New York Jets: Gregg Williams has maximized his talent on defense

New York Jets (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
New York Jets (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images) /

New York Jets defensive coordinator Gregg Williams has maximized the team’s talent on defense despite being dealt a difficult hand.

New York Jets fans haven’t had much to remain optimistic about this year. From off-field drama to on-field struggles, the Jets have secured their place as one of the most inept franchises in the NFL.

But if there is one glimmer of hope in a season ripe with pessimism, it’s been the performance of the team’s defense.

Despite an abundance of injuries, an incompetent offense, and an overall lack of talent, defensive coordinator Gregg Williams has managed to maximize the talent of his players on defense and solidify a true strength for the team.

Williams is in his first year with the Jets as he was brought in to be Adam Gase’s defensive coordinator upon the firing of former head coach Todd Bowles. Under Bowles, the Jets typically had pretty solid defenses too, but generally with significantly more talent.

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The former Cleveland Browns defensive coordinator has been dealt a pretty poor hand, but he’s made the absolute most of it in every possible way.

Williams was handed arguably the worst cornerback group in the NFL, he’s been starting practice squad players and edge rushers at inside linebacker, and has seen a defensive line rotation dominated by undrafted rookies and late-round projects.

All the while, the Jets defense remains one of the better units in the league. This is particularly true against the run.

The Jets currently rank first in the NFL in yards allowed per rush surrendering a measly 3.0 yards per attempt — significantly better than the next-best team. And their 81.9 rushing yards allowed per game is second in the league only to Bowles’ Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Again, this isn’t being done with C.J. Mosley and Avery Williamson at inside linebacker. Instead, the Jets have seen special teams ace Neville Hewitt and fifth-round rookie Blake Cashman start the majority of the season before James Burgess and Brandon Copeland took over.

Burgess wasn’t even a member of the active roster until a few weeks ago while Copeland has spent his entire career as a pass rusher either playing defensive end or outside linebacker in the Jets’ scheme.

Yet, a defense led by Copeland — a career edge rusher — calling signals, has somehow managed to remain tops against the run. This included a dominant performance this past week against the New York Giants in which the team held Saquon Barkley to just one yard on 13 carries.

But while plenty of credit should be given to the team’s linebackers, the defensive line up front has managed to exceed any and all expectations.

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They’ve been led by breakout star Folorunso Fatukasi who has developed into a stout run defender and dominant interior player. Since Week 6, only two defensive linemen have graded out higher than Fakutasi, per Pro Football Focus.

Those two players are Aaron Donald and Calais Campbell.

Alongside Fatukasi has been undrafted rookie Kyle Phillips who continues to impress in a rotational role. Veteran nose tackle Steve McLendon might also be having his best season with the Jets and he’s already earned a contract extension through next season.

Williams has even managed to unlock some of the potential from 2018 third-round pick Nathan Shepherd that we didn’t see much of at all last season. Shepherd flashed against the Giants tallying three tackles and his first career sack.

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Of course, there’s always the dominant force that is Jamal Adams lurking around the line of scrimmage. But aside from Adams, there is no household name on this defense — especially in the front-seven.

Williams has managed to take a front-seven consisting of Fatukasi, McLendon, Phillips, Burgess, and Copeland and transform it into the NFL’s best run defense. Sure, Adams is also a key part of this as is Jordan Jenkins, but the core remains wholly unknown.

While the offense continues to sputter under Gase’s guidance, the defense has flourished with Williams leading the charge.

In a difficult season with player regression running rampant, it’s at least encouraging to see young players on defense developing as they are.

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And Gregg Williams absolutely deserves a ton of the credit for how this defense has performed and matured as a unit.