Matt Patricia on Cardinals' Chandler Jones: 'He's like my son'

Cardinals pass-rusher Chandler Jones leads the league with 40 sacks since 2016, but says he'd be "another NFL football player" without Matt Patricia. AP Photo/Charles Krupa

TEMPE, Ariz. -- The first time Matt Patricia saw Chandler Jones on tape, he knew he wanted to coach him.

It was leading up to the 2012 NFL draft and Patricia was in his first season as the New England Patriots' defensive coordinator. Jones was a 6-foot-5, 247-pound, long, lanky and nimble defensive end coming out of Syracuse, where Patricia had spent three seasons as a graduate assistant.

The Patriots' defensive line coach at the time, Patrick Graham, now with the Green Bay Packers, showed Jones to Patricia and asked, "What about this guy?" Patricia was trying to put his mark on the Patriots' defense, which was coming off a second Super Bowl loss to the New York Giants in five years.

"I said, 'Yeah,'" Patricia said. "I loved him."

Patricia wanted Jones. He was Patricia's "target guy" that year. Patricia worked his contacts and back channels at Syracuse to do a deeper dive into Jones -- and to keep his interest in Jones as quiet as possible. It worked. New England drafted Jones 21st overall that year, pairing him with Patricia, who mentored, taught and helped Jones blossom into one of the best pass-rushers in the NFL.


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Six years later, Jones and Patricia are no longer Patriots. Jones was traded to the Arizona Cardinals in 2016 in exchange for offensive lineman Jonathan Cooper and a second-round pick. Patricia left New England this past January to become the Detroit Lions' head coach.

On Sunday, Patricia will stand on the visitor sideline at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona, and watch Jones wreak havoc on his offensive line, just as he's done from their first game together in 2012.

And it will be all Patricia's doing.

"Where am I now without Matt Patricia?" asked Jones. "I'm another NFL football player. I'm not sure."

In Jones, Patricia saw a defensive player without a position. He liked Jones' "multiplicity." He liked Jones' versatility. At Syracuse, Jones lined up across the defensive line -- on the edge, across from the nose tackle, everywhere. Patricia compared a young Jones to a young puppy with "big paws and big feet."

"You know he's going to be big. You know he's going to be long. You know he's going to be really good," Patricia said. "That's kind of what he just reminded me of: This really raw, young, really good, talented, outstanding player."

Patricia took that and molded Jones into a sack master. Since 2012, Jones has 76 sacks, the third most in the NFL during that stretch. He had 11.5 sacks in his second season. He led the NFL in sacks in 2017 with 17 and his 40 sacks since 2016, all with the Cardinals, lead the NFL.

In five of his seven seasons, including the current one, Jones has reached double-digit sacks.

None of that surprised Patricia.

Jones took everything Patricia threw at him and rolled with it. Not much, if anything, fazed Jones, Patricia recalled. When Patricia saw that, he knew Jones would be a different player -- a special player.

"Those are the guys that are the better players in the league that do that," Patricia said.

While Patricia wasn't Jones' position coach, he taught him about professional football, Jones said. But there was one area, in particular, that Patricia helped Jones the most.

"The X's and O's," Jones said. "It was 1,010 percent the X's and O's. The mental aspect of football as opposed to just the physical, but always X's and O's, what offenses want to do."

Patricia was the first coach to teach Jones about scripted plays. He preached the "little things," Jones said, and that's carried over.

"When you play against someone that's been under Bill Belichick, you have to make sure you cross every 'T' and dot every 'I' because he'll get you on that," Jones said.

"They outsmart people. It's not tricking. It's outsmarting people. This week [we] have to be very aware and just be aware of what surrounds us."

It's hard to predict how any player will turn out, Patricia said, but he saw traits in Jones that were, well, just different than in others.

"I would say, really, when Chandler was young, he was kind of like Gumby," Patricia said. "He could bend his body, or these tackles would punch him and they may get part of him and he may bend really funny but either his legs or his hips are still moving toward the quarterback. And next thing you know, he's by the tackle and he gets there.

"There's a lot of unorthodox movement, I would say, but really, in the end, it was actually orthodox for him."

The nickname stuck.

To this day, Jones said he does things because he's "bendy and lanky" that don't show up on a stat sheet. Jones can move in ways that offensive linemen can't block. In his first two years, Patricia remembered telling Jones the Patriots were going to rush three men. Yet, Jones would still figure out ways to beat the tackle to get to the quarterback. Add that to his ability to drop into coverage when needed -- which Patricia had him do -- or get off the ball quickly, and Jones became a toy for Patricia.

Patricia prides himself on developing his defense around his personnel. He said he's not a coach who has a scheme and sticks to it hard and fast. But Jones caused -- and allowed -- him to change his defense in ways that are still visible today.

Patricia also pushed Jones to play out of his comfort zone.

Early in the 2014 season, Patricia taught Jones a swim move to get through the offensive line on field goals but it was an unnatural move for the defensive end and he'd hesitate, Patricia remembered. During practice, when Jones would get through the line, Patricia would push him in the back as hard as he could to get Jones moving toward the ball. It worked. Jones finally blocked one in practice and then against the Vikings in Week 2 that season, he not only blocked a field goal, he then scooped it up and returned it 58 yards for a touchdown.

"He's everything that you want as a coach to coach," Patricia said. "When you have guys like that, then you start dreaming up crazy things for them to do and he's one of those guys that likes to try different things.

"So, it was great."

The two grew close in New England, and it's a bond that continues today.

"I love Chandler," Patricia said. "He's like my son. I'd do anything for him. He's part of my family."