Expectations were high for the Jets’ fifth-year defensive lineman coming into 2019. With an aggressive defensive coordinator in Gregg Williams, two talented teammates in Henry Anderson and Quinnen Williams, plus the motivation of a contract year, there was a lot of hope that Williams could finally bust out and reach the level of a dominant player.
Three games in, Williams has not come close to those lofty expectations. Not only has he failed to break through and prove himself worthy of a mega contract extension, but he has not met his own standards either.
Williams has just two solo run stuffs (individual tackles in the run game for two yards or less and no first down), with both of those coming in garbage time against New England. That total puts him Williams pace for 10.7 over a full season, which is a huge drop-off from his usual standard. From 2015-18, Williams racked up 83 of those tackles, which was third among defensive tackles behind only Kawann Short and Damon Harrison – good for an average of 20.8 per season. That rate is nearly double Williams’ current 2019 average.
Individual run stuffs are a solid measure of how frequently a defensive lineman is making a dominant play in the run game. When one of these tackles occurs, it is often because the defender obliterated the offensive lineman assigned to block him, blowing up the run play almost entirely on his own. Jets fans have become accustomed to seeing Williams making these often, but that run-defending prowess has not been there this season.
Williams has not been as good of a pass rusher, either. Still without his first sack of the year, he is also on pace for a career-low 16 quarterback hits. Usually a great producer of pressure, Williams currently ranks a career-worst 20th among interior defensive linemen in total pressures, with eight. His pass rush productivity rate (a per-snap measure of pass rushing efficiency) ranks fifth-worst among the top 20 interior defensive linemen with the most pass rushing opportunities.
A return of classic Leonard Williams would be a huge boon for a Jets defense desperate for some playmaking up front.
While Adams scored his first career touchdown last week on a pick-six off of Jarrett Stidham, it masked an otherwise mediocre game for the star safety – yet another to start the season.
Adams has by no means been a liability for the Jets (like Williams has). He has laid plenty of big hits and avoided any catastrophic mistakes. However, he just has not been the force that he was in 2018.
Pass rushing is one area Adams has dropped off. The LSU product was an outstanding blitzer last season, leading safeties with 22 total pressures, eight quarterback hits, and 3.5 sacks.
Adams accumulated his 22 total pressures across 82 pass rush snaps, which means was affecting the quarterback on a whopping 26.8 percent of his pass rushes.
So far, Adams has not been quite as electric getting after the quarterback. He has yet to record his first sack, and has only collected a total of two pressures. With 20 opportunities to rush the passer, Adams has gotten home only 10.0 percent of the time.
There have also been a few big passing plays allowed by the Jets in which Adams seemed to be at least partially at fault. Two plays against New England stood out – Ryan Izzo’s 41-yard reception to help set up a touchdown on the Patriots’ opening drive, and Phillip Dorsett’s 25-yard touchdown reception later on. Adams may have mistakenly blitzed when he should have been covering Izzo, and against Dorsett, Adams bit too hard on the play action fake and could not defend the pass attempt.
As an observer, it’s always speculative to assign blame on plays like these without knowing the playcalls, but it is still slightly worrisome that Adams has been in the area of more allowed big plays than we were used to seeing him be around last season.
Generally, Adams has not been quite as sound in run defense. Seemingly a mastermind at hitting the right spots last season, Adams has appeared to perform at a more average level in run defense this season. The crushing hits and amazing reads have been there, but we have seen a few too many big runs going straight in Adams’ direction.
It is far too early to be too worried about Adams. He has star-level talent, and showed the world in 2018 that he has figured out how to bring it all together to make a superstar impact at the NFL level. He should return to his usual level of magnificence at some point this season, but the Jets need him to get back there as soon as possible.
Already 0-3, the Jets cannot afford to wait for their best players to get things going. With injuries abound, nobody in relief has stepped up strongly enough to change the fortunes of the team. Whether or not the Jets can save their season is going to come down to the performance of the most talented players on the roster. It may only be October, but the Jets are in do-or-die mode – which means it’s time for the stars to prove they deserve to be recognized as such.
Jamal Adams and Leonard Williams, the spotlight is yours.