After each game, I'm going to highlight three defensive and three offensive players and look in detail at their performance. We'll start today with the defense:
Do the Jets have the Wilk to succeed?
Muhammad Wilkerson's performance has been criticized in some circles with Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News saying that he was "invisible" and "made no impact". However, Pro Football Focus' initial assessment of the game identified him as having the fourth best grade on the team.
Obviously the Jets expect more of an impact from their highest paid players, but let's consider how he did contribute.
Officially, Wilkerson was only credited with two tackles, both on runs for short gains, but he was also in on a third down stop and helped bottle up another run with penetration. One of the best signs from Wilkerson were a couple of plays where he was able to stand up his blocker, extending his arms fully to control two gaps.
Although he's supposedly now 100% Wilkerson's get-off still doesn't seem as explosive as in the past, although perhaps that was a function of the Jets' gameplan against a mobile quarterback like Tyrod Taylor. On multiple occasions, Wilkerson initially made like he was going to rush, occupying a couple of blockers, but then dropped off, perhaps with the intention of containing Taylor in the pocket.
This also led to him being in a position to disrupt passing lanes and while he was credited with one pass defensed, there were at least two other plays where he appeared to deflect or at least disrupt a pass as it was being thrown.
In terms of negatives, Wilkerson was driven off the line twice in each half, although one of these was a blatant uncalled hold and another was by a double-team. This is the biggest sign that he's not as disruptive as he was a few years ago, because this only tended to happen once or twice per game at most prior to his injury.
There was also a play where Taylor beat him to the perimeter on a first down scramble, causing him to hesitate with a pump fake:
Although you wouldn't expect Wilkerson to run Taylor down in space, it's worth remembering that he actually did twice, for a pair of sacks, back in 2015, so again this is a sign that he's still not all the way back to his old self.
Nevertheless, when compared to the majority of last season, it was a step in the right direction from Wilkerson. Hopefully he can build on this as the season progresses. If he plays like this every week, he'll end up grading out well and certainly better than last season, but that won't be enough. He'll need to make more impact plays otherwise he'll be considered a disappointment.
Tantalizing Lee inefficient
Darron Lee had a productive game with 10 tackles, a sack and a pass defensed, but PFF reportedly gave him the worst grade on the team in their initial assessment from this game.
We've already covered some of the coverage breakdowns and run fit errors which blighted Lee's performance and he also had a personal foul after the Juston Burris interception which may have been harsh if he was just diving onto the pile to recover what he thought was a live ball.
Let's instead focus here on some of the positive plays Lee made because, for all his mistakes, Lee did have a few plays which were as good as anything we saw from him last season.
Lee's best play in coverage was on the Burris pick as his pass disruption led directly to the interception, displaying perfect positioning and timing:
He added a pass break-up later on as he closed on the receiver shy of the marker and then pried the ball loose for an incompletion.
Aside from his general statistical productivity - his seven solo tackles were a career high - Lee also had a couple of plays where he displayed better physicality than we've seen from him in the past. On one play he took on the lead blocker at the line, rocking him back off his spot. Then, in the fourth quarter, he pursued a run out to the edge and lit up the tight end as he ran through him to make the tackle for loss.
Seeing Lee diagnose a play like that and decisively blowing it up is encouraging, but many of his problems stem from his eagerness to get to the ball carrier making him susceptible to play-fakes and counters. Hopefully he can make an adjustment quickly because teams will be looking to exploit that trait.
Jamal Adams' debut saw him record five tackles including a tackle for loss and a pass defensed. While he was by no means perfect, there were a few plays where he made a quick read and came up to make a stop.
Perhaps the biggest concern with Adams is missed tackles. That wasn't a major issue with him in college last year, but he's already missed six in five games (including preseason) and it was again an issue on a couple of occasions yesterday. He had a couple on defense including one at the second level on a big run and also one in punt coverage.
Adams did display some good tackling though. He was in on three run stops near the line, including one where he made a good read and closed quickly to trip up the runner in the hole. He also showed some physicality to take out the fullback on a lead block on one run that was bottled up.
In coverage, Adams was the nearest defender on a third down conversion over the middle, although it looked on film as if Buster Skrine was out of position in zone coverage on that one. As shown in the earlier article (linked above in the Lee section), Adams may also have been at fault on a big play by Charles Clay.
However, he also helped to disrupt the pass on the Burris interception with a well-timed hit on the intended receiver as the ball arrived, made a third down tackle in the flat and then showed terrific closing speed on this pass break-up:
Adams is going to need to start making some impact plays if he's going to live up to predictions that he'll be in the mix for defensive rookie of the year honors, but it's probably more important for the Jets' future success that he plays with discipline and avoids any costly mistakes.
PREVIOUSLY: Learning about the line