Last season when the Jacksonville Jaguars went out and broke the bank to sign Malik Jackson, I immediately got excited. The reason being is that while Gus Bradley was the head coach, the Jags tried to emulate the Seattle Seahawks’ defense, where Bradley had been the defensive coordinator. I felt like Jackson — who played defensive end and three-technique in a 4-3 defense in college for my beloved Tennessee Vols and played four years in Denver all around the line in a 3-4 defense in the pros — would be the perfect guy to step into the “Michael Bennett” role in Jacksonville.
Welllll that didn’t happen, much to my chagrin, as the Jaguars decided to instead play him almost exclusively at three-technique which to me was somewhat a waste of Jackson’s biggest asset; his versatility. But hey, Bradley was fired last season and while several staff members, including new head coach Doug Marrone, were held over I figured there was a chance that they might re-think how they used Jackson this season.
Then the Jaguars went out and signed Calais Campbell this offseason to a four-year, $60 million dollar deal. I was basically like what the shit?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m a Campbell fan. The dude kicked ass in Arizona the last nine seasons. At the same time, with Campbell being 31, I wondered why the Jaguars would be paying a guy that much money who might be on the downside of his career. Bigger than that, I wondered just where the hell they planned on playing him.
Campbell is one of those rare guys who is really tall at 6’8, but is so good with his pad level that he played well inside. In Arizona’s 3-4 defense, you could find him lined up in several different positions both inside and outside. I thought he did the most damage from the interior rather than the edge.
With the Jaguars having two young defensive ends in 2015 first-round pick Dante Fowler and their third-round pick from last year, Yannick Ngakoue, who burst on the scene as a rookie with eight sacks, it didn’t appear that there was a big need for a defensive end. And of course, with all that money they had already given Jackson, Campbell wasn’t going to be his similarly high paid backup.
It looked like maybe this meant they re-thought things and would move Jackson around more and have Campbell as the three-technique. Turns out I had it exactly backwards.
In the first game of the year on Sunday it was Campbell who was playing that “Michael Bennett” role, and my goodness, was he fucking great at it.
I know everyone is jazzed about the four sacks (as they should be), but Campbell was stout against the run as well. But what was most impressive to me was his versatility playing all over the defensive line and dominating pretty much every where he lined up.
I’m seeing him basically two-gap the left tackle to give his linebacker a free run to make a tackle for a one yard gain. I’m seeing him bench press the left tackle back into the running back with just his inside arm to help keep him to a minimal gain. I’m watching him haul ass to help make a tackle near the sideline on a smoke screen.
And that’s before we get to the damage he did as a pass rusher.
Even then just saying Campbell got four sacks, and that they all came in the first half still doesn’t do his performance justice.
The first sack came on the Texans‘ opening drive on offense with them facing a second-and-9.
Campbell was lined up at left defensive end and he absolutely destroyed Breno Giacomini, the Texans’ right tackle.
He ran No. 68 slap over, and I swear it looked like a fucking avalanche had fallen on Houston quarterback Tom Savage when Campbell took him down on that play.
It really doesn’t get much better than that.
Campbell’s second sack came early on in the second quarter with the Texans facing a third-and-12.
This time it was all effort that allowed him to take Savage down again. Campbell was lined up as the right three-technique over Texans left guard Xavier Su’a-Filo’s outside shoulder. Off the snap he tried to knock Su’a-Filo’s outside hand down with his outside hand, but unfortunately Campbell missed which allowed Su’a-Filo to grab him in a bear hug.
Hey, that shit happens to the best of us.
But instead of shutting it down and allowing himself to remain blocked, Campbell stayed active and when Savage tried to scramble up the middle because nobody was open, Campbell was able to rip off inside of Su’a-Filo’s block and take Savage down before he could get past the line of scrimmage.
The third sack came with 10:55 left in the second quarter and the Texans facing a third-and-6.
The Jaguars ran what was either a called pass0rush game or just a “natural” game where one guy sees an opening and just goes. Campbell was lined up as the three-technique again. Ngakoue was lined up outside him as the right defensive end.
Ngakoue got upfield four steps and then tried to come inside Texans left tackle Kendall Lamm with a rip move. Campbell, who had initially bull rushed Su’a-Filo, looped outside around Ngakoue to exchange pass rush lanes with him.
Campbell was so quick that he ended up scot free and took down Savage down like it was nothing.
(Mind you there is a whole other conversation to be had about how the Texans’ coaching staff didn’t do either of their quarterbacks any favors and how there wasn’t anybody open on a lot of the plays when Savage got taken down, just like this one. Sacks don’t come with an asterisk, and Campbell still worked his ass off to get that one, so he still deserves all the credit for making the play).
The fourth sack came after the Texans had already moved the ball down to the Jaguars 31-yard line with a little over a minute left in the first half.
Houston appeared to be threatening to score for the first time all afternoon.
Campbell was lined up as the right three-technique again, but this time he hit Su’a-Filo with what I like to call the ghost move. Instead of going with a power rush, Campbell came off and used his inside hand to knock Su’a-Filo’s hand down. In one motion Campbell then swatted Su’a-Filo’s shoulder with his outside hand while turning his hips to get skinny through the B gap. It looks like initially Campbell planned on finishing the move with an arm over, but he went to a rip move to escape off and beat Su’a-Filo clean.
Savage was BBQ chicken.
In addition to those sacks, Campbell also hit Savage on two other occasions that didn’t result in a sack.
The first hit came with 2:02 left in the first quarter and Campbell lined up at left defensive end. He took a couple steps up field then beat Giacomini like a drum with a quick arm over inside. The only thing that saved Savage’s ass that play was he was already in shotgun and it was a three-step drop, but Campbell still blasted him pretty good.
The second hit came with 10:20 left in the third quarter after the Texans switched quarterbacks to Deshaun Watson. Campbell was again lined up at left defensive end, but this time right before the snap he stood up and moved inside on left guard Jeff Allen’s outside shoulder.
Campbell’s power was on full display as he literally knocked Allen on his ass on the way to knocking Watson on his. Once again the only thing that saved the quarterback from taking a sack was shotgun combined with a three-step drop.
Unfortunately, the play technically didn’t count since DeAndre Hopkins was called for offensive pass interference on the play. Even though the pass was incomplete, which would have made it third-and-10, the Jags decided to accept the penalty (I’m still trying to understand why, especially when the Texans eventually ended up scoring their first TD on that drive but what evs). Ask Watson if thinks that hit counts, though.
But that’s not all.
Campbell also forced a holding call late in the fourth quarter with my favorite pass rush move; the long arm.
He was once again lined up as the left defensive end and came off and stabbed Giacomini in the middle of his chest with his inside arm. As Giacomini tried to shoot his punch at him, Campbell effortlessly knocked Giacomini’s outside hand off with his outside hand, then took his inside hand off Giacomini’s chest and finished with a rip with to escape off the block. Campbell was just about to take Watson down when, out of desperation, Giacomini grabbed him and dragged him to the ground.
Thankfully, the refs actually called the blatant hold for once, and the Texans had to go back 10 yards. I have to say, for the refs to be full-time now, they still missed a bunch of those this weekend.
But I digress.
Plain and simple, Campbell balled TF out this weekend. I’m not sure he can keep up this level of play all season, but one thing is for sure — Campbell started this season off with a bang on Sunday. The Jaguars came away with a huge division road victory in no small part because of his play.
While he isn’t the guy I thought would be playing that “Michael Bennett” role it turns out he was the right dude for the job after all. For his efforts I’m happy to award Calais Campbell the first Hoss Of The Week for the 2017 season.
If he keeps playing like that he might mess around and be the runaway choice for Hoss Of The Year, tbh.