The New York Jets need more from their arguable best defensive player
As the New York Jets‘ horrendous defense keeps tumbling, fingers continue to be pointed in the same directions. Robert Saleh and Jeff Ulbrich take the brunt of the blame while injuries and youth are commonly cited as reasonable explanations for the Jets’ collectively brutal defensive output on a weekly basis.
But it’s time to start holding the supposed stars of the unit more accountable.
A couple of weeks ago, I highlighted C.J. Mosley’s disappointing play this season. While Mosley is far down the list of the Jets’ defensive problems, he has not provided close to the level of play that he is capable of, and the Jets have suffered from his drop-off. Things would look much better if Mosley were in his peak form rather than playing at just an average level.
Mosley is not the only star on the Jets’ defense who is not quite playing up to his lofty standards.
Few are talking about it, but Quinnen Williams has been producing at a mediocre level for quite a few weeks now.
Williams’ third season was supposed to represent his ascension into a surefire elite defensive tackle. At the beginning of the year, Williams was on the road to achieving exactly that.
Over his first six games, Williams had 20 pressures, an average of 3.3 per game that ranked seventh-best among defensive tackles. His per-play efficiency was even more outstanding. He created pressure on 12.7% of his pass-rush snaps over that span, which was the best rate in the NFL among qualified defensive tackles.
From there, Williams’ pass rushing production fell off a cliff.
Since Week 8, Williams has collected a mere 11 pressures in eight games, an average of only 1.4 per game that ranks 54th among qualified defensive tackles over that span. His pressure rate has dipped to 6.4% since Week 8, ranking 57th out of 85 qualifiers at his position (33rd percentile).
Five of Williams’ 11 pressures over his past eight games came in the Jets’ Week 11 game against Miami. In six of his past seven games, Williams posted either one pressure or zero pressures.
To Williams’ credit, he has not allowed his pass rush slump to hinder his run defense, which remains excellent. On the year, Williams ranks ninth among defensive tackles with 24 run stops. He has been even better since this pass rushing slump began – since Week 8, he is tied for fourth at his position with 16 run stops.
Williams’ maintained excellence as a run defender is fantastic, but it’s pass rushing that establishes defensive linemen as true game-changers, and Williams has not done much of anything in that phase over the past eight games. Not to mention, pass rushing is especially crucial for defensive tackles in Saleh and Ulbrich’s 4-3 scheme, which relies heavily on its four-man rush to create pressure without the help of the blitz.
With Williams’ cold streak extending to about a half-season, his overall pass rushing efficiency for the season has fallen all the way down to merely “solid” after a league-leading start. His pressure rate this year is 9.4%, which ranks 20th out of 79 qualified defensive tackles (76th percentile).
Again, that is a solid number, but Williams is capable of so much more. That is actually a decline from his 2020 rate, which was 10.3%.
Williams was on pace to set new career-highs across the board at one point this year. Now, his statistics look slightly worse than his 2020 season.
- 2020: 13 games (587 snaps), 55 tackles, 7.0 sacks, 14 QB hits, 10 TFL, 3 passes defended, 2 fumbles forced.
- 2021: 14 games (567 snaps), 50 tackles, 6.0 sacks, 12 QB hits, 7 TFL, 2 passes defended, 0 fumbles forced
- 2020: 13 games (587 snaps), 39 pressures (10.3% rate), 28 run stops (14.0% rate)
- 2021: 14 games (567 snaps), 31 pressures (9.4% rate), 24 run stops (10.3% rate)
Quinnen Williams is a very good player, that’s for sure. Plenty of NFL teams would be a lot better if their primary three-technique defensive tackle posted the numbers that Williams did this year. There are not many interior defenders in the league who can claim to be proficient both against the run and the pass like Williams is – most specialize in one phase. Those who can do both are highly valuable.
But is “very good” all Williams is going to be? Is he going to cap out right where’s at, never hitting the “superstar” ceiling that he was drafted third overall to reach?
It takes a complete season of dominant play on a weekly basis to become a superstar. Williams has yet to put one of those together.
While Williams went wild in the second half of 2020, he was quiet for the first half of the season. He started this season on a tear but got into a cold streak that he has allowed to drag on for too long.
Contract talks are on the horizon for Williams as he enters his fourth year. With New York having already invested in defensive linemen John Franklin-Myers and Carl Lawson (though Lawson’s contract can be easily escaped after 2022), it will be interesting to see how they value Williams, a great player who is struggling to amass the full-season consistency that is required to be considered elite.