New York Jets Defensive Line Grade Sheet: Week 11

Frank Giasone grades out the Jets DL in week 11

The Jets continued their trend of playing maddeningly inconsistent football in Sunday’s road loss to division rival Buffalo, as much of the playoff talk from the fanbase in the weeks leading up to this game have now been replaced with questions and concerns regarding this team and its components moving forward.

It’s no secret that this team has been riddled with inconsistency. Whether it’s alternating wins and losses or the abysmal performances on the road, this Jets team is a tough one to figure out. Hidden inside this inconsistent season, though, have been a few consistencies (both good and bad) from game-to-game on the defensive side of the ball. And those trends continued on Sunday.

-The Good: This Jets defense is consistently great against the run. It doesn’t matter who you throw at them, they’ve proven to be up to the task. Buffalo struggled to a pathetic 1.8 yard per carry average against the Jets’ No. 1 ranked rushing defense last week, finishing with just 68 total yards on the ground. The Jets are allowing an average of 78 yards rushing per game this season and Sunday was no different.

The Jets have also proven very effective defending screen passes this season, showing an impressive ability to read and react as screen plays develop. It’s refreshing to see a defense fast enough to regularly shut down the screen passing game, especially when you consider the Jets struggles in that area over the past two or three years.

Here’s one screen play in particular that rookie Sheldon Richardson snuffed out:

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Richardson is one of only two downed lineman on this play, and is lined up on the outside shoulder of Bills’ guard Kraig Urbik (three technique) on a third-and-four play midway through the second quarter.

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Richardson recognizes pass and is preparing to shoot the A gap (area between the RG and center), where RB Fred Jackson looks to be the only blocker, while Muhammed Wilkerson (96) deals with a double team from the Buffalo center and left guard.

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This is where things get interesting. Richardson quickly recognizes the screen as Urbik and Jackson both make their moves into the flat. Richardson’s ability to read and react to this play is huge, as we’ll see in the following photos.

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Richardon’s impressive speed and athleticism are on display here, as he gets himself in great position to break up the screen pass before it really has a chance to develop.

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With Urbik in perfect position to block linebacker Demario Davis (circled in green), Richardson’s ability to read and react saves the Jets defense from potentially giving up a huge play down the sidelines.

-The Bad:  The defense consistently lives and dies with the pass rush. It’s pretty ironic, considering the success of Rex Ryan defenses during his tenure in New York has always come despite the presence of a consistent pass rush. It’s also unfortunate, as the Jets defense has struggled to get to the quarterback when opposing offenses employ a quick passing attack. It was one of the biggest issues in games against Tennessee, New England (week 2) and Cincinnati, and it continued last week in Buffalo. Without pressure up front, the Jets’ underperforming secondary is being exposed, giving teams a clear cut gameplan on how to stop this team.

It’s a difficult proposition to ask three defensive lineman–a group that includes a rookie and a second year undrafted free agent–to consistently provide pressure on the quarterback, especially on a defense that’s lacking speed off the edge. The Jets clearly miss Antwan Barnes in passing situations, and while Quinton Coples seems to be coming along, he still doesn’t provide the defense with the same kind of speed-rusher that it had with Barnes.

Ideally, Antonio Cromartie would look more like 2012 version of himself than he currently does. But the fact is, he just isn’t that guy right now. In fact, Cro looks like a guy who has lost a step, making him more of a liability in the Jet secondary than a weapon. With the secondary struggling, the responsibility is on the Jets front to consistently provide pressure and to take the attention off a less than stellar secondary. Rex will likely need to get creative with his coverages if he wants to see this defense improve against the pass.

On to the grades: 

Muhammed Wilkerson: 64 Snaps (92%) 

  • 9 Total Tackles (7 Solo)
  • 1 Tackle For Loss
  • 1 Pass Defended

Wilkerson was his usual dominant self against the run in Buffalo and it showed up big on the stat line. The dominant defensive lineman finished with a season-high nine total tackles in a performance that included one very impressive stop behind the line of scrimmage on Buffalo running back, CJ Spillar, and one pass defended.

While he was dominant against the run, Wilkerson struggled to create pressure on Bills’ quarterback, EJ Manuel. We’ve come accustomed to seeing Wilkerson create havoc in the pocket this season, but on this day he was essentially neutralized by double-teams and three-step drops. On the handful of opportunities where Manuel hung on to the ball in the pocket, Wilkerson failed to create any pressure.

Overall, it wasn’t his most dominant performance of the season despite the season-high in tackles, and it was only the third game this season that saw Wilkerson go without a sack.

Grade: A-

Sheldon Richardson: 58 Snaps (87%)

  • 9 Total Tackles (5 Solo)
  • 1 Tackle For Loss

The rookie defensive lineman continued to build a case for Defensive Rookie of the Year honors with Sunday’s performance, as he too finished with a season-high nine tackles. Like Wilkerson, Richardson was stalled by the Bills’ passing attack, but continued to show up against the run.

Despite the doubts coming out of college, Richardson’s been tremendous against the run all season and has surprised many with his ability to handle his two gap responsibilities in this defense. That continued last week at Ralph Wilson Stadium as Richardson finished with nine total tackles, including one tackle for loss.

Lets take a look at Richardson’s strength stopping the run: 

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The Jets are using their base personnel with Richardson lined up to the outside shoulder of Bills’ guard, Doug Legursky (three technique).

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With the Bills showing run, Richardson’s responsibilities include both the A and B gaps (illustrated by the arrows). His initial move is to clog the A gap (area between the center and the guard).

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The Jets defense does a great job of clogging the rushing lanes on the strong side, forcing Jackson cut his run back towards Richardson. This is where Richardson (circled in yellow) shows off his ability to handle his two-gap responsibilities in Rex Ryan’s defense.

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With the A gap clogged up, Jackson continues his cutback as he looks for lane. Richardson recognizes this and shifts his responsibility to the B gap. This leaves Jackson nowhere to go, as Richardson’s stellar play holds the Bills’ RB to a minimal gain.

Grade: A-

Damon Harrison: 43 Snaps (64%) 

  • 9 Total Tackles (4 Solo)

Another week, another dominant performance against the run from Big Snacks. The biggest surprise on the Jets defensive line has yet to disappoint this season, consistently producing like one of the best NT’s in the league through eleven weeks. Nine was a popular number this week, as all three starting defensive lineman put together nine total tackles against Buffalo–a head nod to the excellent performance against the run.

Grade: A

Kenrick Ellis: 19 Snaps ( 28%) 

  • 2 Solo Tackles

While Harrison has success, Ellis’ playing time remains somewhat of an afterthought, as the third round draft pick continues to struggle finding a spot on this defense. And with the Jets looking so dominant against the run, it’s hard to find a scenario where this trend doesn’t continue.

Ellis saw his usual playing time against Buffalo and continued to look good in limited snaps, finishing with two tackles and doing his part as a gap-stuffing NT. It would be interesting to see him get a few more opportunities throughout games, but with Harrison playing so well, there’s really no reason for Rex change it up.

 Grade: B-

Leger Douzable 12 Snaps (18%) 

  • 1 Total Tackle

Douzable, for the most part, has been good in his role as a rotational player on the defensive line this season. This week, though, Douzable found himself garnering attention for all the wrong reasons as his most memorable moment came in the form of an offsides penalty on special teams. That penalty, which came on a fourth and six situation in the second quarter, basically opened up the flood gates at the Ralph, leading to a Buffalo onslaught that saw the Bills finish the half with a 20-0 lead. It’s not exactly the shining moment Douzable was aiming for, as it essentially ignited a complete meltdown from the Jets. His snap count was down from recent weeks as Douzable recorded only 12 snaps on Sunday in Buffalo.

Grade: C-