Gambling is an art. There is a degree of luck involved, of course, but gambling also requires skill. You have to know when to hold ’em and know when to fold ’em. You have to pick your shots in a fashion that gives you as much of an upper hand as you can. Though, as well as you prepare, gambles are bound to go wrong from time to time, but if your winning payouts are still a net positive, it is much easier to rationalize the losses. Deion Jones plays with the mentality of a gambler- a damn good one.
1. When the house wins
Jones is aggressive. He likes to take his shots. On this play, Jones sees an opening between the pulling center and the right tackle. He decides to roll the dice and take the shortest route to the ball carrier. His enthusiasm and confidence is admirable, but the center is able to redirect just in time to throw Jones out of the way of the running back. What Jones did was disruptive, though he failed to make the play, even if it could be argued that the boundary players should have done their jobs better as well.
The problem here seems to be that Jones takes a second to decide if he wants to pounce or not. For a first year starter, that is more than understandable. In fact, for Jones, it is even more passable because he seemed quicker to react as the year went on. Still, Jones, by nature of his play style, is going to whiff on plays like this from time to time.
2. Beating the house
Like any smart gambler, Jones learned from his mistakes and changed up his approach. Instead of taking the inside lane this time, Jones took his chances beating the pulling guard to his spot. With as quickly as Jones recognizes the play, he flies down to the edge and barrels into both the guard and running back. There was plenty of room for error in this decision. If the guard is faster than he anticipated, Jones gets cleared out of the play. If Jones dives like he does and misses the back, the back has a lot of space to win the 1-on-1 with the safety. A handful of things could have gone wrong, but Jones liked his odds and trusted his ability, allowing him to make a quality play.
3. Playing small
Jones is not strong. He only has about 230 pounds on his 6’1″ frame, leaving him on the lighter side for linebackers. Now, how well a linebacker can take on blocks is generally stressed more than it needs to be, but Jones can be entirely moved from plays at times. Above, it is Jones’ job to hold the edge. After overextending into the backfield a bit (which could be considered a gamble, trying to anticipate Derrick Henry running more horizontally), Jones has to redirect back up toward the line of scrimmage to hold the edge, but the pulling guard forces him out of the way completely. This happens to Jones from time to time, though he is often smarter and faster than opposing linemen, thus enabling him to force the linemen to adjust to him in space- a battle he typically wins.
4. Play recognition in the run game
Jones is incredibly smart and grew to be increasingly more confident in what he saw as the year went on. This play in particular is stunning. He recognizes the guards stepping to their left (generally, guards will take you to the ball) and fires without pause. Jones knows where this play is heading and gets into the intended running lane well before anyone could do anything about it. It is amazing that he makes it two or three steps closer to the line of scrimmage before his linebacking counterpart even moves. His quick attack created the chaotic pile up in the backfield. Granted, nobody was able to capitalize on Jones’ play, but he executed his assignment to perfection.
5. Confusion in the pass game
As outstanding as Jones’ mental prowess can be in the run game, he struggles with zone coverage. He is just fine in man coverage. He has plenty of athleticism to do it and plays with physicality. Zone coverage is a different ball game, though. A lot of zone coverage now is ‘pattern-matching’- which is essentially knowing when to pass off one receiver to another defender to pick up an incoming receiver. Often times, it is crossing routes like this that Jones fails to pick up. Missing these assignments has a fairly low percentage of turning into a huge play for the offense, but they can be a key concept for converting down-and-short situations. Missing these routes can end up being a new set of downs for the offense, and no defense wants to spend longer getting an offense off the field than they need to.
In his entirety, Deion Jones is a good linebacker. He is an athletic gambler who will be prone to giving up some plays, but his splash plays will outweigh the negative plays. Also, it is worth considering that all linebackers are going to get stonewalled by linemen more often than not. Physics favors the 60-or-so pound advantage offensive linemen have, so it is tough to find a linebacker who will win that battle fairly consistently. Instead, it is better to search for a linebacker who is smarter and faster than linemen. Jones is a smart and fast linebacker.