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One stellar NY Jets performance got lost in the shuffle vs. Bills

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Quincy Williams, New York Jets, Getty Images

Don’t overlook Quincy Williams’ role in the New York Jets’ opening victory

After holding the high-octane Buffalo Bills to 16 points, 314 yards of offense, and four turnovers in an overtime victory, the New York Jets‘ defense has been the talk of the town.

A few players in particular have been generating the most buzz. Jordan Whitehead won the AFC’s Defensive Player of the Week award for a stellar performance in which he snatched three interceptions. Quinnen Williams did his thing, recording five pressures as a pass rusher and two tackles for loss in the run game (the only DT in the NFL to hit both marks in Week 1). Other members of the pass rush also shined, such as John Franklin-Myers and Quinton Jefferson.

But one defensive player’s phenomenal performance is not getting enough credit: Quincy Williams.

Fresh off signing a new three-year, $18 million contract in the offseason, Williams started off the 2023 season with a bang. His elite-level impact was a vital part of the Jets’ victory. With an average linebacker performance in Williams’ place, the Jets probably would have lost the game.

Williams finished with 10 total tackles. That’s an impressive number on its own, but two things matter more than the tackle total itself: 1) 1) the efficiency at which he finished his tackle opportunities and 2) the quality of those tackles.

Firstly, Williams’ tackling efficiency was stellar. According to PFF, Williams missed zero tackles against the Bills. His total of 10 tackles without a miss tied for fifth-best among all linebackers in Week 1.

This is a tremendous development for Williams, who has a reputation as a boom-or-bust linebacker. Williams has always had a knack for hard-hitting highlights, but those have often come alongside a high rate of missed tackles. Against Buffalo, though, it was all boom with none of the bust. Williams was flying around and making plays without committing any errors.

On top of that, Williams’ tackles were usually impactful. Seven of Williams’ 10 tackles were charted as a “stop”, which PFF considers a play that constitutes a “failure” for the offense. Williams’ total of seven stops ranked third-best among linebackers in Week 1, tying him with Devin White and Zaire Franklin while trailing only Roquan Smith and Bobby Wagner.

Another vital piece of Williams’ masterclass was his coverage. Williams silenced Buffalo’s running backs and tight ends in the passing game. Overall, Williams was targeted 10 times and allowed seven completions for only 35 yards – a minuscule 3.5 yards per target. Just one of the 10 targets attributed to Williams resulted in a first down.

Williams’ best play of the night came in deep pass coverage – and it turned out to be one of the most important plays of the game.

Matching up with Bills RB James Cook on a wheel route, Williams batted away a well-thrown ball from Josh Allen at the very last second, denying a potential touchdown.

If caught, the Bills would have gone up 17-3 (with the extra point) going into halftime. Instead, the Bills settled for a field goal and took a 13-3 lead. In the end, those four points were crucial.

Altogether, Williams had one of the most well-rounded performances of any linebacker in the NFL this week. He joined Devin White and Roquan Smith as the only linebackers in Week 1 who had at least seven defensive stops, missed zero tackles, and allowed under 4.0 yards per target.

Williams developed into a respectable starter for the Jets in 2022, but there were still some holes in his game that held him back from reaching the sky-high potential that comes with his unique athleticism. In this game against Buffalo, the Jets saw what a fully-developed version of Williams could look like. When Williams combines his physical tools with discipline, anticipation, and smarts, he is an absolute game-changer.

Can Williams play at this level on a weekly basis going forward? It’s certainly possible for the 27-year-old. This wouldn’t be the first time that a gifted Jets linebacker proved himself to be a late bloomer.

Jets fans will remember the surprise breakout of Demario Davis in 2017. At 28 years old and in his sixth season, Davis suddenly turned into a star after being a boom-or-bust type of player beforehand. The Jets let him walk to the Saints in free agency, likely feeling hesitant to buy into Davis’ surprise breakout, but Davis has since proved that his breakout was one hundred percent real. Davis is currently in his sixth season with New Orleans and was named an All-Pro in each of the past four seasons.

Perhaps Williams can replicate Davis’ late breakout. Williams has gradually improved throughout his three-year stint with the Jets. His 2021 season, while erratic, felt like progress in comparison to a rough stint in Jacksonville that got him cut after only two years despite being a third-round pick. Then, his 2022 season was good enough to fetch him a solid contract in a dormant linebacker market.

Considering this trajectory, it wouldn’t be a shock if Williams took another step forward in 2023.

We shall see if Williams can maintain this high level of performance throughout the season. For now, it’s just one game. If Williams can play at even just 80% of the level he did against Buffalo, it would push the Jets’ defense to new heights. Teams already struggle to generate offense on the outside against the Jets’ cornerbacks – now imagine if they cannot win up the middle, either.

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