Originally written on Turn On The Jets  |  Last updated 10/10/13
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Another week, another dominant performance from the Jets defensive line. The Jets took on an Atlanta offensive line that has had some injuries and serious struggles this season. On Monday night, on a prime time stage, the big men up front exposed that weakness, limiting quarterback Matt Ryan’s time in the pocket, along with the Falcon’s run game as a whole. I think most expect this defensive line to be ‘honor students’ this season when it comes to the Grade Sheet and through five weeks, there’s no reason to think otherwise. This is a very tough defensive group that has proven capable of stopping the run, and getting to the quarterback. Kudos to Rex Ryan and Defensive Line Coach, Karl Dunbar, who are clearly getting the most out of their guys this season. So lets get to the grades: Muhammed Wilkerson: 68 plays (89%) 7 Total Tackles (5 Solo Tackles) 1 Sack 1 Forced Fumble You really can’t ask for a better game from a defensive lineman than what we saw from Wilkerson on Monday night. Jets fans have come to expect this type of performance from Mo week in and week out and after his performance on a national stage, so can the rest of America. Rex asks Wilkerson to handle a number of roles on the defensive line and thanks to Mo’s versatility, he thrives in most, if not all of them. There aren’t many guys in this league that can have as much success as Mo, playing both inside and outside. But when you go over the tape, that’s exactly what you see from No. 96. He offers incredible quickness for a player his size (noticeable on his strip sack in Atlanta), while also being strong enough to man the inside. Wilkerson’s speed and fluidity was clearly on display during his third quarter strip sack of Falcons quarterback, Matt Ryan (below). Here, Wilkerson lines up at defensive end on the outside shoulder of tight end Tony Gonzalez (88). Gonzalez fails to chip Wilkerson, leaving newly signed Falcons’ offensive tackle, Jeremy Trueblood responsible for keeping Wilkerson away from QB Matt Ryan. Wilkerson effortlessly blows past Trueblood on his way to Ryan. Falcons’ center, Peter Konz is unable to get to Wilkerson on time, leading to the strip sack (below).   Grade: A+ As I said, you really can’t ask for more from a defensive lineman than what the Jets got from Wilkerson on Monday. If he’s put in one-on-one situations with subpar lineman (as was the case at times in Atlanta), he’ll most certainly feast. Guys like Trueblood and Konz don’t have the ability to combat Wilkerson’s speed and power, leading to the type of performance we witnessed on Monday. It’s going to be fun to see what Mo is capable of against another struggling offensive line this week, as Pittsburgh visits MetLife stadium. Sheldon Richardson 53 plays (70%) 5 Total Tackles (3 Solo Tackles) 1 Sack 1 Blocked Pass The kid is really coming into his own early in his career, making many Jets fans downright giddy thinking about what he’ll develop into as he matures. If it weren’t for the guy I just wrote about, Richardson might be considered the best defensive lineman on this team, and his performance on Monday was no different. The rookie out of Missouri racked up five total tackles, including one sack. More importantly, when he wasn’t able to get pressure on the quarterback, he had enough awareness to get his hands up and disrupt a pass –something this Jets defensive line should really be doing more of. Grade: A Not only did Richardson have a terrific impact on the defensive line, but he also saw time in the Jets’ red zone offense, lining up as a fullback on the touchdown pass to Kellen Winslow. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one excited about the possibility of Richardson blowing up the entire Falcon defensive line as Chris Ivory barreled into the end zone. Instead, Marty Mornhinweg called in a terrific play, showing his level of trust in Geno Smith. Props also have to go to Smith for not forcing the ball to Richardson, as he dropped a beautiful ball to the open Winslow in the back corner of the end zone. Damon Harrison 28 plays (37%) 1 Solo Tackle Snacks saw a little less playing time in Atlanta, but still continued his breakout season. When you break down what you want from nose tackles in the NFL, you basically get what Damon Harrison has been through five weeks– which is pretty astonishing, considering where this kid came from. He’s done a terrific job of clogging lanes and taking on blockers, leading to terrific play from the Jets’ inside linebackers. Grade: A The stat line will likely never really show Snacks’ impact on a game, but you can get a pretty good idea by looking at the performance of the Jets’ inside linebackers, as well as the rest of the defensive line. Harrison is doing exactly what needs to be done, evident by Kenrick Ellis spending so much time on the sidelines. If you need more proof, just take a look at the ‘Game Changing Moment’ below, where Harrison rebounds after being pushed back off the snap to help the Jets defense keep Atlanta out of the end zone. Leger Douzable 20 plays (26%) 1 Fumble Recovery 1 QB Hurry Douzable’s playing time was increased (up from just seven plays last week), possibly an indication that Rex is rewarding the rotational player for his impressive play thus far into the season. While he wasn’t spectacular on Monday (he was flagged for one penalty) he continued to flash in certain situations as he was responsible for one quarterback hurry and one fumble recovery. Kenrick Ellis 10 plays (13%) 1  Solo Tackle 1 Tackle for Loss Ellis is still struggling to get on the field, which is appears to be more of a compliment to Harrison than it is a criticism of Ellis. While his snap count the past few weeks has stayed in the 10-12 range, his production continues to impress. This week, Ellis made the most of his limited snaps, recording one solo tackle as he completely blew up a run play in the backfield for a three-yard loss. Grade: B+ Limited snaps makes it tough to really grade Ellis for his Monday night performance, but as I said, he certainly makes the most of his time on the field. Ellis provides the Jets with depth inside and gives Rex’s defense two truly dominant nose tackles. This should be very helpful as the season wears on. Game Changing Moment: There were a few different plays to go with on this one, and while Wilkerson’s third quarter strip sack was a very big play that resulted in the offense putting points on the board, it’s the Jets big fourth down stop to end the first half that gets the nod here. While Mike Smith’s decision to go for it on fourth down –despite the facts that his offensive line was being manhandled for the entire half and that his teams has been inept in the red zone all season– was certainly a head scratcher, we can’t overlook the fact that the defense did exactly what it needed to do. Despite seeing the Atlanta offensive line actually get some good push here, the Jets’ strength up front was just too much to handle. It was certainly a strange play call, considering Rex is stacking the box, basically daring Atlanta to throw. On fourth and goal from just outside the 1-yard line, Atlanta decides to run at the Jets strength. A very odd play call by Mike Smith, considering the lack of success against the Jets DL in the first half. Atlanta initially gets good push on the Jets, driving the defensive line back off the snap. That doesn’t last long, as the “Big Bad Wolves” (as Jon Gruden called them) reassert their presence. Sheldon Richardson (circled, left) is able to evade a low block, and Quinton Coples (circled, right) is able to overpower his blockers. The two converge to stop the run for a loss, (with help from Harrison, who rebounds after being pushed off the LOS), leading the Jets into halftime with a lead. Final Analysis:  This is the type of performance that we’ve come to expect from the Jets defensive line early in the season and next week should be no different as the Jets welcome a winless Pittsburgh team to MetLife Stadium. As was the case vs. Atlanta, the Steelers offensive line is having some serious issues running the football and giving Ben Roethlisberger time to throw. The key will be bringing down ‘Big Ben’, who has made a living at evading would-be tacklers in the pocket. If the Jets defensive line can feast on this struggling offensive line, it could result in very good day at ‘JetLife’.
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