As a refresher, the factors I used to create this list include how did each performance hold up with the eye test. After going back and watching the game film, was it as impressive now as it was at the time?
I also heavily weighed the game’s impact, meaning the stakes of each contest played a pivotal role in how these rankings ultimately played out—finally, good old-fashioned statistics. So while the eye test was the primary factor being weighed, I also made it a point to place enough emphasis on the objective numbers a player posted in their respective games.
Without further ado, number seven on the list:
D.J. JONES - Week 10 @ Seattle
The second defensive player to make the list with a standout performance in this game, D.J. Jones, comes in at number seven after an outstanding showing against a bitter division rival. This game made a team like Denver eager to hand over 10 million a year to Jones and was up there with his greatest individual outings in his NFL career.
What makes this performance so unique is that so much of Jones’ impact in this game cannot be reflected by a box score. In the modern age of short attention spans and instant access to statistical data, the numbers from this contest likely would not jump off the page to an uknowing observer.
While Jones’ put up a more than respectable stat line of three pressures, six tackles, and a forced fumble, those numbers alone could never do justice to how important Jones’ impact was in this contest. He made his presence felt early and often, starting out with two back-to-back plays on the Seahawks’ second possession of the game.
11:25 in the first quarter, the Seahawks have the ball, up 7-0 after taking the lead on a fake punt that went for a touchdown on the previous possession. Seattle looked to run the ball on first down to start their second drive of the game, and Jones exploded into the backfield to bring down Adrian Peterson for a five-yard loss.
Jones is lined up at the three-technique and masterfully splits the guard and center through the A Gap by utilizing a swim move to rip past the left guard and blow up this play in the backfield. To help as a visual aid (Yes, I read the comments on the previous articles from the list and greatly appreciate the feedback on how the formatting of the list can be improved). Here is a cutup of the aforementioned play.
Right out of the gate, Jones set the tone and let it be known that running his way was going to prove extremely difficult for the Seahawks in this game. This play is a perfect example of what makes Jones so special, which is his combination of elite agility paired with tremendous get-off at the point of attack, traits that are beyond rare from someone that is his size.
Now let’s pivot to the very next play, which saw Seattle facing 2nd & 15 from their own 20-yard line. They design a screen pass to the right side, getting the ball in the hands of tight end Gerald Everett outside the numbers on the far sideline.
Jones displays his lateral agility as he darts towards Everrett as the Seahawks tight end begins to turn upfield. Jones meets Everrett just shy of the 20-yard line, shutting off the running lane Everrett was aiming for and forcing him to cut laterally to his left.
As Everett attempts to cut away from Jones, Jones is able to extend his right arm and get a hand on the football, knocking it out of Everrett’s grasp before being picked up by 49ers cornerback Emmanuel Moseley. This gave the 49ers the ball deep in Seattle territory, and the offense capitalized on the great field position by scoring on the very next play when Jimmy Garoppolo hit George Kittle for a 24-yard touchdown.
The strip was what caused the turnover, but the most impressive part of that sequence to me was Jones even being in a position to make such a play. 300-plus pound interior linemen don’t move the way Jones does, and once again, his exceptional athletic ability made a huge impact in a positive way for the 49ers’ offense as much as it did for the defense.
Another thing that made this performance so admirable was the impact Jones was able to have, even when it didn’t directly correlate to a tangible statistic. For example, with 8:27 remaining in the first quarter, Seattle was looking at a 1st & 20 from their own 38-yard line.
Wilson drops back to pass and is ultimately strip-sacked by Nick Bosa and then driven into the ground by Arik Armstead, both of whom were credited with a Q.B. hit on this play. Jones, however, left his mark as well, albeit not in the Q.B. hit column as his teammates did.
Plenty of NFL quarterbacks have gone on record stating that the most disruptive thing to a passing offense at that level is defenses generating pressure up the middle. Jones is able to utilize his hands to win off the snap against the Seahawks’ right guard and then proceeds to drive his left arm into the chest plate of the opposing offensive lineman with such force that it knocks the right guard off his base and opens up a lane to Wilson in the backfield.
Jones does this against a pro bowl interior lineman in Gabe Jackson, who also got away with a hold on Jones on this play. While the interior pressure isn’t what ultimately brought Wilson down, it certainly played a part in the pocket collapsing and further illustrates just how good Jones was within a “phone booth” in this game during his one-on-one matchups with the opposing offensive line.
Fast forward to 1:22 in the first quarter, Seattle has the ball on their own 15-yard line facing a second and 19 following an Arik Armstead sack on the previous play. Lined up in the gun, Russell Wilson hands off to Rashad Penny, who follows the left guard who is pulling across to the right side of the formation.
Jones is lined up in the three tech pre-snap and is engaged by the left tackle and center, who attempt to combo block the 49ers’ nose tackle in the space vacated by the pulling right guard. Jones splits the double team and powers his way into the backfield to engage Penny and bring him down at the line of scrimmage for no gain.
However, the best D.J. Jones moments from this game came late in the fourth quarter. With 5:58 remaining in the game, the Seahawks had a first and goal on the 49ers’ one-yard line, already possessing a 30-23 lead. A touchdown pushing the lead to double digits likely ends any hope the 49ers had of winning that game, and the Seattle offense was starting at four opportunities inside the one-yard line to punch it across and effectively put this one away.
On first down, the Seahawks attempt to run Peterson to the left side of the line, through the A gap. Jones is lined up directly over the center in the zero technique and is able to shed his blocker and fill the A gap before Peterson can get there, stuffing this attempt at the line of scrimmage.
What really stood out in this play was that Jones didn’t settle for standing Peterson up until a whistle blew the play dead. Jones instead generated so much torque with his lower half that he was able to push Peterson back to the six-yard line before driving him into the ground with an emphatic finish.
Now forward progress obviously exists, so the field position didn’t alter as a result. However, this felt like it sent a strong message mentally, that the 49ers defense wasn’t ready to pack it up just yet, and that the Seahawk offense was going to have to earn that one yard to seal this victory.
On second down, the Seahawks came out in a heavy goal-line formation, with three tight ends and two backs in the I-formation. They attempted to run off tackle to the left side of the formation, with Will Dissly and Duane Brown creating a rushing lane outside of Brown’s outside shoulder to the near sideline.
Rookie safety Talanoa Hufanga flew into the block of Seahawk’s fullback Nick Bellore, and the impact of that collision not only delayed Peterson but also helped free up Jones to get to the outside just in the nick of time as Peterson was barreling towards an open goal line.
Jones then wrapped up Peterson and brought him down behind the line of scrimmage. Not only did this tackle for loss keep the Seahawks out of the end zone, but it also presented them with a third and goal from the two-yard line as opposed to inside the one-yard line, which likely factored into their decision to not run the ball on the next play.
As you remember from number nine on this list, that very next play, linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair slammed into Everrett, forcing him to fumble for the second time in this game. The 49ers recovered and nearly responded with a game-tying or possibly winning drive before coming up just short.
Despite them not getting the win, they wouldn’t have even been in a position to do so without the play of Jones in this game. An all-around masterpiece from a player who has quietly been one of the best interior defensive linemen in the entire sport in recent years.
This is the kind of game that reminds you no matter how talented the rest of that 49ers front seven is, it is going to be an extremely difficult task to replace the hole being left by Jones after his departure to Denver in free agency.
Stay tuned for number six on the list, coming soon...
Here is where the list currently stands:
10: Trent Williams @ Cincinnati Week 14
9: Azeez Al-Shaair @ Seattle - Week 13
8: Charles Omenihu @ Dallas - Wild Card Round
7: DJ Jones @ Seattle - Week 13