New York Jets edge rusher Carl Lawson looked like his old self in first game since Achilles injury
One of the biggest storylines going into the New York Jets‘ preseason finale was the return of Carl Lawson. Slightly over one year after he was carted off the Green Bay Packers’ practice field with an Achilles injury, Lawson was set to make his return to live-game action.
And boy, did he live up to the hype.
Lawson only played 7 defensive snaps in the game, but that was all he needed to assure Jets fans that he is still capable of being the same player he was prior to his devastating injury. Lawson looked as explosive as ever during his limited time on the field.
Let’s watch all 7 of Lawson’s reps against the Giants.
Carl Lawson film vs. Giants
On every one of these plays, you will see Lawson lining up on the left side of your screen in a wide-9 alignment as the Jets’ right-side defensive end. He wears No. 58.
We’re going to watch each of Lawson’s snaps in order, starting with his first play and moving forward.
Admittedly, Lawson’s first rep wasn’t impressive. Lawson is the play-side EDGE against this handoff. While he does a fine job of holding his ground against the LT, he doesn’t peel off the block in time to make a play on the RB or at least obstruct his path, and the RB is able to take the outside lane without much of an issue. Luckily, Brandin Echols and Lamarcus Joyner are there to make the stop.
It’s a ho-hum rep for Lawson, which is typical of him in the run game. He has been a league-average run defender throughout his career. Lawson is okay in that phase – not awful, not great.
Now this is what the Jets paid Lawson to do.
Lawson explodes off the ball with incredible get-off speed (0.46 seconds, per NFL NextGen Stats) and makes this 311-pound LT seem weightless as he bull-rushes him into the QB’s lap in about two seconds flat. Lawson hits the QB’s back leg while he is throwing, causing an incompletion. Impactful pressure.
Notice how low Lawson’s shoulders are as he gets into the bull-rush. That gives him the leverage to move linemen this easily. He’s channeling all of his force directly into the LT’s chest.
To see Lawson make a play like this on his very first pass-rush rep in over a year is wildly impressive. There doesn’t seem to be any rust for the 27-year-old to shake off.
A second consecutive win/pressure for Lawson, this time with some finesse. To get the victory, Lawson throws a club using his outside arm and pairs it with a rip using his inside arm. Lawson meets up with Quinnen Williams and Michael Carter II at the QB.
NFL NextGen Stats tracked Lawson with a get-off time of 0.62 seconds on this rep.
This is a tough position for Lawson to be in, but it’s a costly missed opportunity nonetheless.
Left unblocked, Lawson is solely responsible for the back side edge and has to respect the possibility of a handoff, throw, or QB run. Lawson bites a little bit too hard on the handoff, and Tyrod Taylor makes him pay with a brilliant spin move to escape the sack and shake loose for a productive scramble.
You would like to see Lawson be more patient and focus on handling his gap. He gets a little eager trying to chase down the RB and it costs him. Give Taylor a lot of credit – many QBs are not making that play – but Lawson has to finish this.
Lawson is on the play side of this run and takes on the pulling LG. While the collision is a stalemate and Lawson doesn’t necessarily blow up the LG, Lawson holding his ground causes the pulling C to run into the LG, forcing hesitation by the RB. This buys time for Quinnen Williams to come in and get the TFL. Lawson sheds his block and gets involved in the tackle as well.
Lawson immediately rushes into the B-gap with a rip move, trying to lure the LT inside so Quinnen Williams can loop outside on a stunt. He catches the LT in a bad spot (opening his hips to the inside) and appears to initially have him beat as he begins driving the LT into the backfield.
Lawson does what he needs to do for the stunt to succeed, but the LG makes a fantastic play to save the day. He doubles Lawson with a blindside shot, blasting him outside to impede Williams’s path as he tries loop around. Williams makes a second effort to try and get inside but the LG stops him. Great rep by him. The LT is bailed out and the pocket is protected.
But Lawson’s initial move here was good, and he also recorded another speedy get-off time of 0.69 seconds, per NFL Next Gen Stats.
Carl Lawson is ready to roll
Lawson was not perfect in his short appearance (I’m sure he is kicking himself for missing that sack), but he was very productive for such a limited stint. Picking up two pressures and assisting on a TFL over just 7 snaps is extremely efficient for an edge rusher.
While Lawson’s production in this game was nice, the raw results were never going to be important for him in this game. It was much more important to simply see how he looked athletically in his first post-injury appearance – and he passed the test with flying colors.
According to NFL NextGen Stats, Lawson averaged a get-off time of 0.59 seconds across his three legitimate pass-rush opportunities against the Giants. That’s a league-leading-caliber mark and even faster than his previous career standards.
For perspective, Lawson led qualified edge rushers with an average get-off of 0.61 seconds in 2017, and he ranked fourth-best with a 0.73-second average in 2020.
Carl Lawson has shown elite burst since entering the NFL in 2017, ranking in the top 5 of edge pass rush get off in all four seasons in his career.
— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) March 16, 2021
Of course, three reps is too minuscule of a sample size to draw any conclusions from. He’s not going to maintain the otherworldly 0.59-second number over a full season – that’s close to guaranteed.
And, who knows? Perhaps we won’t see the effects of Lawson’s injuries begin to set in until the regular season gets going and he has to rush 25-plus times per game on a weekly basis. That possibility cannot be eliminated by what we saw from him over three measly plays.
We don’t know exactly how Lawson is going to play this year based on what he did against the Giants. With that being said, it was still encouraging to see Lawson appear so fresh in his return to the field. From purely an athletic standpoint, Lawson looked like the exact same guy who the Jets thought they were getting.