The New York Jets pass rush was actually stronger than it looked in Week 1, analytically speaking at least, but one star was relatively quiet.
Defensive tackle Quinnen Williams has high expectations in 2021 after a breakout sophomore campaign and a season-ending injury to his running mate on the outside, Carl Lawson. The Alabama product understands that he must do better if the Jets are going to start turning their progress into wins.
“I’ve learned being in New York [that] you gotta win, you want to win, you got to win,” Williams told reporters on September 13 after the Carolina Panthers loss.
The D-lineman also voiced that he’s very hard on himself when he doesn’t play up to his potential. “Me I’m my own worst critic, the coaches can tell you, my wife can tell you, Coach [Nick] Saban can tell you if I mess up on the play I think the world is over so I’m my worst critic ever man.”
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Weight of the World on Williams
Pressure can create diamonds and Williams has established a pretty great career for himself based on these high standards. In New York though, pressure can also become a weight.
Since the start of OTAs, we’ve been discussing how this defense only works if the four-man pass rush gets home to the quarterback. The inexperienced cornerbacks were a constant topic of conversation but the top-tier defensive line certainly helped crutch some of those fears early on.
General manager Joe Douglas brought in a ton of surrounding talent to share the burden alongside Williams. Unfortunately, injuries have taken a toll.
- Lawson, out for the season with a torn Achilles.
- Vinny Curry, out for the season with a medical condition.
- Ronald Blair, nagging injuries have forced him onto the practice squad.
- Jabari Zuniga, who can’t seem to stay healthy, reverted to the practice squad.
- Kyle Phillips, placed on the PUP list as he recovers from his 2020 ankle injury.
Despite these hits on the edge, Gang Green is still pretty strong up the gut. Either Sheldon Rankins or Folorunso Fatukasi generally flanks Williams with Nathan Shepherd and Jonathan Marshall on the roster as reserves.
This is an area the Jets can lean on, at least that was the expectation heading into Carolina. The Panthers were thought to be weak on the interior offensive line but the pass rush always seemed to be a half-second too late in Week 1 (more on that below).
At the end of his presser, the media asked Williams if he sees this as a developmental season for the franchise. The DT responded boldly: “I feel like we want to win, I feel like each and every time we go out there we go out to dominate and to win. Nobody looks at it like, ‘oh we got to grow this year, we got to develop this year.’ No, we’re going out here to compete against the best because I feel like I’m the best, [my teammates] feel like [they’re] the best, we feel like we got an NFL jersey on so we can compete with the best.”
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Pass Rush Was Better Than It Looked on Sunday
Williams definitely isn’t looking for excuses based on his answers, but I’ll give him one or two anyway.
First off, we have to keep in mind that this was the third-year star’s first time taking the field for an NFL game since 2020. Williams had foot surgery over the offseason and he missed the majority of training camp because of it, although he did practice towards the end of the summer sessions.
It’s hard to step back in after all that time on the sidelines and dominate, and Williams looked a bit rusty. Pro Football Focus gave him a 46.9 defensive grade in Week 1 with a staggeringly low run defense grade of 31.2.
His pass-rushing was much better, at a 71.0 score. Williams was credited with four quarterback pressures (two QB hits and two hurries) and the D-line, in general, had solid marks rushing the pocket.
John Franklin-Myers recorded the only Jets sack and managed four pressures throughout the game but Bryce Huff was actually the most effective pass-rusher according to PFF (84.9 grade). The 2020 UDFA has become the fan favorite to replace Lawson and although he didn’t finish off Sam Darnold in Week 1, he did accumulate three pressures with an impressive win rate.
Fatukasi (76.2), Tim Ward (75.7) and Rankins (63.9) also recorded grades that were anywhere from very good to solid. The two lowest pass rush grades from the unit were Shepherd and Shaq Lawson, and the latter was brought in for his ability as a run-stuffer.
Michael Nania of Jets X-Factor even noted that the Green & White D-line ranked fourth in the NFL for “combined pass rush win rates by [their] primary four pass-rushers.” The Las Vegas Raiders, Philadelphia Eagles and Los Angeles Rams were the only teams that ranked higher, and the Jets were the only ones out of the four to lose in Week 1.
So what gives? Why only one sack?
The answer is the same reason Gang Green was defeated — Christian McCaffrey. The linebackers and defensive backs were unable to contain the dynamic playmaker out of the backfield, creating an easy check-down for Darnold every time he felt the pressure coming.
‘CMC’ ended up with a 100% catch rate in Week 1, completing nine of nine targets for receptions with 89 receiving yards. It was too easy for the star running back and the Jets must get better at covering the routes that hit the defense both underneath and in the flats.