After only racking up four sacks through his first 12 games of this season, New Orleans Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan has absolutely caught fire with 7.5 sacks in the last three weeks.
His latest act of dominance came against the Carolina Panthers, in which he had 3.5 quarterback takedowns and was named the NFC Defensive Player of the Week for Week 17.
There was a lot of talk throughout the first half of the season about Jordan being washed or on the decline at this point in his career, even though he was still an elite run defender all along. But where was the pass rushing production?
Well, perhaps all he needed was a week off, because after missing Week 14 against the New York Jets due to COVID-19 illness, he has become a menace to opposing QBs.
In Weeks 1-13, Jordan’s mere 64.2 PFF pass rush grade ranked 68th out of 122 qualifying edge rushers.
His 70.2 grade in Weeks 15-17, however, ranks 24th out of 115, and his four sacks are tied for the second-most in that span. His eight pressures are tied for 15th.
All along, he’s been a terrific run defender, with an 87.5 season run defense grade – second highest among all edge rushers – and his 26 run stops rank fifth.
Against the Panthers on Sunday, he displayed all of his skills – power and discipline in the run game, destructiveness as a pass rusher and pure hustle.
Power and discipline in the run game
This is the part of Cam’s game that maybe doesn’t get enough national recognition, partially because run defense is harder to quantify than pass rushing and run stops aren’t as glamorous as sacks. But he’s been one of the best run-defending ends in the league for almost a decade now.
And the play below is a great example as to why.
The Panthers are trying to run a Duo concept to the left side of the screen with Jordan at the 9-technique spot (outside inner tight end).
They double team both defensive tackles and Malcom Jenkins, who’s lined up just inside the inner tight end here. But they make a huge mistake – they leave the outside tight end singled up on Cam Jordan.
Cam instantly gains inside leverage on him, pushes him back and cuts the running back off from bouncing outside to make the play. He’s far too much for pretty much any tight end to handle alone, and he’s got the quickness to jump on ball-carriers and never let them get going.
His positioning and strength in this facet of the game are so impressively consistent and why he is near the top of the league year in and year out against the run – and a big reason why this Saints defense is near the top of the NFL in rush yards allowed every season.
Destructiveness as a pass rusher
At about 6-foot-4, 290 pounds, Cam has always been on the bigger side for a defensive end. He uses his power and leverage to bully tackles and guards into their own QBs’ laps a lot of the time.
But the reason he’s so great is that he has a surprising amount of wiggle and explosiveness for a DT-sized player. And he shows his combination of power and finesse on the play below.
Lined up in front of the right tackle in a two-point stance, Cam puts a nasty swim move on the right guard’s outside shoulder after the snap. But he has a slight, quick inside step that briefly causes the guard to shift his momentum inside before he swims outside.
Due to this quick move, he’s able to utilize his strength to swipe that outside shoulder and get to the quarterback.
A lot of the time, Cam is most effective on stunts, blowing things up in the middle of an offensive line with that catastrophic power he possesses. But here, he simply beats his guy one-on-one with a beautiful pass rush move to make the play.
Sometimes, there are going to be games where pass-rushers aren’t able to simply beat their guy individually to get sacks. Whether it’s due to double teams, quick throws, play action passes, rollouts, a heavy run game or a variety of other reasons, you aren’t always going to just have a one-on-one matchup that you have to win to get a sack.
But the one thing you can control play-to-play is your effort. And no one hustles more than Cam Jordan.
He shows that on the play below.
The Panthers are running a play action rollout off of a fake pitch from Sam Darnold here.
Cam is left free and plants his right foot hard as soon as he recognizes the play. And by golly, he takes off.
He sprints his absolute tail off to cut Darnold off and push him out of bounds for what would count as a sack.
This is a very simple play with not a ton to break down from a film perspective, but it’s so nice to see a guy put forth this much effort. And this is what you see play and play out from Jordan.
At 106 career sacks, Cam is now 30 shy of Rickey Jackson for the all-time lead in Saints history. If he plays for a few more seasons, he’ll likely be right there with the Pro Football Hall of Famer.
But past just sacks, there are so many things that make Jordan such an amazing player. And he showed that once again for us on Sunday.
So, appreciate Cam while we can because there aren’t many like him in the history of the league.
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