After Sunday’s loss to Carolina, it’s starting to look like nagging injuries and fatigue in the front seven have begun taking their toll on the Jets’ defense. Pairing an anemic offense with a defense that struggles to force turnovers can have that effect, as we’ve seen this defense spend far too much time on the field through 15 weeks.
On Sunday, the defense allowed its second-highest rushing total of the year, as Carolina finished with 131 yards the ground. Through their most recent three-game stretch, the Jets have allow a 135-yard per game average–well over the season average through 12 weeks. The Jets nine interceptions recorded through 15 weeks ranks them tied for 29th in football.But while the run defense has started to show some leaks, and the pass rush hasn’t been nearly as consistent as it was earlier in the season, there were some bright spots from Sunday’s loss that should have Jets fans excited about the future of this defense–notably on the defensive line.
One play in particular stood out to me when re-watching film of Sunday’s game. The result of the play was Calvin Pace’s career-best ninth sack of the season, but so much more happened on the play than just Pace bringing down Cam Newton, as the entire defense played a role.
Pace was rewarded with the stat, but the sack opportunity was created by Sheldon Richardson’s initial pressure, a relentless effort from Leger Douzable and solid coverage in the secondary.
Let’s take a look:
The pre-snap look shows Douzable (red) lined up between the center and left guard, with Richardson (yellow), Quinton Coples (green) and Pace (not pictured) overloading the strong side.
Richardson is the first to make an impact, using his speed and agility to create pressure inside and forcing Newton to step up into the pocket. Douzable is initially driven off the line of scrimmage, and Coples’ outside rush is controlled by right tackle, Byron Bell (77).
With the coverage in secondary forcing Newton to hold the ball, Douzable, who was initially pushed outside, shows off his motor and recovers to make his way into the backfield. Douzable’s pressure, combined with pressure from Richardson, forces Newton to continue moving up in the pocket and in turn, limits his ability to set his feet and keep his eyes down field.
With Newton disrupted by the pressure caused by the defensive line, and the secondary doing a great job in coverage, Pace is there to clean up the mess for his ninth sack of the season.
While it’s just one play, it’s symbolic of what the Jets are trying to do with the talent on defense. When the secondary is effective, the talent up front can create issues for opposing QB’s. It’s important to note that this pressure was created without the teams’ best defensive lineman, Muhammed Wilkerson, who was on the sideline treating his injured wrist.
It’s something we haven’t seen enough of this season, mostly due to the Jets struggles in coverage. But on that play, the secondary gave the pass rush time to disrupt the pocket and eventually bring down the quarterback.
Muhammed Wilkerson: 61 Snaps (95%)
- 6 Total Tackles (3 Solo)
- 1 Tackle For Loss
Wilkerson has been slowed as a pass rusher the past few weeks, failing to record a sack since the Jets’ Week 12 loss in Baltimore. But while he’s struggled as a rusher, Wilkerson continues to look very good against the run, recording one tackle behind the line of scrimmage in addition to his six total tackles. His presence alone on the defensive line has an impact on the defensive unit in its entirety–even as he’s been hampered with an injured wrist for the past few weeks.
Extending Wilkerson should be a high-priority for John Idzik & Co. this offseason, as even when he’s not at 100-percent, he’s a matchup nightmare for opposing offenses. Mo’s dominance was on display in the play pictured below:
Wilkerson is lined up over Panthers’ left guard, Travelle Wharton, who pulls to the right side following the snap. With Carolina overloading the right side with four lineman and a fullback, it leaves center, Ryan Kalil, and tight end, Greg Olsen, to block Wilkerson.
Wilkerson does a great job of getting “skinny” in an effort to evade the double-team and get into the Panthers backfield.
When Wilkerson squares his shoulders, his power becomes very evident as he effortlessly sends Olsen to the turf and blows past Kalil on he was to Newton (pictured below).
The result of the play is Olsen (red) on the turf and Kalil (green) watching, as Wilkerson wraps up Newton for a loss of three yards.
Here’s a live look at the play:
Sheldon Richardson: 51 Snaps (80%)
- 4 Total Tackles (1 Solo)
RIchardson was far and away the best player on the defensive line Sunday–despite what his stat line might say–as he was not only a force agains the run, but once again stood out as a pass rusher. He’s become very active on the defensive line, and clearly isn’t lacking confidence (a proven by his recent comments to the media).
He’s a physical freak who possesses both speed and power. Those attributes were on full display here, as Richardson is able to drive the center into the backfield, before chasing down the very mobile Cam Newton:
Richardson’s awareness is very impressive for a rookie, as not only does he keep Newton within arms reach, but he also has the wherewithal to go for the strip sack at the end of the play.
Even more impressive is the fact that the Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate doesn’t appear to be limited to playing on the defense, as he did his best William “Refrigerator” Perry impersonation when he scored this touchdown:
Damon Harrison: 39 Snaps (61%)
- 4 Total Tackles (2 Solo)
- 1 Pass Defended
Not the best effort from Harrison this week, as he received his lowest grade of the season. The length of the season may be playing a role for the first-time starter, as his performances have declined in recent weeks. He’s set the bar pretty high for himself this season, though, so it’s definitely not time to panic. But it’s also no surprise that the Jets recent struggles defending the run coincides with Harrison’s struggles.
Kenrick Ellis: 21 Snaps (33%)
Ellis saw his snap count increase against Carolina, and continued to do a solid job in run defense. He didn’t light up the stat sheet, but he played a big role in the Jets’ goal line defense with his ability to take up blockers and fill gaps.
Leger Douzable: 15 Snaps (23%)
Like Ellis, Douzable failed to show up on the stat sheet, but did play well in his limited snaps. He’s continued to be a solid rotational player on this defense all season, as he’s lookied good against the run and has flashed as a pass rusher.
Douzable likely would have recorded a sack on Sunday (pictured below), but drew a holding penalty on the play after completely overpowering Panthers’ left guard, Travelle Wharton, forcing him into the Carolina backfield.