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Jets vs. Browns: Week 3 defensive grades

CLEVELAND, OH - SEPTEMBER 20: Henry Anderson #96 of the New York Jets celebrates with Leonard Williams #92 of the New York Jets after sacking Tyrod Taylor #5 of the Cleveland Browns (not pictured) during the second quarter at FirstEnergy Stadium on September 20, 2018 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
CLEVELAND, OH - SEPTEMBER 20: Henry Anderson #96 of the New York Jets celebrates with Leonard Williams #92 of the New York Jets after sacking Tyrod Taylor #5 of the Cleveland Browns (not pictured) during the second quarter at FirstEnergy Stadium on September 20, 2018 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

The New York Jets lost a frustratingly embarrassing game to the Cleveland Browns on Thursday night forever etching their name in the history books as the team the Browns snapped their winless streak against. The offense played poorly, but how did the defense grade out?

The New York Jets ended their brutal stretch of three games in 11 days to begin the season with a disappointing loss to the Cleveland Browns in a game that will go down in the annals of football history. Unfortunately, not for any reason that will paint the Jets in a positive light.

The Browns entered Thursday’s contest having not won an NFL regular season game since December 24th, 2016 and having won only two since December 13th, 2015. That all changed when the Browns surged from behind, thanks in part to the stellar debut of rookie Baker Mayfield, and defeated the Jets 21-17 on their home turf.

While much of the blame for the Jets lack of success should fall on the shoulders of an offensive unit that managed just 268 yards and coughed up three turnovers, the defense does deserve their fair share of criticism as well.

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That being said, let’s first start with the excuses.

As stated prior, the team was, in fact, playing their third game in 11 games and the defense was likely pretty beat up to start the game. This was enhanced by the lack of efficient possessions the Jets put together on offense not only putting more pressure on the defense but wearing them down even further.

Then you have to consider the fact that they had only a couple of days to prepare for this matchup, a matchup they presumed to be centered around quarterback Tyrod Taylor. And it was, that is until Taylor suffered a concussion in the second quarter knocking him out for the remainder of the game.

In came the Browns savior, Baker Mayfield, coming on to the field to an ovation of cheers like a knight in shining armor ready to lead the city of Cleveland out of the depths of football misery that have engulfed the city for close to two decades now.

Given that the team had such a short period of time to prepare and study film, it’s reasonable to suspect that the Jets did little preparation for a scenario in which Mayfield played significant snaps which might partially explain his success.

But these are all excuses. Much like the defense, a plethora of excuses can be made for the offense but at the end of the day, results matter the most.

While these factors each likely played a part in the grand scheme, it certainly doesn’t account for the entirety of the mistakes committed by the defense. Still, each position group had their standouts and their duds that each made their mark in this game.

Starting with the defensive line, Henry Anderson once again put together another very impactful showing finishing with four tackles and a half sack. The former Indianapolis Colt has proved to be quite the offseason steal for general manager Mike Maccagnan as he was acquired during the draft for a seventh-round pick. It’s safe to say that Anderson has outplayed his value thus far.

One player whose name was noticeably absent from the stat sheet for the second time in three weeks was defensive end, Leonard Williams. Williams has been a disruptive force at times in the run game but has failed to provide much as a pass rusher.

The excuse has been made for Williams the last couple years that he’s consistently being double-teamed and that his lack of production on the stat sheet isn’t entirely his fault. Great players have the ability to overcome double teams. Williams has been a good player the last few seasons, but he hasn’t been great.

With a new contract seemingly on the horizon, the Jets will have to think long and hard about what they decide to pay the USC product who has been a glorified run stuffer as of late. Williams desperately needs to convert quarterback hits into actual sacks at the very least to silence detractors like myself.

One first-round pick who has performed surprisingly well to begin the season has been Darron Lee. Lee started the 2018 season off with a bang after a huge first game against the Lions and has played steady football over the last couple weeks. The 2016 first-round selection finished the day with seven tackles, two for a loss, and a quarterback hit putting together another solid game in what has been a year of massive improvement for him.

His fellow linebacker Avery Williamson might’ve put together the most impressive game on the entire Jets defensive unit, at least from a stats perspective. Williamson finished with a team-high 14 tackles and was able to get to the quarterback twice to cap off a brilliant performance.

The 2018 free agent acquisition has stepped right in where the incumbent Demario Davis left off and been a solid starter in the middle of the defense from day one. His coverage skills remain a bit suspect but his role on the team as a run-stuffing, blitzing linebacker seems to be a carbon copy of what Davis did with the team last year.

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Shifting to the backline of the Jets defense, the secondary was once again a mixed bag and in multiple cases, the recipient of some much-needed luck as a result of Browns miscues.

Both Trumaine Johnson and Morris Claiborne were bailed out by missed opportunities from Cleveland, the most egregious coming on an attempted deep-ball from Taylor to rookie Antonio Callaway. Callaway had multiple steps on Johnson but an underthrown ball allowed Johnson to recover just in time to make the play and swat the ball away.

Claiborne also struggled to contain the speedy Callaway who beat the former Dallas Cowboy multiple times in coverage throughout the game. This resulted in two holding penalties from Claiborne on the Browns game-tying touchdown drive and a pass that should’ve been a sizable completion that simply went through the hands of Callaway midway through the third quarter.

Injuries also took their toll on the Jets secondary as Buster Skrine was knocked out in the first half with a leg injury and rookie Parry Nickerson was given the unenviable task of having to cover Jarvis Landry out of the slot. As expected, the Browns attacked the team’s weaknesses and Landry had his way with Nickerson for much of the second half.

The team was also without starting safety Marcus Maye for the third consecutive week forcing Doug Middleton into the starting lineup once again. While the former undrafted free agent has performed mostly up to par in his three-game stint, the team is clearly missing Maye as there were multiple miscues on the back end that could have been attributed to Middleton.

Maye will likely return for the team’s next contest against Jacksonville and the Jets defense will gladly welcome him back with open arms.

One player that might bump the entire defensive grade up a third or two-thirds of a letter grade is safety Jamal Adams who once again flew all around the field and looked to be in a league of his own. The Jets deployed Adams at every spot imaginable using him as a box safety, a single-high safety, a sub linebacker, and even an edge rusher and the LSU product excelled at every position.

It won’t be long before Adams is a household name and is considered one of the best young safeties in the league. His development has certainly been a major bright spot for the team so far this year.

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Ultimately, the Jets defense probably should have played better than their grade would indicate but their inability to make big plays late in the game, despite the various excuses, hold them back this week.

Final Grade: B