Three on D: Nelson, Wilkerson, Roberts

After each game, we're going to highlight three defensive and three offensive players and look in detail at their performance. We'll wrap up today with the defense:

Stop...Muhammad Time

After last week's step in the right direction, Muhammad Wilkerson made more progress this week. Making the most headlines was his first sack of the year:


This was actually little more than a coverage sack, although he closed and finished much better than he was able to earlier in the year. Other than this, he didn't create much pressure, although there were consecutive plays in the first quarter where Matt Ryan tried to throw from his end zone and Wilkerson drove his man back to get in his face.

His production against the run was even more encouraging. Wilkerson was in on five run stops, for a two-yard loss and gains of three, zero, two and three yards. One ended up not counting because the Jets accepted a holding penalty instead. His five overall stops was a team and season-high.

Wilkerson seems to be holding up more consistently at the point of attack but he was also moving laterally more effectively this week and made a couple of tackles where he stretched out and used his long reach to bring down the runner. That would seem to be a sign his shoulder issue is improving, while his improved ability to push off with more explosiveness is a sign his toe issue is also getting better.

Having been unable to practice even by Friday over the past month or so, it may be a stretch to expect Wilkerson to be a full-go for Thursday night, although he'll have a long week to recover if he does play.

Scraping the bottom of the Darryl

At the start of the season, Darryl Roberts was the number four cornerback. He didn't play at all in week one on defense and only played six defensive snaps in week two. Suddenly, injuries to Buster Skrine and Morris Claiborne, coupled with Juston Burris falling down the depth chart, elevated Roberts to number one corner status during the second half of yesterday's game.

The Falcons went after Roberts in the third quarter on a deep bomb to Julio Jones, who bizarrely seemed to change his socks from white to black at halftime. An effort to sneak unnoticed into a mismatch situation perhaps?

The Falcons did most of their damage down the middle against the Jets' zone coverages and overmatched slot receivers, so Roberts wasn't tested too much (and neither was Burris after he replaced the injured Claiborne). However, he matched up in the slot on this play, giving up a first down and missing the tackle:


Roberts also had a missed tackle on a play where he had a chance to clean up with a tackle for loss in the backfield. The Jets still stopped that one for a short gain.

In the first half, Roberts was flagged for a 15-yard penalty after a helmet-to-helmet hit on a receiver in the flat. Replays showed that the ball was dropped before he made the hit, so this was unnecessary.

Roberts' best play was probably when he ran down Tevin Coleman after a long gain and made a touchdown saving tackle. However Atlanta still scored a few plays later.

It's possible Claiborne or Skrine or perhaps both will be back for Thursday night's game, in which case Roberts can settle back into a lesser role. If not, he's going to be under a lot of pressure to hold up against Tyrod Taylor and his receivers.

Poor Ratio Nelson

As we've been suggesting all week, there was always a chance the newest Jet Robert Nelson would get some playing time on Sunday for match-up reasons. He seemed the best option to play inside or to match up with the diminutive Taylor Gabriel. You'll note that he covered Gabriel on the outside on the above gif where Roberts gave up a catch in the slot.

When he was moved into the slot, Roberts showed his inexperience. Here's two plays he gave up, one where he was too far off on a short whip route at the marker and the other where he reacted a beat late to the inside break:


Nelson was getting reps, ahead of Burris, even before Claiborne went down. It seemed to be his blown coverage that allowed Austin Hooper's catch down to the goal line to set up the opening touchdown.

In all, Nelson gave up four catches on five targets with the only incompletion being a drop at the marker.

It's difficult to be too critical of Nelson when he was called upon so soon after being activated and then expected to perform in multiple different coverages. As to where we go from here, it depends on how long Skrine and Claiborne are out. He may have a big role again on Thursday night, or he might not be needed at all.

Nelson did make a couple of plays on special teams, so once the rotation is complete again, he could settle into a role there and no longer be needed on defense. Alternatively, he might find himself back on the practice squad or even the street.

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