequently understaffed passing attack.
It is in this way that reinforcing the defensive line with big-money players will improve Arizona’s pass defense and, indeed, their defense as a whole. With the tandem of Watt and Jones, the Cardinals have an absolutely game-breaking weapon, and Vance Joseph knows it.