For a change, the Jets defensive line wasn’t quite so dominant this week. Oakland racked up 150 yards on the ground and the Jets didn’t register a sack until midway through the fourth quarter.
However, they still won the battle in the trenches overall. 63 of those rushing yards came on one play, with Marcel Reece breaking a touchdown run up the middle. Other than that, the Raiders’ running backs gained just 63 yards on 20 carries, much more in line with the usual output of a Jets opponent in 2013, and Matt McGloin was ultimately sacked three times and under pressure 13 times in 35 dropbacks.
The Raiders offensive line has been poor all year under the tutelage of Tony Sparano, but the recent return of their best lineman, left tackle Jared Veldheer, seems to have helped a lot. It therefore perhaps wasn’t as unexpected as you might think that the Jets’ line weren’t their usual dominant selves.
Perhaps the biggest factor was that Muhammad Wilkerson had probably his quietest game of the season. The Raiders specifically avoided running the ball at him and double teamed him constantly in pass protection. This is an approach some other teams have taken, especially early in the season, but Wilkerson had still been able to mix in a couple of impact plays. On this occasion he was limited to one pressure and two tackles. Of course, we have to take into account that he was nursing an injured wrist and perhaps this limited his ability to get off blocks, which may be his greatest asset.
Whenever Wilkerson is being taken out of the game as he was yesterday, this tends to open things up for his linemates to make plays and yesterday was no exception. Sheldon Richardson had a couple of pressures, but it was in the running game where he made an impact. He span off a block to assist on a run stop and blew up two runs with penetration, including one at the goal line. It’s hard to believe he’s still a rookie and next week’s battle featuring arguably the league’s two best rookies (Richardson and Star Lotulelei) should be a fine one for trench battle junkies.
After the game, Damon Harrison sent out a tweet apologizing for letting everyone down. I would have to assume he’s referring to the Reece touchdown, where he span off his blocker and had a chance to make the stop in the hole, only to miss the tackle allowing Reece to break into the open field.
However, Harrison is the last person who needs to apologize for anything. He’s developed into one of the most consistent players on a team and its incredible that he’s already a player we take for granted despite being an undrafted rookie from a small school who had to fight just to make it onto the roster last August. Harrison has had a sensational season, without which the Jets likely wouldn’t have been competitive and certainly wouldn’t boast the league’s best run defense.
He’s one of the main reasons Jets fans are looking ahead optimistically to next season and beyond and can legitimately claim to be an elite nose tackle, just like Sione Po’uha before him.
Despite that play – where although Harrison missed a chance to make the tackle, it was poor play from his teammates at the second level and downfield that turned it from a modest gain into a touchdown – Harrison still put forward another great effort, bottling up several runs, getting in on a number of tackles close to the line and even making contributions as a pass rusher and in coverage.
I can also recall a similar tweet that Harrison sent out during his rookie year following a preseason game where he again didn’t play that badly on balance. It’s great that he sets such high standards for himself and that’s a sign of how ambitious he is, which has fostered a drive that has him continuing to defy the odds. I also love the fact that immediately before he tweeted about his own (perceived) poor performance, he had sent out a tweet saying that it was a great team win! That sums him up.
When Harrison goes to the bench, the Jets don’t lose anything, because Kenrick Ellis is doing a great job too (and would probably be starting on 25-30 other teams around the league). Ellis got into the backfield for a pressure, stuffed two runs and blew up another run with penetration. All that in just 14 snaps.
Finally, Leger Douzable did get forced inside on one run, but also had one play where he penetrated to stuff the runner and another where he helped bottle up a run for a short gain. He’s been a consistent rotation player all season.
Next up…Coples continues to make strides, while Pace quietly goes about his business.