Take a look at the post game stats from Sunday’s win over Oakland and there’s one thing that will likely stand out–something Jets fans aren’t used to seeing.
For the first time this season, the Jets defense surrendered a 100-yard rusher, as Oakland running back, Marcel Reece, finished the day with 123 yards on the ground. Take a closer look at the stat sheet and you’ll see a Raiders’ rushing attack that averaged 5.8 yards per carry–a season high allowed by the Jets. Neither stat is exactly a ringing endorsement an elite run defense.
But sometimes, stats can be misleading.
Initially, it does not look like a great performance from the Jets’ defensive line. But a closer look shows aside from a couple of big runs, the run defense was as good as it has been all season.
An uncharacteristic 63-yard touchdown from Reece and a 20-yard scramble from quarterback Matt McGloin accounted for more than half of the Raiders’ rushing yards on Sunday. If you take away Reece’s touchdown run (the longest rush allowed by the Jets this season) and the tone surrounding the Jets’ run defense following this game would be very different.
If there’s one distinction you can make about this team, it’s that the Jets’ run defense clearly isn’t an issue and likely won’t be one moving forward.
In today’s league, it’s no secret that disrupting the passer is high-priority. It’s something the Jets have struggled with throughout the season and those struggles continued against Oakland. Without a true speed rusher off the edge the brunt of pressuring the QB has fallen on Muhammed Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson. Both are ‘interior’ lineman and both have struggled to consistently provide pressure in passing scenarios of late, combining for just two hits on the QB in the last two games.
The Raiders did a great job of neutralizing the Jets’ pass rush with constant double teams and play-action passing. Despite the favorable matchup for the Jets against a subpar offensive line, Richardson was the only defensive lineman to record QB hit.
On the bright side, the linebackers have taken advantage of the defensive lines’ ability to eat up blocks. Calvin Pace has racked up his highest sack total of his career and Quinton Coples has also started to increase his production (1 sack, 2 QB hits against Oakland) over the past month. Unfortunately for the defense, Coples and Pace don’t provide enough consistent pressure on the QB, which highlights the need for more speed at the linebacker position. Antwan Barnes would be nice to have right now.
The defensive line will need to be very good this weekend if the Jets hope to contain an emerging Panthers’ offense led mobile quarterback, Cam Newton, and stay (somewhat) relevant in the AFC playoff picture.
Muhammed Wilkerson: 67 Snaps (97%)
- 2 Solo Tackles
For the second consecutive week we saw Wilkerson struggle to create an impact against a below average offensive line. Maybe it’s a result of his nagging wrist injury, or maybe he’s showing some fatigue after a season of seeing constant double teams. Either way, it’s clear that there’s something missing from Wilkerson’s game as the overwhelming choice for team MVP has struggled to make an impact in consecutive games. His struggles against Oakland leads to his lowest grade of the season.
Obviously it’s not time to jump to conclusions with arguably one of the top two defensive lineman in football, but these are the type of games that we expect to see Wilkerson feast. If the Jets have any hope of containing Newton and the Panthers’ offense this Sunday, they’ll need a better performance from Big Mo.
Sheldon Richardson: 56 Snaps (81%)
- 2 Total Tackles (1 Solo)
- 1 QB Hit
Once again, Richardson’s performance mirrored that of Wilkerson. He looked pretty good against the run, but struggled to create an impact in passing situations–aside from one hit on the QB. With added attention being paid to one of the favorites for Defensive Rookie of the Year, Rex Ryan has taken advantage of Richardson’s athleticism, moving him around the defensive line with more regularity and even standing him up, using the defensive tackle as an outside linebacker in certain situations.
Richardson has struggled to create pressure in the pocket the past two weeks. But just like with Wilkerson, it’s not time to push the panic button, especially when you consider how many good positive things are included in his repertoire. His instincts against the run are as good as anyone on this defensive line, and his ceiling gets higher with each game–even in games that see him struggle.
If Richardson can keep up this pace against the run, he’ll have a great shot to walk away with DROY honors.
Damon Harrison: 34 Snaps (49%)
- 5 Total Tackles (3 Solo)
Harrison’s performance was arguably the most impressive of anyone on the defensive line last Sunday as he finished with five total tackles. Like he’s done all across the defensive line, Ryan is beginning to show a little more creativity with Harrison, using him in different spots to take advantage of his versatility–we even saw the big nose tackle drop back in coverage on one play inside the five yard line. We’re starting to see the results as ‘Snacks’ is proving that he’s arguably the best nose tackle in the NFL this season.
His ability against the run can’t be ignored as Pro Football Focus ranked him second among all defensive tackles against the run, with a grade more than two times the next closest tackle:
He continued to showed a lot of good in Sunday’s win, and has proven to be a big reason that this team has had the success it has on third and fourth-and-short situations, but one of his biggest blunders–missed a tackle at the line of scrimmage–was one of the main culprits on Reece’s 63-yard touchdown (among other mishaps on the defense).
Leger Douzable: 18 Snaps (26%)
- 2 Solo Tackles
Not a spectacular day from Douzable, but he was more than adequate against the run when given the chance, finishing with two tackles in 18 snaps. He continues to look great as part of the rotation on the defensive line, and could start seeing his snap count increase if fatigue and injuries are, in fact, what has slowed the production of Wilkerson and Richardson.
Kenrick Ellis: 14 Snaps (20%)
- 1 Solo Tackle
It’s tough to really make an impact with just 14 snaps, but Ellis has consistently shown seems to find a way. It may not show up on the stat sheet, but Ellis’ presence inside alone forces opposing rushers into a tough spot. He’s done a great job filling in for Harrison when needed and is a terrific insurance policy as a true nose tackle.
Like Harrison, Ellis has to be given credit for the lack of short yardage success of Jets’ opponents this season. He’s a big body who is very hard to move, giving Ryan a prototypical NT to use in place of the more versatile Harrison when need be.