The Kansas City Chiefs are set to take on the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday in a re-match of last year's AFC Championship Game, and if the Chiefs are able to slow down quarterback Joe Burrow and the Bengals' high-powered offense, defensive tackle Chris Jones will likely be a major reason why.
Jones has been every quarterback's worst nightmare of late, as his eight sacks since Week 6 lead the NFL. Additionally, his 10 overall sacks on the season are already more than he had all of last year. The veteran defensive tackle is simply having a monster season, and while it would be easy to get caught up thinking about what happened the last time the Chiefs played the Bengals, Jones insisted that his attention is squarely on this Sunday's matchup.
"Right now, our focus is on this year," Jones said. "[It's about] winning this game and putting ourselves in a position to go out and compete."
The Chiefs have 35 sacks this season as a team, which ranks fifth in the NFL and already bests Kansas City's sack total from all of last year (31). It's collectively been one of the best pass-rushes in the league, and though the Chiefs' personnel along the defensive line features many of the same players from last season, Jones insists that the difference this year is two guys: Defensive Line Coach Joe Cullen and Assistant Defensive Line Coach Terry Bradden.
"We have some of the best coaches in the building, and we're just very fortunate," Jones said. "We have a very good group. [It's] a very young group, [and we have] a lot of hungry guys in our room…[They] want to show that they belong in this league."
That formula has worked well so far this season, as 13 different players have recorded at least one sack on the year. Seven of those players are members of the defensive line, which only re-enforces the impact of Cullen and Bradden on this year's group.
"I think between both of those guys, the players have responded to them," said Defensive Coordinator Steve Spagnuolo. "I'm glad that the big guys have responded to [their style], and hopefully, we keep cranking away and playing good football."
Jones, of course, has been at the core of that success. He currently ranks fifth in the NFL in sacks and seventh in pressures (48), recording at least four pressures in seven consecutive games. He'll look to maintain that production this week in a re-match of last year's conference title game, which Jones used as motivation throughout the offseason.
"It was a driving force this offseason," Jones said. "You can always look back and push yourself to do something better. [There were a lot of plays] that I left on the field that could have sealed the deal for us in that game and put us in a better position to win."
Jones will have his chance to make those plays on Sunday, and while this isn't a playoff game, it's still a crucial matchup as Kansas City aims to maintain the top record in the AFC.
"Chris is having a heck of a year," Spagnuolo said. "We're facing one of the best this week [in Joe Burrow], and that includes his scrambling ability…We have to have our best game."