We anticipated Leonard Williams was going to be stronger and in better shape entering his second season. He promised he was going to turn some of that pressure into sacks. The preseason saw him making big plays and standing out on the Jets' loaded front line. Now, Williams is really delivering on his awesome potential.
Williams had 2.5 sacks, racked up several pressures and generated constant penetration in the running game. However, it's not the production he generated that I'm excited about, it's the manner in which he did it.
Last year, Williams made a bunch of plays by powering through people or leaning on his brute strength and athleticism. However, what I saw from him yesterday was a tangible development toward becoming a true technician.
Muhammad Wilkerson made a major leap in terms of his disruptiveness from year one to year two because his technique in terms of hand placement and leverage had become so refined since his rookie year. Then from year three onward, his statistical production, especially as a pass-rusher, took off.
For Williams, he's already starting off from a higher base level than Wilkerson because his rookie season was far better than Wilkerson's, especially as a pass rusher. Also, the technical improvements he's making are already translating to enhanced statistical production.
Unless this one-game explosion was an aberration, signs are looking good for Williams not only becoming elite sooner than Wilkerson was able to, but also having the upside to potentially be even better than him -- maybe even within the next year or two.
Williams' best move has always been his swim move, and even though defensive line coach Pepper Johnson doesn't like that move, Williams used it effectively to beat his man cleanly a couple of times on Sunday.
However, it was with a textbook bull-jerk move one snap after a successful swim move that he freed himself up to pressure Andy Dalton into his only turnover of the day. Williams also showed good discipline with a clean but hard hit on the play:
I said it when I saw him up close in London last year. This guy is going to be a megastar. If he plays like this every week from now on, he already is one.
As for Wilkerson, it says a lot that he had 1.5 sacks and yet this was one of his quieter games. Perhaps more telling in terms of just how disruptive his presence is was the fact that on each of the first three sacks he wasn't involved in, he drew a double-team to create room for the player who finished off the play.
Wilkerson also led the Jets in tackles, with a couple of stops near the line, although he was fooled on a quarterback keeper and went after the wrong man.
Steve McLendon got off to a phenomenal start as we assess whether the Jets made the right move in letting Damon Harrison leave for a cheaper alternative. McLendon had two sacks, a huge tackle for loss on an end-around and made a couple of good plays in the running game, including drawing a hold.
On reviewing them, a couple of those big plays were even bigger than you'd think. One of his sacks prevented Dalton from releasing a nicely set up screen pass that looked destined to gain big yardage, and the tackle on the end around also saved what looked like a huge gain.
McLendon was sealed off at the point of attack a couple of times against the run, so I don't know if he can bring the same level of consistency against the run as Harrison, but his athleticism -- coupled with the attack-first mindset Todd Bowles instils in his linemen -- is going to enable him to make impact plays while teams employ double teams elsewhere.
I know the Jets have been impressed with undrafted rookie Lawrence Thomas, but it was still surprising to see him in the starting lineup. Thomas played primarily as a weakside end, in the role Sheldon Richardson will presumably take over from him on Thursday night.
Thomas' strength and athleticism -- despite modest offseason workout numbers -- stand out on film, and he made some good contributions with a near-sack and consecutive tackles in the backfield.
He is still a work in progress, though, as he was blocked out of several plays, including on Jeremy Hill's touchdown run. He was also badly caught inside, losing contain, on that end-around that McLendon saved the day by blowing up. It was encouraging to see him jump in with such a talented group and not look out of his depth, though.
Veteran Jarvis Jenkins came off the bench and played hard. He was in on a tackle in the backfield and recorded one pressure. However, Jenkins was sealed off at the point of attack a couple of times.
Finally, Deon Simon made his NFL debut and got on the field on defense for a few plays. He held up quite well at the point of attack.
As good as they were, the Jets get further reinforcements for the next game as Richardson returns from suspension. You have to ask, though… can he play cornerback
Next up … Darron Lee makes an impression in his first NFL game, although it wasn't all good from the rookie.