Sunday’s win over Miami in the 2013 season finale was a good one for Jets’ fans, players and coaches alike, as the offense put together one of its most impressive performances of the season, and the defense held the Dolphins to just seven points–a season best for New York.
And while the performance helped the Jets climb back to .500 in the final week of the season, the struggles up front persisted, as the production from the defensive line continued to deteriorate.
It became a trend late this season–whether due to offensive game plans, fatigue or injury–to see the defensive line struggle to create pressure on the quarterback. In addition to the struggles in passing situations, the run defense, too, had its issues, as the Jets surrendered over 100 yards on the ground in four of its final five games. While that number isn’t anything to panic over (the defense allowed 88.2 yards per game this season), it’s important to remember that teams were barely rushing for 80 YPG on this defense throughout much of the season.
But the biggest issue up front late in the season was the Jets’ inability to get to the quarterback. It continued on Sunday, as the defense mustered only three hits on Miami quarterback, Ryan Tannehill–none of which came from the defensive line.
It’s no surprise, though, that when the Jets were able to pressure Tannehill, it changed the game. On two of Tannehill’s three interceptions on Sunday, the Jets’ pressure up the middle forced poor throws, resulting in two turnovers.
Let’s take a look at those plays:
Here, Sheldon Richardson is lined up on the outside shoulder of left guard, Nate Garner (3-tech).
In a one-on-one situation, Richardson’s inside move proves too quick for Garner. With Wilkerson dealing with a double team on the opposite side, the Jets’ DROY candidate gets a clear path to Tannehill.
The second play is very similar, this time with Ledger Douzable creating the pressure that would lead to the Tannehill interception:
Dolphins’ center, Mike Pouncey, isn’t able to slide over in time, as Douzable’s pressure up the middle forces Tannehill to rush his throw. That leads to another overthrow from the Miami QB, resulting in Dee Milliner’s second interception of the game (pictured below).
Looking Back On 2013
Watching a rebuilding football team can fill a season with ups and downs, questions about the future, and concerns regarding the needs of the roster. That, in a nutshell, was the experience of many Jets fans in 2013.
While there are concerns all over the roster, the brightest spot on this team from Week One through Week 17 was the defensive line.
Muhammed Wilkerson continued his ascent as one of the top defensive lineman in the league, while rookie Sheldon Richardson and second-year undrafted free agent, Damon Harrison, emerged as two of the more surprising defensive stars in the NFL.
There was lots of pressure put on this defensive line this season, much of which created unfair expectations when coupled with the deficiencies in other areas on the defense.
With a struggling secondary and less-than-effective blitz packages and personnel, the onus was on the defensive line to pressure the QB. That task was certainly daunting–and at times, too daunting.
While the defensive line certainly had its deficiencies, this season offered a look to the future. Pieces are clearly missing on this defense, but if the front office remains steadfast in its plan, the defensive line should be an overwhelming strength for this team for years to come.
The most noticeable deficiency when breaking down the Jets’ issues on the defensive line is the need for speed on the outside. Antwan Barnes offered Rex Ryan’s defense exactly that before his injury, and the hope is that he can rehab his knee and come back just as effective next season.
Quinton Coples is another extremely important piece of the pass rush. He really started to flash during the final six weeks of the season and should come into the 2014 campaign with very high expectations. If he can consistently provide pressure off the edge next season, the defensive line should be even more productive.
Aside from rushing the passer, the Jets defensive line will benefit from an improved secondary in 2014. As we witnessed late this season (and in years past), an improved secondary can help mask some deficiencies in the pass rush. Further improvements to the secondary this offseason will undoubtably lead to better production from the defensive line next year.
Muhammed Wilkerson: 61 Snaps (95%)
- 2 Total Tackles (1 Solo)
Another lackluster performance from Wilkerson, who saw his play fall off a bit in the last few weeks of the season. He was basically invisible as a pass rusher on Sunday, as he struggled to create pressure against one of the worst offensive lines in football.
2013 was Mo’s best year as a pro as he was awarded second-team All Pro honors. Coming off an impressive 2012 campaign, this season was another step in the right direction for one of the most versatile defensive lineman in football. At times, stats can be misleading. That’s never more true than with Wilkerson who finished the season with 64 tackles and 10.5 sacks. There’s lots of emphasis put on sacks in this league, but Mo isn’t your typical defensive lineman. Rex Ryan asked Wilkerson to play all along the defensive line, placing him inside about as much as he did outside. With the majority of the attention being paid to Wilkerson, his importance to the defense really can’t be quantified by looking over the stat sheet. Regardless, Mo’s the one person I’d expect to thrive most from some added pieces on the outside. With more speed at linebacker and offseason improvement from rookie Sheldon Richardson, the expectations for Wilkerson will be even higher heading into 2014 than they were this season.
2013 Final Grade: A
Sheldon Richardson: 42 Snaps (66%)
- 1 Solo Tackle
Like Wilkerson, Richardson’s season finale wasn’t representative of his accomplishments in 2013. While the rookie saw his snap count fall way down as a result of a hip injury, he was still able to make an impact in the game as shown above with his one QB pressure resulting in an interception.
Coming out of Missouri, Richardson was seen as an extremely athletic defensive lineman who could create pass rushing opportunities but struggle to stop the run. One season in the NFL and those expectations were turned upside down as Richardson proved to be one of the best defensive lineman in football stopping the run. Moving forward, Richardson needs to refine his pass rushing moves. He’ll need to learn to use his hands more, and lower his pad level when rushing the QB. But looking forward, it’s safe to say that this guy, who has tremendous athleticism for a man his size, certainly looks to have a bright future in this league.
2013 Final Grade: B+
Leger Douzable: 26 Snaps (41%)
- 2 Solo Tackles
With Richardson hurting, Douzable saw his snap count go way up. As he has much this season, the elder statesman on the defensive line made the most of his opportunities, as his one pressure on the QB, like Richardson, resulted in an interception (pictured above).
Another huge surprise on the defensive line, Douzable will likely be in high demand as a free agent this offseason. He seemed to find a nitch in Rex’s defense, proving to be one of the most valuable rotational defensive lineman in the league. When you don’t see much of a dropoff between your starters and backups, it’s a great thing. The Jets got that from Douzable this season.
2013 Final Grade: B
Damon Harrison: 16 Snaps (25%)
- 5 Tackles (4 Solo)
- 1 Tackle For Loss
With the Jets using a lot of their nickel package, Harrison saw his snaps go way down on Sunday. Considering he didn’t even get 20 snaps, his five total tackles is pretty impressive. That number could have been even higher, but Harrison saw a few sure tackles slip through his fingers–an issue that’s been lingering for a few weeks now.
Harrison may have been the biggest surprise on the defensive line (or the entire defense) this season. From relatively unknown to one of the top nose tackles in football, Harrison was a beast against the run and essentially made the man most thought would be the starting nose tackle, Kenrick Ellis, an unnecessary commodity on this team. Not only was Harrison terrific against the run for much of the season, but he was also able to create pressure up the middle along with Wilkerson and Richardson. While he tailed off a bit late in the year (a sign of fatigue), this season was undoubtably a success for the UDFA.
2013 Final Grade: A
Kenrick Ellis: 13 Snaps (20%)
- 1 Solo Tackle
When Harrison’s snaps go down, you can bet you’ll see the same for Ellis. With just over a dozen opportunities on the field, Ellis’ impact was limited. But, as he did all season long, Ellis continued to play well as a prototypical nose tackle, filling gaps, taking on blockers, and stuffing the run.
Ellis didn’t see the time on the field that many assumed he would this season, thanks to the success of Harrison. While he may not have the same value to the Jets as many believed before the season, it’s hard to imagine that a 3-4 team in need of a nose tackle wouldn’t be intrigued in acquiring the monstrous NT. He’s terrific against the run and was able to stay healthy for much of the season–likely a result of limited snaps. Depth on the defensive line is important, but with so much versatility already on the DL (assuming the Jets can retain Douzable), I wouldn’t be shocked if they shop Ellis this offseason.
2013 Final Grade: B