Through four weeks of the 2013 NFL season, it would appear that my job –grading the defensive line following each game– is probably the easiest of anyone here at TOJ. In layman’s terms….they’re pretty damn good. And I expect we’ll see a lot of positives from them each and every week.
And while I’m ecstatic to get a chance to analyze the dominant performances from the “Son’s of Anarchy” (Note: I’ll be toying with a few nicknames for the DL, so feel free to leave your suggestions in the comments section below), I’m also aware that I’ve been saddled with the task of following ‘Mr. Defensive Line’ himself, TOJ’s very own, Chris Gross.
With that in mind, I’ll try my best to continue providing the best fan base in the NFL with quality breakdowns of what has clearly emerged as the strength of Rex Ryan’s defense.
So, here we are in Week Four, as the Jets stepped up against a surprisingly effective Tennessee Titans offense. While the impact of the defensive line on Sunday was less noticeable than a week ago vs. Buffalo, it looks to have more to do with the Titans’ offensive approach than anything else.
Tennessee Offensive Coordinator Dowell Loggains put together a great game plan to combat the Jets’ pressure up front, employing a quick passing attack with quarterback Jake Locker, limiting the impact of the defensive line, while also exposing some of the Jets’ issues on the backend of the defense.
While the real defensive issues could be seen in coverage (not to mention field position, as the Titans’ first three TD drives were 18, 26 and 46 yards), Ryan and Defensive Coordinator Dennis Thurman have to be just a little nervous that opposing NFL offenses have seen the blueprint to neutralize the Jets’ strength.
Despite lots of negatives in the blowout loss in Nashville, the defense was able to completely shut down Tennessee running back, Chris Johnson. After seeing Johnson go for six and eight yards on his first two carries of the game, the defense locked down, holding Johnson to a total of just 21 yards on 15 carries. It’s pretty clear that the Jets No. 1 defense against the run will continue to do a great job of containing opposing RB’s for the foreseeable future.
So let’s breakdown the individual performances on the defensive line following the 38-13 loss in Tennessee:
Muhammad Wilkerson: 66 plays (99%)
- 3 Total Tackles (2 Solo Tackles)
- 1 Tackle for Loss
- 1 QB Hit
Big Mo Wilk continues to be a force at the LOS, despite regularly seeing double (and sometimes triple) teams. Wilkerson can expect to continue getting tons of attention throughout the season, which, hopefully, will continue opening up opportunities for the rest of the defensive line.
While he was saddled with the task of drawing extra attention from the Titans’ offensive line, Mo was still able to impact the game, providing the Jets pressure up the middle, while helping shutdown the Titans’ rushing attack. Wilkerson also put a monster hit on Locker, which, as most know, ended the QB’s day. While the hit may have been a bit late, and it’d be hard to argue against it if a flag was thrown, this could have been a huge momentum swing in the game, (assuming the Jets had a more efficient offensive day).
While Wilkerson is getting tons of attention, most, if not all, dominant defensive lineman are forced to deal with the same. Rex tried to keep Wilkerson a factor in this one by moving him all over the line and employing some stunts and twists. Unfortunately for the Jets, Tennessee’s quick passing attack limited Mo’s impact on the passing game.
Sheldon Richardson: 55 plays (82%)
- 3 Total Tackles
- 3 QB Hurries
The rookie defensive lineman has surpassed expectations through four weeks, and has arguably been the most dominant member of the Jets’ defensive line through the first quarter of the season. While Richardson has benefitted from the attention given to Wilkerson, he has proven to be ultra-effective against the run, and lately, has flashed his ability getting pressure on the quarterback.
Richardson added another three stops against the run on Sunday, and also got some pressure on Locker, forcing a team-high three QB hurries. While Richardson’s speed immediately stands out on tape, he’s also showing that his pure strength is a factor that just can’t be ignored.
One of his most notable plays (pictured below) came with 52 seconds remaining in the second quarter, as the rookie employed a bull rush technique, forcing Tennessee guard Andy Levitre to his back, and resulting in one of Richardson’s three QB hurries.
While his strength may have gotten the most attention on this day, Richardson didn’t shy away from flashing his speed from the defensive end position as well. On this play (pictured below), Richardson (91) uses an inside move to beat the double team, forcing Locker to rush a throw to the sideline.
Despite being faced with a double team, Richardson’s inside move is too much for fellow rookie, Chance Warmack (70), to handle. The pressure forces Locker to get rid of the ball for an incomplete pass (below).
Pro Football Focus has the rookie graded at a +8.3, putting him third among all 3-4 defensive ends (trailing only J.J. Watt and Cam Jordan). The scary part is, the best has yet to come with this extremely talented first round draft choice as he’s set the bar very high early in the season.
Damon Harrison: 37 plays (55%)
- 2 Total Tackles (2 Solo Tackles)
The undrafted free agent dubbed “Snacks” has surprised many with his play this season, and that certainly didn’t change on Sunday. Harrison did an exceptional job at the nose tackle position against Tennessee, recording two solo tackles and playing a key role in holding Johnson to a paltry 1.4 yards per carry. As is the case for many NT’s in the NFL, Harrison’s impact on a game likely won’t show up when reviewing stats. But when your linebackers are making plays against the run, as the Jets did last week, you can bet the big guy up front is doing his job.
Harrison has been everything you could ask for from a nose tackle early in the season, as he consistently eats up blocks and fills gaps, allowing the Jets’ linebackers to look very good against the run. It’s no secret why the Jets’ LBs have been playing so well this season, and Harrison deserves as much credit as anyone.
Kenrick Ellis: 12 plays (18%)
- 2 Total Tackles (1 Solo Tackle)
It’s been a slow road back for Ellis, who is still recovering from a pre-season back injury, but when he’s in there, boy does he look solid. Being built like a house is certainly nice for any nose tackle…and the second year player out of Hampton University is no different. While Harrison has played very well early in the season, Ellis has done a solid job when given a chance. Against Tennessee, Ellis helped the Jets continue stifling Johnson and recorded two solo tackles.
A lack of playing time makes it tough to be completely objective with the guy many thought would be starting NT before the season. But in the end, there’s minimal drop-off from Harrison when Ellis comes into the game, and that’s all you can ask for from a backup.
Leger Douzable: 7 plays (10%)
- 1 Total Tackle (1 Solo Tackle)
- 1 Tackle for Loss
Douzable has been an excellent rotational player on the defensive line this season, making the most of his minimal appearances on the field. On Sunday, Douzable saw just seven plays, but did find his way into the backfield to swallow up Johnson for a loss of one yard.
It’s another tough grade, simply because of a lack of time on the field. But great defenses need to have guys like Douzable to spell the starting defensive lineman. Just as is the case with Ellis, when you can bring in a backup and not see much of a drop-off, it’s a very good thing.
It wasn’t the flashy performance from a week ago, but the Jets’ defensive line is still shining brighter than any other group on this team. Rex & Co. can expect plenty of emphasis from opposing offenses to be put on stopping the beasts up front from here on out. And if the backend of the defense can fix some its issues, the impact of the defensive line will most certainly show up more on the stat line than it did Sunday.