In the 2009 NFL Draft, the Kansas City Chiefs selected Tyson Jackson. Many fans were taken aback, not knowing much about Jackson, and many thought there were better candidates. Jackson hasn’t necessarily played like a third overall pick in his career, especially in his first two seasons, but he has showed improvement in both 2011 and 2012, and he may very well be poised to take the next step in the attack defensive scheme of the Chief’s new defensive coordinator, Bob Sutton.
Jackson only accumulated 46 solo tackles in his first two years, plus 23 assists, 1 sack, and 2 defensed passes in 28 games. In 2011, those number improved mightily – 37 solo tackles, 18 assists, 1 sack, 2 defended passes, in 16 games. His numbers fell off slightly in 2012 – 31 solo, 12 assists, 3 sacks, 3 passes defended, in 15 games – but from the untrained eye, Jackson seemed to be more effective overall.
Just watching Jackson last season, for every game, it appeared Jackson was even more mobile and active than he had been in past seasons. He was certainly more disruptive. Not only did he record more sacks last season than in his previous 3 years combined, he also set a career mark in batting passes down. It also seemed that Jackson was shedding his blocks quicker, especially in defending the run, and he was better at pursuing plays away from him.
Jackson has always been a hard worker and wants to be a better player. His motor is always running and he seldom appears to take any plays off. Effort has never been the question with Jackson; it has been more if he was talented enough to be a good defensive lineman in the NFL. The answer that is appearing more and more to be accurate is “yes”.
Enter new Defensive Coordinator Bob Sutton, who is a disciple of Rex Ryan and an attacking style of defense. While Jackson has been a decent 2-gap run defender in the 3-4 defense, he improved his pass rushing playing in 1-gap sets last year. With Sutton’s style of always applying pressure in the backfield, Jackson should show even more improvement in 2013. Jackson is fast and athletic. If Sutton chooses to move him around even a little, it may free Jackson up to create havoc in both the run defense and pass defense. Jackson’s athleticism and Sutton’s defensive style may create opportunities for Jackson to shine. Jackson was more disruptive last year, not only by applying more pressure to the quarterback, but by getting in passing lanes and getting his hands in the air, knocking down throws.
Jackson will be playing next to another similarly athletic, but bigger, player in nose tackle Dontari Poe. Both of these lineman could take big steps forward in production. Both are athletic enough that if the offense is worrying more about where the rush may be coming from – linebackers, corners, safeties – they may be able to take advantage of the situations. They may see fewer double teams (although Poe wasn’t doubled much last year, especially late) as offenses try to account for other blitzing possibilities. If Jackson and Poe start creating more trouble up front, this should allow the outside rushers more opportunities to apply pressure. Jackson, Poe, and whomever may start at the other defensive end position (Mike Devito, Allen Bailey, Marcus Dixon, or someone else) need to control the middle of the field, not only against the run, but against the pass.
Too often in the past few years, opposing quarterbacks have looked too comfortable in the pocket because there was seldom any pressure from the middle. Their passing pockets stayed intact. The Chiefs defenses basically only rushed from the outside, with Tamba Hali and Justin Houston. With their pockets intact, the offensive lines could pick up the rushes more often than not and the Chiefs were not getting enough sacks or creating sufficient pressure.
The point is clear here – opposing quarterbacks were too comfortable in the pocket and the Chiefs were not applying enough consistent pressure. The end result doesn’t have to be a sack for a defensive scheme to successful. The key is pressure. Pressure causes passes to be hurried, and there are many more positive outcomes for a defense from a hurried pass than from a comfortable one. This attack style of defense should allow terrific athletes on the interior, like Tyson Jackson and Dontari Poe, to excel by creating more situations for them to use their speed and agility to wreak plays, both in the ground game and against aerial assaults.
Tyson Jackson will probably never be a Pro Bowler but he is on the brink of being a very good defensive end. Bob Sutton’s attack philosophies should play into Jackson’s strengths as a football player and allow him to take the necessary steps forward toward being a force on that defensive line. The defense over the past few seasons always appeared too vanilla and predictable, and that is never a good sign. Sutton’s defense will, at the very least, be more entertaining to watch, especially if Tyson Jackson is wreaking a little havoc.