Three on D: Maye, Shepherd, Hewitt

After each game, we've been highlighting three defensive and three offensive players and looking in detail at their performance. We'll wrap up today with the defense:

Maye all your Christmases be white

Marcus Maye, the last remaining member of a secondary group that has otherwise been completely turned over since the 2018 season, got to enjoy a signature moment on Sunday as his fourth down pass break-up essentially clinched the Jets' first win of the season.

Maye, who is now back at strong safety with Arthur Maulet playing the deep role, has had the best season of his career and was arguably unfortunate not to get voted to the Pro Bowl last night. Maye has set career marks in passes defensed, forced fumbles, fumble recoveries, quarterback hits, sacks and tackles for loss and, in fact, in each of these categories, he has matched or exceeded his total from his first three seasons combined.

The only categories in which Maye hasn't set a career mark are tackles - where he needs nine over the next two games to exceed the total from his rookie season - and interceptions, where he tied his career mark with his second interception last week and almost picked up his third on Sunday on a play where the ball bounced off his hands to the receiver for a lucky first down.

Playing closer to the line of scrimmage has allowed Maye to make more impact plays and on Sunday he had six tackles including one where he rallied to the ball on a screen pass to make a stop for no gain and this run stuff:

He also drew a crucial block in the back penalty to negate a big run that would have put the Rams in field goal range with a chance to tie the game late.

Maye wasn't perfect - he had a missed tackle, was blocked out of a couple of plays and got beaten for a short touchdown in coverage - but his contributions were crucial in ending the Jets' long losing streak.

Of course, Maye is out of contract at the end of the year and his performance in 2020 warrants a big deal. The Jets have the cap room to offer him one, but will he covet a fresh start more?

While Shepherds watch their stock take flight

With Foley Fatukasi on the Covid-19 reserve list and Quinnen Williams suffering a third quarter injury, this put extra pressure on the other Jets' defensive linemen, including Nathan Shepherd.

It's been a disappointing year for the former third round pick who has never really established himself as anything more than a rotational backup and hasn't been very productive when he has had opportunities.

On Sunday, however, he showed a couple of flashes of what he's capable of in the second quarter when he burst up the middle for a sack and then blew up this run for a loss:

Shepherd showed his quickness on these plays and also had a hit on Jared Goff in the second half. However, he was driven off the line once against the run and blocked to the ground twice, including on the earlier gif where Maye made the stop.

Overall, Shepherd has graded out poorly against the run which may be a product of the fact he's played more in run stopping situations this year, whereas he was used more on passing downs last season. He also was forced to play half his reps at the nose tackle position on Sunday - far more than usual. This is not his ideal role, even though he used his quickness to make a couple of plays.

Shepherd is still under contract for next year and the Jets could opt to retain him as a low cost rotational player but his spot on the team seems far from secure.

Hew they know it's Christmas?

Neville Hewitt's durability has been important this year. He's third in the NFL in total defensive snaps, just one behind Maye who was obviously on the field for the only play Hewitt missed all season.

With CJ Mosley, Patrick Onwuasor and Blake Cashman all missing most of the season and Harvey Langi now also injured, the fact that the Jets have been able to keep the guy in the headset on the field has probably give the defense a modicum of stability without which things could have been even worse.

While there are still often blown coverages and run fits with Hewitt no doubt complicit in these mistakes, there didn't seem to be many of these on Sunday and Hewitt made some key contributions with a team-high 10 tackles and a key play in coverage on Cam Akers' third down wheel route late in the fourth.

Perhaps the best sequence Hewitt had came earlier in the fourth quarter. On the first play, he blanketed the receiver on an incompletion to the flat and then on second down he navigated traffic well for this run stop:

On third down, the Rams converted but Hewitt pursued across field to make the tackle and almost forced a fumble with the runner being ruled down. Then, on the next snap, he was in on the stop on a short pass to the flat. However, after a penalty, he then had a missed tackle.

Hewitt also had another missed tackle and gave up a 44-yard pass in coverage but ultimately had a solid all-round performance.

Hewitt is eighth in the NFL with 122 total tackles, although he arguably lacks the playmaking ability of the other players ahead of him. Each of them either has at least three sacks, multiple interceptions or five passes defensed. Hewitt has just two sacks, two passes defensed and no interceptions.

Clearly, he is another player whose next contract negotiation should be interesting. Onwuasor might be a good comparison for him though and the Jets were able to sign him pretty cheaply.

Ultimately, we're left wondering if Hewitt would be even more effective if Mosley returns and takes the headset responsibilities off his plate.

Previously - Three on O: Griffin, Darnold, Wesco