Michael Nania goes beyond the simplicity of the box scores to break down Quinnen Williams‘ strengths and weaknesses as a pass-rusher in 2019, taking a look at his final two games and season as a whole.
Quinnen Williams‘ rookie season was respectable, but he did underwhelm with a lack of eye-popping plays in the passing game. As the third overall pick and largely hailed as the draft’s most talented player, the expectation was for him to come right in and dominate. He failed to do that.
However, at 22 years old with only two years of starting experience across both college and the NFL, Williams’ story is far from complete. He has plenty of time to fulfill his massive potential.
Rather than giving up on Williams and endlessly complaining about his sack totals (an incredibly simplistic stat that does not come close to capturing a player’s overall impact), what we should be doing is analyzing the pluses and minuses of his game to understand where he is as a player and how he can take the next step.
I wanted to give Williams’ pass-rushing game the in-depth look that it deserves. Was he truly a liability, or were there hidden-impact plays that flew under the radar on live television? What were his strengths and weaknesses in terms of move type, alignment, and matchup?
To answer these questions, I set out to re-watch all of Williams’ pass-rushing reps throughout the season, charting a few details for each one to locate trends and impact that flew by the naked eye.
Here are a few things to know before we get into the numbers behind Williams’ games against the Steelers and Bills.
Production by move type
These are the five varieties of moves that I divided Williams’ rushes into.
Power: Williams’ initial move is directed straight into the opponent’s chest with the intent to win through strength.
Inside: Williams attempts to beat his man to the inside with a rip, spin, swipe, swim/arm-over, etc.
Outside: Williams attempts to beat his man to the outside with a rip, spin, swipe, swim/arm-over, etc.
Stunt penetrator: Williams’ assignment is to crash down and absorb blockers to open up a clear lane into the pocket for a teammate.
Stunt looper: Williams’ assignment is to sell his rush in one direction and then change his course to take advantage of the lane created by a teammate.
Production by alignment
I charted Williams’ rushes according to his alignment across the line of scrimmage. Here is a look at the positions used (known as “techniques,” as in “3-technique”).
Production by matchup
I charted Williams’ rushes according to the position of the offensive player that he competed against. If he was a stunt penetrator or looper, I assigned his matchup as the player who he most needed to absorb or defeat to create a lane for either a teammate or himself.
What was charted?
Pass rush snaps: Number of times Williams rushed the passer. Excludes screens, bootlegs, sprint-outs, or any type of play in which Williams did not get the chance to truly engage with an opponent. I have listed the number of rushes that were discounted in each game.
Hits: Williams does not sack the quarterback, but knocks him to the ground.
Hurries: Williams does not sack or knock down the quarterback, but he bears down on the quarterback to force an awkward change in his throwing mechanics, a premature release, scramble, etc.
Wins: This stat is the crux of the study, aiming to solely capture Williams’ ability to get his job done.
There are many examples of good reps that go for naught. A victorious rush could end up not amounting to anything because of a quick release by the quarterback. The rusher could be on his way to a sack until he is forced to stop and put his hands up to block the throwing lane. When a player clears an opening as a stunt penetrator, he may not have gotten to the quarterback himself, but he created the opportunity for somebody else to.
Those are just a few of many ways that a defender can record a great rush and not get rewarded with statistical credit that recognizes his effort.
The “wins” stat accounts for such issues by looking only at Williams’ assignment and nothing else. Generally, I considered a “win” any instance in which Williams beat a blocker to set himself or a teammate en route to the QB’s initial set point within a reasonable amount of time (about 2.5 seconds from snap to win). That’s just a rough outline, though – it’s a subjective stat. Every play is different from the next and I alter my criteria as such. My primary goal was to simply identify Williams’ job and credit him with a win if he got it done effectively.
Keep in mind that if a pressure is recorded (hurries/hits/sacks), a win will be logged on that play as well.
This is a stat I created myself and have only used for analyzing Williams, so we do not know how his win rates would compare against the average defensive lineman or whether they are good or bad. The main purpose of the study is to compare Williams against himself, visualizing his best and worst splits in addition to his progress throughout the season.
Let’s dive in.
*From my research of other players, the average “win rate” for an interior defensive lineman is likely around 30% – but keep in mind that this is only a very rough estimate.
In this piece, we will be looking at Williams’ games against the Steelers and Bills in Weeks 16 and 17.
Here is a look at Williams’ production over those two games.
Following back-to-back season-best performances against the Bengals and Dolphins in Weeks 13 and 14, Williams missed the Jets’ Week 15 trip to Baltimore with a neck injury. He would return in Week 16 and pick up where he left off. Williams recorded a third consecutive solid performance – after beating up on Cincinnati and Miami’s atrocious offensive lines, this one came against a Pittsburgh front that I ranked as the league’s 11th-best in pass protection.
Williams could not keep the fire burning against a Buffalo front that only played one starter for the entirety of the game.
Here are the numbers broken down by move type.
Williams was playing the role of a stunt penetrator very frequently early on in the season (23.0% through six games), but he was gradually handed more opportunities to go one-on-one down the stretch. Just 9.5% of his rushes were as a stunt penetrator over his latter seven games, including 4.7% over his final two. That’s a promising vote of confidence from Gregg Williams.
Here is a look at how Williams’ repertoire changed from his first six games to his final seven.
Here are the Weeks 16-17 numbers broken down by alignment.
Williams found a home at the 4i-technique down the stretch. Over his final four games, he picked up 10 wins (with 5 total pressures) on 22 rushes from the 4i spot (45.4% win rate).
On the downside, Williams struggled on the inside over his final two games after dominating there against Cincinnati and Miami. Williams won 2-of-15 rushes (13.3%) as a 1 or 2i-tech over his final two games after winning 8-of-20 rushes (40.0%) over his previous two.
Here are the Weeks 16-17 numbers broken down by matchup.
Williams began the season playing a nearly even split between the left and right side with a slight favoring to the left side (against right guards). Through six games, Williams rushed against the right guard 33.6% of the time and the left guard 28.8% of the time. Later in the season, Gregg began using Quinnen almost entirely on the right side (against left guards). Over his final seven games, Williams rushed against the left guard 43.2% of the time and the right guard just 9.5% of the time. As you can see above, that split was even more drastic in Weeks 16 and 17.
Here is a look at how Williams’ matchup allotment changed from his first six games to his final seven (excluding 2 reps against non-linemen).
Let’s dive into the Steelers and Bills film before wrapping up with Williams’ season-long numbers.
Week 16 vs. Pittsburgh
Rushes: 21 (8 reps excluded)
Wins: 7 (33.3%)
Pressures: 3 (3 hurries)
Move type: 13 power (4 wins, 2 hurries), 4 inside (1 win, 1 hurry), 3 stunt loopers (2 wins), 1 stunt penetrator
Alignment: 10 as 4i-tech (4 wins, 1 hurry), 4 as 4-tech (1 win, 1 hurry), 4 as 1-tech (1 win), 2 as 2i-tech, 1 as 3-tech (1 win, 1 hurry)
Matchup: 10 vs. LG (4 wins, 2 hurries), 4 vs. C (1 win), 3 vs. LT (2 wins, 1 hurry), 3 vs. RG, 1 vs. RT
Williams battled early and often against 11th-year Steelers left guard Ramon Foster (who would retire after the season), dominating the matchup with sheer power. The rookie took 4-of-10 reps against the veteran. That is a plenty strong rate in and of itself, but even on the non-wins, Williams was getting some solid penetration – there were two reps in particular that I was very close to counting as wins before ultimately deciding not to.
Let’s take a look at some of Williams’ successful reps against Foster. Here, Williams lines up at the 4i-tech position and bulls Foster into Mason Rudolph to force a checkdown to James Conner. Arthur Maulet and James Burgess team up to hold the play to a one-yard gain. It looks like Williams was aiming to set up an inside move, but he does a nice job of recognizing Foster’s patient approach and adjusting accordingly.
Foster simply could not anchor down against Williams’ strength. Williams bulls Foster straight into the pocket on this play with an angle to bring down the quarterback. If Rudolph does not get this ball out in about 2.17 seconds, Williams would have had a dominant sack.
Another near-sack here. Williams immediately gets an angle to Devlin Hodges as he moves Foster to the outside, but the center slides over to prevent disaster. Foster then turns his attention outside as he anticipates the center will pick up Williams, but the center is forced to come back inside to stop Steve McLendon from breaking through. A lane opens up for Williams. He does a great job staying balanced after a hard blindside shot and bursts through to create pressure.
That’s a nice rep from Williams, but something happens at the end of the play that highlights a recurring habit I think he needs to eliminate. Instead of laying a shot on Hodges, Williams puts his hands up and dodges him to avoid any risk of a penalty being called.
Williams has to lay a shot there. It’s great that he has the wherewithal to limit the risk of a back-breaking flag (he only committed one penalty all season, which was a facemask in the run game), but that mentality limits his pass-rushing upside. In exchange for a few saved penalties, Williams is trading in opportunities to rattle the quarterback as he consistently pursues in a conservative manner. I will take a roughing call or two for an uptick in sacks and hits. He has got to finish his rushes more aggressively if he is going to become a star-level difference-maker.
Finding a middle ground is the key. It seems clear that Williams is not a player that will do anything egregious to warrant obvious roughing calls and will rarely over-pursue to run himself out of a play – two solid traits. However, he needs to rise up from the uber-conservative end of the spectrum to a happy medium where he is not only doing those things but also maintaining aggression and production upside. That will happen by finishing hits in favorable situations such as the Hodges play above.
Week 17 at Buffalo
Rushes: 22 (9 reps excluded)
Wins: 4 (18.2%)
Pressures: 2 (2 hurries)
Move type: 7 outside (1 win), 5 inside (2 wins, 2 hurries), 5 power, 4 stunt looper (1 win), 1 stunt penetrator
Alignment: 7 as 1-tech (1 win, 1 hurry), 5 as 4i-tech (2 wins, 1 hurry), 3 as 3-tech, 2 as 4-tech (1 win), 2 as 5-tech, 2 as 2i-tech
Matchup: 10 vs. LG (2 wins, 1 hurry), 8 vs. C (1 win, 1 hurry), 3 vs. RT, 1 vs. LT (1 win)
Williams had a quiet game against Buffalo’s makeshift offensive line, which only had one starter play the majority of the game – left guard Quinton Spain. Williams went just 2-for-10 against Spain. He also went 1-for-8 against backup center Ike Boettger. It was a disappointing way to see Williams finish the season after a three-game hot streak that was capped off against a good unit.
Williams found himself taking on two blockers for much of this game as the Jets were not overly aggressive and ran a lot of four-man rushes. That certainly lowered his chances of producing, but he was not able to split any doubles and rarely created much penetration against them.
A common thread of the Jets’ gameplan in Buffalo was dropping multiple defenders off the line and having Williams eat up space in an attempt to free up Jamal Adams. Adams tied his season-high with 13 pass-rush snaps in this game. On this play, Adams blitzes and takes on the left guard to draw him away from Nathan Shepherd, allowing Shepherd to get home and create pressure that ultimately leads to a Jordan Jenkins strip-sack. Williams’ responsibility here is a simple one – carry the center with him to the defense’s right side so Shepherd and Adams have room to work on the left.
It’s difficult to evaluate a player when they take on a role like that. Williams got the job done, but it’s tough to imagine any other defensive lineman in the NFL could not have done the same thing. The assignment is a simple one to execute. Williams had a lot of reps like that in Buffalo.
We see good and bad recurring themes from Williams on this next play. The bad comes first. Williams tries to hit Spain (left guard) with a club using his inside arm, but it comes in high and doesn’t connect. Missing high on clubs was a consistent issue that I noticed – he needs to improve his accuracy on those and connect on the shoulder more often to set up his second move to the inside. If he can do that, he just might dominate. Why? That brings us to the good – his inside rip. Even without his club landing, Williams gets inside with a clean rip underneath. He has that move down. Improve that club and he has a superb club-rip to build his toolbox around.
Williams displays a solid chain of moves here. He wins to the outside as he swats away Spain’s punch, rips, dips, and bends the edge, using the left tackle’s back to stay balanced after tripping. His penetration also tangled up the left tackle, giving Jenkins a free lane to the quarterback.
Complete season numbers
We’ve reached the moment of truth. What were Williams’ strengths and weaknesses as a pass-rusher in terms of alignment and opponent matchup? Which games were his best and worst?
Here is a look at Williams’ pass-rushing production over his first 13 games with the Jets.