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A deep dive into what makes Cam Jordan one of the league’s best defenders

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We see the sack numbers and the tackles for loss, but what makes Cam great are the things he does that don’t show up in the box score

New Orleans Saints v Tennessee Titans Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

Cameron Jordan was always among the most underrated players in the league towards the earlier stages of his career. Drafted in 2011, he couldn’t crack the NFL Network’s Top 100 list until 2015, at No. 99, despite that even not being his best season in terms of sacks or pressures.

The following year, he didn’t even make the list at all (!!!), when he ranked fourth among edge rushers in overall grade at a crisp 90.0, via Pro Football Focus. Too bad all the people who make those lists look at are sacks when weighing pass rushers’ performances — about one or two percent of their total snaps in most cases — but I digress.

Jordan finally started to garner the respect he deserved after stellar seasons in 2017 and 2018, to go along with sufficient sack numbers. He ranked 26th and 41st, respectively.

Respect or no respect, the man has been a wrecking ball on that defensive line ever since 2012 (we don’t talk about his rookie year). Known for his completeness as an edge defender, specializing in both run and pass situations, he really doesn’t come off of the field.

This simple fact gets overlooked far too often. Cam is an absolute ironman on the defensive line, more so than pretty much anyone.

According to PFF’s snap count statistics, no defensive lineman in the NFL has played more snaps than Cam Fam since 2012, and by a pretty wide margin. Sean Payton has spoken about how important Jordan’s stamina is to the defense on numerous occasions, and his sentiments are backed up by the data and play of the field.

When Jordan is able to play around 95 percent of the defense’s snaps at left end, three-tech or standing up somewhere, it allows Dennis Allen and the defensive coaching staff to alternate guys like Marcus Davenport and Trey Hendrickson on the other side of the ball without altering the rest of the unit.

More importantly, no matter the load he carries on defense, it doesn’t see to affect his performance negatively. For a guy who reportedly lied to his eighth-grade football coach about having Asthma because he didn’t feel like running, Cam’s come a long way in the endurance department.

Being on the field so much has aided in the California-product racking up a myriad of impressive career statistics — 87 sacks, 168 QB hits, 113 tackles for loss, 41 batted passes, etc.

All of these are nice, but they don’t tell the whole story. The tale of a pass rusher is generally told by the plays that don’t make the highlight reel.

The plays that elite pass rushers display on tape week in and week out of destroying offensive linemen with perfect technique, speed or power right as the QB lets the ball go, or pushing the pocket and causing the QB to back up into their teammate’s sack — If you’re putting these plays on tape as often as the highlight plays, then you’re probably an elite pass rusher. And you can bet your bottom dollar Cameron Jordan does just that.

For reference, I went back and watched one of Jordan’s best games of the 2019 season, Week 2 versus the Rams. While it won’t look like it on the stat sheet, his presence in this game was felt in a major way, making it a perfect game-example of the value he brings to the Saints defense beyond the box score.

He finished the game with only one sack, but I charted six pass rush snaps where he beat his blocker(s) and the QB got the ball out too quickly for him to make a sack.

Example #1:

Here, he shreds his way to the outside of the right tackle and gets to Goff right as he’s letting the ball go. A play like this is easily forgotten when it doesn’t end in a sack, but the fact that he’s in the QB’s face at the same time the receiver gets across the field on a short drag route is something to ride home about.

His technique is on another level, as CSC’s Deuce Windham portrayed in his latest film study video of Jordan’s 2019 season.

The way he beats tackles is often by using their own leverage against them, as well as always having a counter in place to his patented bull rush. In the play above, he starts the rush with what looks like a bull rush, then grabs the right tackle’s right wrist, yanking it down and swimming over the top of his outside shoulder as he falls to the turf.

The ability to exude so much strength (at 287 pounds), while having the agility to turn so quickly as to not overrun the play, is what makes him one of kind. And he showed that here, even without the sack.

Example #2:

Jordan isn’t even supposed to be in the picture on this play. The Rams are running their usual outside zone fake/play action concept, rolling out to the left, and he just explodes through the B gap and somehow almost gets in on the action from the backside on the play.

The right guard is supposed to slide over and pick him up, but when the big man reads it that quickly and is moving that fast, there’s not much you can do.

Example #3:

It’s safe to say this right guard (Austin Blythe) did not have fun when he had to deal with Cam. He’s on an inside stunt path and basically swipes a 300-pound man to the ground with his left arm.

Once again, he’s using his leverage against him. Blythe is swaying inside, trying to recover after transferring the D tackle who’s stunting outside to the right tackle, and Cam simply pushes him in the direction his momentum was leaning.

He couldn’t have really won this block any quicker, but sometimes a pass rusher needs other variables to go his way to get a sack or a hit. Hence, why sacks don’t ever tell the entire story of a pass rusher.

Example #4:

He notices the right tackle over-extend in his set here and explodes through his inside shoulder with an inside rip, before the split blocker comes over to get in his way. Jordan gets a hand in Goff’s face as he throws, but the play is still made for a first down.

Cam gets a positive in my book here, for once again doing his job about as efficiently as possible.

Example #5:

Cam causes a holding penalty here, after taking advantage of the right tackle’s over-extension again, winning inside. This might as well be a sack honestly, considering the offense is moving back 10 yards due to his dominance over the tackle.

At this point, Rob Havenstein is ready to go home.

Example #6:

Jordan’s standing up over the right tackle with Demario Davis on the outside of him on this play. He veers inside and puts a nasty swim move on the poor backup right guard’s outside shoulder. He’s about an inch away from getting his hand on the ball, but Goff lets it rip just in time despite the quick win on the blocker.

Where the guard messes up here is exposing his right hand so early in the rep, making it an easy decision for the veteran to annihilate that hand and go right through it with the swim.

This one actually goes for a touchdown, not by the fault of Cam Jordan, but some abysmal tackling from the secondary.

Bonus Example #7:

We all know Jordan’s value to the Saints defense doesn’t stop at rushing the passer. He’s one of the best run-defending D ends in the league, partially because of his massive size for the position, making it tough for tackles to prevent him from setting the edge and disrupting blocking schemes.

The Rams run their staple, outside zone, to the right side. The objective for the running back on outside zone is to aim for the second defender to the play side of the center, and determine his path based on his alignment/how he’s blocked. In this case, that defender is Jordan.

You can see the running back’s aiming point towards Jordan and how he immediately sees he needs to go in the opposite direction.

Cam is responsible for the playside C gap (between the RT and TE). Not only does he fill that gap, but he’s got his blocker three yards behind the line of scrimmage. And at the very split second the back goes to cut due to the lack of push the right tackle gets, Jordan rips inside and the right tackle is left looking for his glasses.

Ironically, this ended up being an eight-yard gain for the Rams because Andrew Whitworth gets a good push on Mario Edwards and Trey Hendrickson misses a tackle.

However, it’s yet another example of Jordan making his presence felt in each and every way possible and doing his job to near-perfection.

Whether it’s breaking the Saints sack record or becoming a Hall of Famer, I’ve learned not to put a cap on the limits of what Cam Jordan is capable of. No matter how little recognition he receives, or how many spectacular plays go unnoticed, he shows up and shows out nearly every game.

While he might be getting up there in age, at 31 years old, he seems to have plenty left in the tank for the foreseeable future. I’d expect at least 2-3 more years of high-level play out of him.

If he stays healthy and keeps on his current pace, I have little doubt the sack record will be his, and that we’ll be watching him give a speech in Canton one day.

What do you think makes Cam Jordan great? Let us know in the comments. Make sure you follow Canal Street Chronicles on Twitter at @SaintsCSC, “Like” us on Facebook at Canal Street Chronicles, and make sure you’re subscribed to our new YouTube channel. As always, you can follow me on Twitter @andy_b_123.