When it comes to 1-on-1 matchups, Jerry Hughes always wants to win.
"Any anytime you get me to play anything, I mean, football, basketball, checkers, even hopscotch, I want to win," Hughes said. "So I'm going to go out there and give it 110%. I mean, my effort is probably going to be unmatched."
But when it comes to sacking quarterbacks this season, Hughes is playing chess.
Through the first nine games, the Houston Texans veteran pass rusher leads the team with 7.0 sacks, surpassing or tying his total from nine different seasons. With 3.0 more sacks, Hughes will reach his season-best 10.0 sacks reached twice in Buffalo (2013, 2014).
Head Coach Lovie Smith has been impressed with 34-year-old Hughes and not just the power and speed he brings to the game, but the attitude too.
"First off, what Jerry Hughes has and the reason why he's played in the league at a high level, is just motor," Smith said. "He's a guy that plays hard. Is he a free agent trying to make the ball club? Is that who he is? Rookie trying to make it? That's the way it seems. This is my last down and I need to make the most of it. Then, the technical part of it that you're talking about, when you're an outside rusher, you need to have a bull rush. You need to have a spin move, a dip in the rip. There's a lot of different things you can do, spin move. When you've played that long, you have it all at your disposal to use. That's what he's doing. Just love what he's brought to the table."
Hughes has logged multi-sack games against the Colts, the Bears and on Thursday night against Jalen Hurts and the Eagles. His three games of multiple sacks are tied for most in the AFC and second in the NFL.
Defensive line coach Jacques Cesaire worked with Hughes the past two seasons during their time in Buffalo. Hughes recorded just 6.5 sacks in 31 regular season games from 2020 to 2021. Cesaire believed Hughes could unlock more sack production if he focused on finishing his pass-rush moves.
"When we brough Jerry (Hughes) on, one thing I noticed about Jerry last year is Jerry won a lot of one-on-one wins," Cesaire said. "It was just a finishing part for him. I told him that when he came here. I said, 'Look, if you do the same thing you did the same thing last year but now just finish, focus on finishing, getting to the quarterback as fast as you can and taking him down, you'll have a lot more rush production.' And that's what he's done. He's really focused on that. I'm just really happy for him and what he's done."
If you ask the Texans 2022 sack leader, Hughes will credit the back end for his spike on the stats sheet this year. Winning their matchups with receivers, the secondary has given Hughes that extra time to implement Cesaire's advice and finish.
"I got to credit it to the secondary and how well they've been playing, you know, causing quarterbacks to kind of hold the ball a little bit longer, has been huge, has been key," Hughes said. "It's been allowing me to kind of get off those blocks and really finish my rushes, which is really what we focus on doing."
While he's getting more time to finish the move, Hughes has also made it a point of emphasis to disguise how it all begins once the ball is snapped.
"It's really where I'm at right now, focusing mainly on hand placement and get off in the first half and then second half really closing it in and really just making it all look as one fluid movement," Hughes said. "So you can't really tell what I'm doing. I try not to give off too many tells as I'm pass rushing. I mean, it's an art."
Through eight starts this season, Hughes has recorded 19 tackles (13 solo), 7.0 sacks, seven tackles for loss, seven quarterback hits, one pass defensed, one forced fumble and one interception.
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