Every week Staff Writer Connor Rogers will grade out the performance of the New York Jets linebackers. Here is his take on week one –
Week one was a huge a test for the Jets linebackers, facing Tampa Bay and their elite running back Doug Martin. Starters David Harris and Calvin Pace are the two returning veterans, both ironically coming off of very poor seasons. Newcomer Antwan Barnes was signed as a pass rush specialist in the offseason. 2012 3rd round draft pick Demario Davis is starting on the inside next to Harris, replacing Bart Scott. With starting outside linebacker Quinton Coples on the shelf for week one, Garret McIntyre slid into the base defense primarily for first and second downs. Let’s grade out the linebackers performances.
Grading System: For the 2013 season, I’ll use a simple grading scale when reviewing the linebackers. Each player will receiver a number 1-10, with 1 obviously being abysmal and 10 being outstanding. At the end of each review, I will go over the “biggest impact play” and also nominate a linebacker poised to have an excellent game in the following week. Let’s get to it.
Harris was a huge question mark coming into this season, especially after looking a step too slow in the preseason. In week one he wasn’t exposed in the passing game, although there are a few reasons for this. Harris is often a huge liability if he’s left covering a tight end, but fortunately for the Jets the Buccaneers really don’t have one. Running back Doug Martin is a demon in the passing game, but the Jets front seven sniffed out screens and harassed quarterback Josh Freeman all game long. With limited time to throw, Freeman rarely had opportunities to find Martin out of the backfield. As for Harris individually, he played with a lot of power Jets fans didn’t see too often last year. With a rock wall of a defensive line in front of him, he closed holes, shed blocks and stuffed Martin at the line of scrimmage. Martin was held to 65 yards on 24 carries, with a long of 17 yards on a run when the Jets were in a heavy defensive back package. No impact plays but 3 solo tackles and 4 assisted with solid all around play is a big step from last year from David Harris.
Davis, unlike Harris, plays with a ton of speed. While not a complete player at inside linebacker just yet, he put his speed on display with a game saving open field tackle on Vincent Jackson in the fourth quarter. Outside of this one play Davis was very solid against the run and in coverage with 3 solo tackles and 4 assisted. His progression is a huge aspect to keep an eye on this year as he attempts to develop into a franchise linebacker.
The “pass rush specialist” brought an element to the Jets defense Sunday that they haven’t had in quite some time: a threat off the edge. Barnes has an extremely fast first step, usually crossing the line of scrimmage before anyone else on the field moves besides the quarterback. He repeatedly beat Tampa’s edge blockers and recorded a sack deep in Tampa territory. Barnes success has a huge impact on the entire team as he forces the quarterbacks to step up in the pocket, right into interior rushers Sheldon Richardson and Muhammad Wilkerson. Great performance from the former Charger.
Pace looked like an old, slow veteran on the edge but did manage to pressure Josh Freeman. He struggled setting the edge at times due to his speed and was unblocked on his half a sack, but his veteran presence on a minimum contract is well worth the price, especially with Quinton Coples being out for a few weeks.
McIntyre is a tough fill in for Quinton Coples, as he doesn’t offer half the pass rushing ability that QC does. It’s still hard to complain about him as he offers decent depth and sets the edge against the run. On one play Dawan Landry did bail him out, as Martin ran to his side and McIntyre was swallowed by a blocker, Landry came up and made the tackle. Mixed performance from the back up outside linebacker.
Biggest Impact Play: Demario Davis open field tackle on Vincent Jackson. Chasing down a wide receiver in the open field is impressive, but a linebacker doing it? Game saving play Demario, job well done.
Linebacker Poised for Week 2 Success: Antwan Barnes. If Barnes can bring outside pressure on Tom Brady, forcing him to step up near Sheldon Richardson and Muhammad Wilkerson, the Jets will pull off the first huge upset of the season.