Three drafts ago, the Green Bay Packers used a first-round pick on Datone Jones precisely for his promise as a pass rusher.
They didn’t get much production from that investment through Jones’ first two-plus seasons. In his first 33 career games, Jones had only five sacks. Finally, in the past month, there have been flashes of his pass-rush potential.
Jones’ improvement culminated Sunday with his most productive game in the NFL. The former UCLA defensive end, drafted No. 26 in 2013, had two sacks, five quarterback hurries and a batted pass against the Minnesota Vikings. It was only the second time in Jones’ career he had two sacks in a game.
It might be no coincidence Jones’ outburst came in his first game rushing as an outside linebacker, standing up in a two-point stance. Defensive coordinator Dom Capers started using Jones as an edge rusher the previous week against the Detroit Lions, and Jones responded with what was a season-high three quarterback hurries.
He was even better against the Vikings.
“I was excited,” Jones said, “because for me coming out of college, I was able to rush from outside to inside, over to center, stand up. I could do it all. It was just great to see Dom using me. It was great to see Coach trusting in me and putting me in special situations.”
Jones started the season as an interior rusher in the dime package, but he was only playing about a quarter of the defense’s snaps. Now, Jones is being used similar to the way the Packers rush outside linebacker Julius Peppers.
The Packers are using Jones similar to the way they rush outside linebacker Julius Peppers. He’s still an interior rusher in dime packages, but now Jones rushes from the exterior in the base 3-4 defense. He also has the flexibility to alternate between two- and three-point stances, much like Peppers.
Jones said Peppers has shared advice to help with his transition.
“Every day in practice,” Jones said, “Julius is giving me tips. How to set up a guy. Which rush angle to take. When a guy shots his hand. How to knock it down. It’s definitely nice having a veteran, being able to fly under his wing and take advice from him.
“He’s done it. He’s done it longer than a lot of coaches on our team. He’s a veteran. He’s just like having another coach on the field.”
Jones helped lead a resurgent Packers pass rush that had been held without a sack since Oct. 18. The Packers had no sacks during their three-game losing streak, but broke out for six sacks against the Vikings.
The Packers also hurried Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater a season-high 34 times, according to Pro Football Focus. Bridgewater only threw three of his 37 passes without being under pressure. The Packers only had 41 quarterback hurries total during their three-game losing streak.
Jones’ presence was perhaps most important. If he continues showing his pass-rush ability, it would help fill out the Packers’ depth. Defensive tackle B.J. Raji understood the importance of Jones’ big night.
“I was really proud of him,” Raji said. “He’s been asked to do a lot the last couple weeks, and to his credit he just buckled down and is really playing hard. He’s doing a good job.”
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