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NY Jets Saturday Spotlight: Muhammad Wilkerson

Big Mo and the vaunted Jets defensive line need to step up big on Sunday if the Jets are to have any chance to win.

Ron Antonelli

Welcome back to the Spotlight.  Here we spotlight one key player for each game of the season, hopefully putting a different player in the spotlight each week.  Today's player in the spotlight is Muhammad Wilkerson.

Muhammad Wilkerson, a 6' 4", 310 pound defensive end out of Temple University, is a local guy made good, having grown up just a few miles from MetLife Stadium, in the shadow of New Jersey's famed refineries, in Linden New Jersey.  After a stellar career at Temple University Wilkerson was drafted by the Jets with the 30th overall selection in the first round of the 2011 NFL draft.  With long arms, great strength, excellent quickness and agility for a man his size, and an outstanding motor, Wilkerson had the ideal makeup of a 34 defensive end, and his career has not disappointed.

After being brought along slowly in his rookie year and impressing in limited snaps, Wilkerson became a force against the run in 2012, and by 2013 had added very good pass rushing skills to his repertoire.   With 10.5 sacks in 2013 and elite run stopping abilities, Wilkerson richly earned a trip to the Pro Bowl, but was denied the honor by the Pro Bowl's ritual ignorance.  Instead Wilkerson earned 2nd team All Pro honors in both 2012 and 2013, which begs the question, how could the second team All Pro not be good enough to ever make a Pro Bowl?  Answer: ritual ignorance.

Here are Wilkerson's statistics for the first three plus years of his career.





Passes Defended

Forced Fumbles


























Now in his fourth year with the Jets, Wilkerson is a steady source of strength and excellence on a fast sinking Jets ship.  He rarely has a terrible game and often excels, but lately Wilkerson and the defensive line have taken a step back along with the rest of the team.  Unfortunately for the Jets, the defensive line is nearly the only source of excellence on the team, so when  the defensive line takes a step back, the team falls off the cliff.  The Jets' defense may be 6th in the NFL in terms of yards allowed, but it is 31st in the NFL in points allowed per game, and not all of that can be laid at the feet of the offense's turnovers and general ineptitude.  This defense hasn't given up less than 24 points in any game this year since the opening day win against the Raiders.  That is not the record of a stellar defense, no matter how inept the offense may be.  With little talent in the back seven, the burden for changing that falls mainly on the defensive front four, and particularly on its quiet leader, Muhammad Wilkerson.

Sunday's matchup with the Steelers provides the perfect opportunity for Wilkerson to break out of his recent doldrums.  Over the last five games Wilkerson has totaled only 1.5 sacks and over the last three games he has only 0.5 sacks and 11 tackles.  It is perhaps not a coincidence that four of the last five games have ended in double digit losses for the Jets, the only double digit losses this year.

The Jets pass defense will be facing a huge challenge this week in the person of Ben Roethlisberger and the prolific Pittsburgh Steelers offense.  Roethlisberger has recently been playing the best ball of his borderline Hall of Fame career, with 12 touchdown passes, zero interceptions and 94 points scored in the last two games.  Nonetheless, like any quarterback, Roethlisberger can be stopped with an effective pass rush.  The only two teams this year to sack Roethlisberger more than three times in a game are Tampa Bay and Jacksonville.  Not coincidentally both those teams, along with the Jets some of the worst teams and defenses in the NFL, held the Steelers to 24 points or less, two of only four times that's been done this year.  With the Jets' offense struggling mightily, holding Roethisberger and company to 24 points or less would appear to be the Jets' only path to an unlikely victory.  Spearheading the pass rush will be Muhammad Wilkerson, as always.  Roethlisberger is a master at shrugging off smaller pass rushers and extending plays, but Wilkerson at 310 pounds is not so easily shrugged off.  Wilkerson needs to break out of his slump and take Big Ben down, preferably multiple times, if the Jets are to have any chance to win.

This is the time for Muhammad Wilkerson to excel.  This is an opportunity tailor made for a breakout performance from Wilkerson, a chance to show once again why he deserves that huge payday he has been looking for.  If we see Wilkerson  take down Big Ben multiple times Sunday and be a generally disruptive force in both the pass defense and the run defense,  then perhaps there is yet hope the Jets can pull off a monumental upset against the Steelers.  If on the other hand we see Wilkerson underperform and take the rest of the Jets' defense with him, the Jets have little chance of not being embarrassed once again on Sunday.    Either way, Mo should prove to be a pivotal player in this game.   This is Wilkerson's time in the spotlight.  Let's hope he shines come Sunday afternoon.