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Steelers Film Room: Jarvis Jones has mixed performance in preseason debut

Joey Porter predicted double-digit sacks for Jones this season. We look at Jarvis’ performance vs the Saints in search of evidence for Porter’s optimism.

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers-Training Camp Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Bust. It’s a term that has been given to Jones by many. Whether that label is warranted or not depends on one’s definition of the term. This much is certain: the Steelers did not pick up the 5th year option on the 2013 1st round draft pick. That can be directly attributed to Jones’ lack of production as a pass rusher, having accumulated just 5 sacks in 3 seasons.

Jones has grown into a solid run defender, consistently setting the edge. He has also shown to be adequate, at least, in pass coverage.

We already know what Jones can do in those areas. What we don’t know is if he has developed as a pass rusher since last season. Because Jarvis has been nursing minor injuries throughout training camp, we have not had the opportunity to see him in a game. That is, until last Friday night vs. the Saints. What did Jarvis show us?

For any edge rusher to be effective, they have to demonstrate ability to win outside, to beat the tackle around the edge. Once a pass rusher has done that, not only can they get pressure on the QB from the outside, they set the table for counter moves. This can make a pass rusher a load to handle for even the best tackles in the league.

Here we will look at Jarvis on the first defensive series of the game for the Steelers. He attempted to win around the edge on this 3rd down play:

Although without the All-22 it’s difficult to see how he managed to “turn the corner,” Jones does flatten enough to get close to Brees and swipe at the ball. Jarvis isn’t going to make anybody confuse him for James Harrison. Deebo’s rip move is lethal. Combining it with his shorter frame has seen him in still pictures looking like he’s practically parallel to the ground. Jones did however, get pressure around the edge here. Not only did that impact the play, it set the stage for the next pass rush opportunity.

That opportunity would come on the Saints’ next possession. After a short pass and a couple of runs, Brees would try to go down the field for a big gain. Left tackle Terron Armstead would be required to pass protect longer on this play. Rest assured that Armstead was fully aware how close Jones got to Brees on the Saints previous drive:

Offensive tackles are taught to “mirror” what the pass rusher is doing with their feet. This will keep them square and prevent them from leaning too far one way or the other. Armstead had to be cognizant of the fact that Jones beat him around the edge. We can see here that he overcompensates that way and provides an opportunity for Jones to win inside. Jarvis does just that, and attacks the tackle’s inside shoulder. With Armstead off balance, Jarvis is able to get into his body, and leave him with no other option besides holding.

Whether Jones planned that tactic pre-snap, or recognized bad technique during the play, he took advantage of his success on the previous series. Again, when a pass rusher can win around the edge, he sets himself up to win in other ways.

Looking good so far, right? Two pressures in 7 snaps? Well, the Saints announcers said that Terron Armstead had been battling an injury (they didn’t specify what type) and hadn’t taken many reps in training camp. Was he rusty, or was the injury affecting his play, or both? We wouldn’t get the opportunity to see Jarvis match up with Armstead again, as he was removed from the game immediately after the holding call.

Tony Hills replaced Armstead at left tackle. Hills was drafted by the Steelers in 2010. He has been with a different team every year since then. 2016 will be his second season with the Saints. Hills has appeared in 22 games, with 1 start. The reason I share this information is to demonstrate that Hills is a career backup. Jarvis would figure to have an easier time against him.

Jarvis didn’t. He was removed for a series in the second quarter. When he came back in the game, Jarvis played at LOLB, before finishing up at his regular position at ROLB. By my reckoning, Jones had about 5 more snaps with a real opportunity to rush the passer. On those, he was effectively invisible. We will look at the one other snap where he may have impacted the play to some degree. This is against Hills on 4th and 7, and would be Jarvis’ last snap of the game:

We can see that Jarvis tries to win on the edge. A solid punch by Hills turns Jones wider, and gives Hills the opportunity to “run him up the arc,” too far to impact the QB. To Jones’ credit, he hustles to get back in the play, and perhaps caused McCown to step up and get rid of the ball.

Did Jarvis benefit from playing against an injured, rusty Terron Armstead? Perhaps. We have to give him credit for at least taking advantage of the situation. We also have to look at how Jones performed once Hills took over at left tackle. All in all, Jarvis’ showing against the Saints was mixed. I didn’t see anything that would indicate we’re going to see an improved Jarvis Jones in 2016.