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Colts vs. Jets: Week 6 defensive grades

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - OCTOBER 14: Inside linebacker Avery Williamson #54 of the New York Jets celebrates with teammates defensive end Leonard Williams #92 and free safety Marcus Maye #26 after breaking up a pass in the endzone on a third own against the Indianapolis Colts during the second quarter at MetLife Stadium on October 14, 2018 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - OCTOBER 14: Inside linebacker Avery Williamson #54 of the New York Jets celebrates with teammates defensive end Leonard Williams #92 and free safety Marcus Maye #26 after breaking up a pass in the endzone on a third own against the Indianapolis Colts during the second quarter at MetLife Stadium on October 14, 2018 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
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The New York Jets climbed back to 3-3 with a 42-34 victory over the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday. How did the team’s defense grade out following the team’s second straight home victory?

The New York Jets defense are the NFL’s ultimate opportunists. They hunt like a pack of wolves out on the prowl in search of prey and when the moment’s right, they strike……and force a turnover. Sure, they might get pushed around and come up empty from time to time but at the end of the day, the Wolfpack is always ready to strike and they rarely leave hungry.

This is a roundabout way to describe the 11 men that compose the Jets defense and their proverbial knack for the big play. Sunday’s game was no different as the unit allowed a whopping 428 yards while forcing four turnovers to further drive home their identity.

428 yards may not seem terrible on the surface, but remember this was an Indianapolis Colts offense without star wide receiver T.Y. Hilton and led by Chester Rogers, Zach Pascal, and Marlon Mack at key skill positions. The Jets defense allowed far too many yards to the Colts, who controlled possession for just under 23 minutes compared to the Jets 37 minutes.

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That being said, when the defense needed to step up and make a play, it always seemed like they did just that coming away with four turnovers all at very opportune times. Whether it was Morris Claiborne‘s pick-six on the Colts second play from scrimmage or Jamal Adams‘ forced fumble on third-and-one, the Jets Wolfpack mentality was alive and well on Sunday.

That playmaking starts with the team’s secondary, a unit that was depleted to begin the day and only got worse following an injury to starting safety Marcus Maye. Already playing without two of the team’s starting cornerbacks in Trumaine Johnson and Buster Skrine, the loss of Maye could have been disastrous for the Jets but it, fortunately, didn’t hurt the team as much as it could’ve.

Claiborne played lights out deflecting a pass that would be intercepted by linebacker Avery Williamson and picking off a deflected pass for a would-be touchdown to set the tone early on in the game. Darryl Roberts started opposite Claiborne and faired much better than anticipated allowing only two catches for 22 yards in a total of 46 coverage snaps, per Pro Football Focus.

Now, it isn’t as if the Colts have Reggie Wayne and Marvin Harrison at receiver anymore, but it’s still encouraging nonetheless to see the Jets corners step up and have big days in the absence of starters.

Rookie Parry Nickerson started for Skrine in the base nickel defense and struggled a bit more than his fellow replacement starter. The Tulane product appeared to be at fault in an early TD pass to Marcus Johnson with clear miscommunication in the secondary and bit badly on a fake screen TD to Eric Ebron midway through the third quarter.

If Skrine is unable to go next week, Nickerson could be challenged with the unenviable task of covering star wide receiver Adam Thielen who has been the Minnesota Vikings receiver to line up most regularly in the slot this season. Whether it’s Skrine or Nickerson, look for the Vikings to try and exploit that weakness next week.

Two of the Jets three turnovers didn’t come by way of the secondary, however, but rather from the team’s two starting inside linebackers. Both the aforementioned Williamson and Darron Lee came away with interceptions as the duo continued their strong starts to the season.

Lee, in particular, has looked like a completely different player and through six weeks has been exactly the player the Jets hoped he would become when they drafted him in the first round back in 2016. His pass coverage has seemingly improved overnight with the Ohio State product leading the league in interceptions with three.

The numbers simply don’t tell the whole story though.

Lee has always been an incredible athlete with the ability to make big splash plays but the inability to string those plays together. He would too often rely on his athletic prowess and become over-aggressive with tackle attempts or find himself lost in coverage.

This year it just seems as if Lee’s football instincts have kicked in and he’s reacting to plays better than ever before leading to far fewer dud performances to counteract his splash plays. The hope now is that these games aren’t simply an anomaly and rather a sign of continued success.

Williamson, on the other hand, has evolved past the point of just being Demario Davis‘ replacement and has morphed into a different type of player that Davis never was. While Davis was more of a prototypical tackling machine at inside linebacker, Williamson has become less of a run stuffer and more of a playmaker.

The former Tennessee Titan intercepted his first pass as a member of the Jets which pairs well with his season stat line that features a forced fumble, a fumble recovery, two sacks, and three pass deflections. The Jets should be very pleased with the play of their prized free agent acquisition to this point.

In a way, the change from Davis to Williamson exemplifies the change in the entire defensive unit. The defense is certainly not the most technically sound, dominant defense and they do tend to struggle from time to time, but this is a unit full of playmakers.

Full of wolves.

And when these wolves are hungry they often feed their hunger with a litany of game-changing plays and turnovers. Williamson is just one canine in a pack of 11.

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Altogether, the defense’s turnovers set the offense up in great field possession multiple times throughout the game giving the team great opportunities to score. Despite the high yardage number from Indianapolis, the defense made game-changing plays and fueled the Jets to a victory.

Final Grade: B+

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