Sacks finally come for Raiders pass rusher Chandler Jones

Las Vegas Raiders defensive end Chandler Jones (55) celebrates his sack with defensive end Maxx Crosby (98) and cornerback Sam Webb (27) during the first half of an NFL football game against the Los Angeles Chargers, Sunday, Dec. 4, 2022, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Matt York) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

HENDERSON, Nev. (AP) — Raiders defensive end Chandler Jones insisted his play hadn't changed even if the lack of sacks suggested otherwise.

Those sacks came Sunday in Las Vegas' 27-20 victory over the Los Angeles Chargers.

Jones, who had just half a sack before that game, had three in the first half. He also stopped Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert short of the first down on a fourth-and-2 and batted down a pass on another play.

The difference in this game?

“The quarterback went down,” Jones said.

Jones and his teammates talked about how Jones had been close to taking down quarterbacks many other times. Even when he didn't get to the QB, they said his effort alone helped others make plays.

That was evident on one first-half play in which Jones closed in on Herbert. He didn't get there, but his pressure allowed Isaiah Pola-Mao on a safety blitz to close in and make one of the Raiders' season-high five sacks.

Las Vegas' top pass rusher, Maxx Crosby, didn't have any sacks against the Chargers, ending a streak of three games with at least one. He has 10 1/2 sacks this season, exactly half of the team total.

“Chandler has done a lot of good things,” coach Josh McDaniels said. “Just the number that everybody is focused on is the sack number, and I understand that. I thought he just played with great effort; he was relentless. I thought they executed a few things in the pass rush that we’ve been working hard on.”

That pass rush greatly helped a secondary that has badly struggled, especially with cornerback Nate Hobbs out after breaking his hand Oct. 10 at Kansas City. Hobbs returned against Los Angeles and recovered a fumble and led the team with eight tackles.

But just as importantly, the pass rush allowed the secondary to stick with the Chargers receivers, and they held Herbert to one touchdown pass after he had five in the two previous games combined. Herbert passed for 335 yards, but it took him 47 attempts to get there.

“We know what we've got up front," cornerback Amik Robertson said. "At the end of the day, it's a two-way thing. If we cover, they're going to get sacks. If they're rushing, we also have opportunities to make plays on the ball.”

The hope when the Raiders signed Jones to a three-year, $51 million deal in March was that the investment would take pressure off Crosby on the other end and further bulk up the pass rush. Las Vegas event dealt Yannick Ngakoue to the Indianapolis Colts on the same day with the idea Jones would more than make up for the 10 sacks he produced last season.

That didn't happen, and the deals looked particularly bad for the Raiders when Ngakoue picked up where he left off in Indianapolis with 8 1/2 sacks through 13 games.

Jones, who had 10 1/2 sacks last season with the Arizona Cardinals, went game after game without any sacks, save for one he split Oct. 23 against the Houston Texans.

He said, however, he never grew frustrated.

“I don't say I don't care about it now, but my main focus is winning opposed to statistics,” Jones said. “What I learned is when you chase it, that's when it goes worse. If you sit back and let it come to you, everything will be fine.”

Now can Jones build on this? He went against Chargers rookie left tackle Jamaree Salyer, a sixth-round pick who was overmatched.

Jones likely won't get such matchups the remainder of the season, but there are signs this performance wasn't a one-off. A week before at Seattle, Jones had a season-high eight pressures.

Again, the quarterback didn't fall when he was there, but Jones was instrumental in making Seahawks quarterback Geno Smith uncomfortable.

Then came Sunday's game against the Chargers and Herbert.

“We’re in a day and age where numbers are what compare people as good players or bad — fantasy points, good or bad, and things like that,” Raiders quarterback Derek Carr said. “The way he’s been playing the run this year has been unbelievable, the way he’s set the edge. There’s a lot more than just a stat, a touchdown, a sack. He’s played really good football.”


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