Another week, another average performance from the Jets’ defensive line. Despite walking away with the comfortable win on Sunday, it’s become pretty clear that the strongest assets on the defense this season have started to dip in performance during the last month, as vulnerabilities in the pass rush and against the run have started to arise.
Whether it’s injury or fatigue, the defensive line has had some issues lately. The group set a high standard for itself throughout the season, but recently it’s looked a bit rundown. The Jets four most recent opponents have broken 100 yards rushing, and the defensive line has accumulated just two sacks in that time (both against Cleveland.)
On Sunday, the usually stingy Jets’ run defense allowed 5.5 yards per carry–up from its season average of 3.3 ypc (best in the NFL). Sheldon Richardson’s second quarter injury (he returned midway through the third quarter) didn’t help things, while both Muhammed Wilkerson and Damon Harrison failed to play at the level we’ve come accustomed to seeing this season.
For much of the season, the defensive line was forced to work overtime in an effort to mask the deficiencies in other areas of the defense. With Wilkerson averaging nearly 98-percent of the defensive snaps this season (playing almost as many snaps at tackle as he does at defensive end), and Richardson and Harrison starting a full season for the first time in their respective careers, fatigue is to be expected. And it’s starting to show.
One thing that has become clear this season is the that this defensive line, while absolutely loaded with talent, still has a ways to go before it’s truly dominant. Richardson has had an impressive rookie season, but needs to improve as a pass rusher, while the Jets’ offseason additions on the defense (notably at linebacker) should also help impact the defense heading into 2014.
Muhammed Wilkerson: 63 Snaps (97%)
- 4 Total Tackles (3 Solo)
- .5 QB Sack
- 1 QB Hit
This wasn’t an outstanding day for Wilkerson who, despite picking up a half-sack to bring his season total to 10.5, struggled to make an impact as a pass rusher. Wilkerson finished with four tackles in the win and was pretty good against the run, but there were times where the Jets’ team MVP didn’t look like the same dominant guy that we’re used to seeing.
Wilkerson is wrapping up a season filled with facing double and triple teams, while playing all over the defensive line and dealing with some nagging injuries. Those factors have clearly taken their toll as his pass rushing numbers have dipped dramatically over the final two months of the season. Despite his late season drop off in production and the fact that he’s played in the interior of the defensive line a ton this season, but is listed at defensive end on the Pro Bowl Ballot, Mo’s 2013 campaign was still good enough to keep him in the conversation for the Pro Bowl. It’ll be tough for him to crack the lineup, though, when you consider the talent at defensive end this year.
Sheldon Richardson: 51 Snaps (78%)
- 6 Total Tackles (3 Solo)
- 1 QB Hit
Richardson’s snaps were down a bit after his injury in the second quarter, but credit to him for coming back in the game in the second half in what was essentially a meaningless game. We saw the rookie in coverage a handful of times on Sunday–a testament to his incredible athleticism, but also an indicator of his struggles as a pass rusher. While Richardson has a bright future, it’s his growth as a pass rusher that I’ll be most interested in seeing entering the 2014 season.
He’s working purely off his athleticism this season, and he’s struggled some because of it. There’s lots to like about the rookie, though, and it’s fun to think about how an improved Sheldon Richardson in 2014 will help the defense in its entirety.
Damon Harrison: 25 Snaps (38%)
- 1 Pass Defended
Harrison continued his late-season lull on Sunday, finishing with no tackles and one pass defended. While he was playing at as high a level as any nose tackle in the league earlier in the season, the past few weeks haven’t been as kind to Harrison. His snaps were down thanks to Norv Turner’s pass-heavy offense, but when he was in the game, he lacked the dominance from earlier in the season.
It’s no surprise that Snacks’ recent struggles coincide with the Jets’ late-season run defense woes when you consider his impact on the defensive line this season. He’s been a very nice surprise this year and will have high expectations heading into next season.
Leger Douzable: 18 Snaps (28%)
- 5 Total Tackles
- 1 Sack
- 2 QB Hits
Douzable only played 18 snaps in the win, but it’s what he was able to do in those snaps that’s most impressive. With five total tackles and two, (half) sacks on back-to-back plays, Douzable was one of the most effective Jets defensive lineman on Sunday. Douzable continues to make his mark as one of the most successful surprises of the season, a credit not only to him, but also Ryan and defensive line coach, Karl Dunbar.
Here’s one of his sacks against Cleveland, as Douzable (red) and Wilkerson (yellow) both converge on quarterback Jason Campbell:
It would be great to get Douzable back next season, though, I would be very surprised if he’s not scooped up by another team looking for depth on the defensive line. While he’s been terrific in his role on the Jets, I’d assume some people will see brighter things in his future–and rightfully so.
Plus, whoever signs him gets more of this next season:
Kenrick Ellis: 12 Snaps (18%)
- 1 Solo Tackle
Another stud in the rotation, Ellis continues to make the most of his limited opportunities. Cleveland only ran the ball 21 times on Sunday, making Ellis’ presence on the field even less necessary than in weeks past. But he continues to be a tremendous run-stuffing, gap filling nose tackle, with a limited role on this defense.