After each game, we're going to highlight three defensive and three offensive players and look in detail at their performance. We'll start today with the defense:
Nathan Shepherd's first two games were most notable for how nondescript they were. It's not that he played badly, just that he barely had any kind of positive or negative impact on virtually all of his plays and ended up with just one tackle and no pressures.
While this means he's overshadowed by Henry Anderson, who he's been splitting time with, due to Anderson making more impact plays, this is still absolutely fine. If he can occupy a block without getting driven out of position then that can set up a situation where other players can make the plays and the defense can still be effective.
That continued to be the case on the majority of his plays in Thursday night's game, but - although he still only had one tackle and one pressure - this time there were a few flashes that he's starting to figure out ways to beat his man.
On the very first snap of the game, Shepherd exploded out of his stance and rocked Desmond Harrison into the backfield, then shoved him back with his left hand as he worked his way upfield. While he didn't directly affect the play - Tyrod Taylor dirted the pass after being pressured by an unblocked rusher from the other side - this might be the best example of physical dominance that Shepherd has displayed in preseason or regular season action so far.
Later on, Shepherd again rocked Harrison into the backfield with his initial surge and this time tossed him aside and to the ground. The run went the other way but Shepherd pursued it from the backside and got in on the tackle for no gain. He even helped blow up the run by slowing down the lead blocker, a pulling tight end, as he pursued downhill.
Despite these flashes there were a few negatives from Shepherd, who was kicked out on one running play. Unfortunately, he had probably his worst play at the worst possible time as Chris Hubbard (#74) drove him out of his lane and created the room for Carlos Hyde to score the winning touchdown:
Had he just held his ground there, it looked like the Jets could have bottled this up and forced Cleveland to settle for a tying field goal.
While unexciting, this low profile start can probably be considered as encouraging for Shepherd, who isn't getting routinely schooled or driven off the line so far. If he can minimise the negative plays and start gradually finding more and more ways to get into the backfield and make an impact, he will develop into a very solid player.
Friends, Romans, Countrymen, McLend me your ears
Steve McLendon has made more of an impact on the defensive line than Shepherd, but he's also had more negative plays too. In this game McLendon was handled at the point of attack a handful of times. He was only driven off the line once, but there was one play where he was in position to potentially make a tackle and couldn't.
McLendon is best known for penetrating into the backfield and stuffing the run and he did some of that on Thursday night as he was in on two run stuffs. However, he did his best work against the pass.
McLendon got into the backfield to pressure Baker Mayfield once in the fourth quarter, batted a pass down at the line and was in on the tackle as the Browns tried a shovel pass near the goal line. However, his most spectacular play saw him pick up a half sack as he absolutely overwhelmed center JC Tretter up the middle:
McLendon's leadership is invaluable for players like Shepherd and he continues to do a solid job on the line. While he's out of contract at the end of the season, the Jets might be wise to keep him in their plans.
Parry on my wayward son
After Buster Skrine's knee injury, Parry Nickerson was called into action for most of the first three quarters.
The Browns responded by moving veteran Jarvis Landry into the slot, which proved to be a tough matchup for the rookie and may have been the driving factor behind the Jets' decision to play so much zone in the second half.
Landry immediately had an impact against Nickerson on a 3rd-and-long conversion, where Landry arguably pushed off twice to get free on an out-breaking route. If Jerome Boger's crew were going to give the veteran the benefit there, then it's no wonder the Jets didn't like his chances in that matchup.
Nickerson gave up one other catch in the second quarter, on a 2nd-and-18 play that went for 15. However, he also lost his man on this 3rd-and-long play as he stumbled badly. Had the pressure not got to Taylor so quickly, there would have been an easy completion with a good chance to pick up the first down in field goal range:
The move to zone meant that Nickerson wasn't exposed in coverage as often in the second half, although there did seem to be communication issues at times and Nickerson did still give up an eight yard catch and got beaten on a play where the pass was dropped. He also had a third down holding penalty, although that was declined because the Browns converted anyway.
Nickerson did get in on a tackle near the goal line and drew a penatly flag for an illegal block in the back to negate a touchdown. However, his negatives outweighed any positive contributions in this game.
Nickerson is clearly athletic and physical, but he's still learning the nuances of the slot position and the Jets do suffer to some extent when Skrine is out. Hopefully, the rookie has the talent to develop beyond this.
We'll be back with the 3-on-O tomorrow.