With Foley Fatukasi and Nathan Shepherd playing strong football, it is a bit surprising that the highest touted young Jets interior defensive lineman, Quinnen Williams, has been so quiet.
I decided to look at his play against the Giants to figure out why we weren’t seeing him flash more. I expected to see rookie growing pains, but I found something different. I think a lot of his quiet play can be traced back to his assignments.
You have to remember that football players are given specific assignments on each play. Their job is to execute these assignments, even if they it doesn’t put them in a position to make a splashy play.
I’ll start this out with the usual disclaimer. I’m not in the huddle so I can’t tell you the play call with 100% certainty. One of the concepts I’m about to discuss is very difficult to decipher from the film, but watching Williams’ movements on a play to play basis seemed telling.
On every play the defense has to account for every single gap. A gap is the space between offensive linemen and other blockers (like tight ends) lined up around the ball at the line of scrimmage. On a run play the ball could theoretically go into any gap so a defender has to be assigned for it.
It forces the defense to make a choice. If the goal is to give each defender no more than one gap, a safety has to be assigned one of them. The math always works out this way. But bringing a safety into the box means you have one less defender deep to defend against the pass.
Now this is going to get a little confusing because I’m going to show you a hypothetical example using an illustration. On this play Marcus Maye wasn’t actually near the line of scrimmage, but I’m am going to insert an incredible lifelike illustration to show how the assignments might look if the Jets stuck him in the box and assigned everybody one gap. Once again, I emphasize this is not actually Marcus Maye in the picture.
But what the Jets seem to be doing frequently is assigning two gaps to Quinnen Williams.
What makes me say that? On downs other than third and long, he just seems to be taking blockers head on.
He’s not really making a lot of moves to try and go inside or outside of the blockers he’s taking on. That’s typically what you’d do if you were responsible for two gaps. If you make a move to penetrate, you’d be leaving one of your gaps unoccupied, which could be run through.
When two gapping, your objective isn’t to beat your man. It is to tie up blockers and plug the gaps. This means you won’t make many plays.
There was a lot of this from Williams.
The only other Jets defender I saw consistently have this approach taking on blocks in this game was Steve McLendon. McLendon, of course, is a nose tackle. That is the position most apt to two gap.
Earlier I mentioned how two gapping can help the pass defense by allowing you to keep the safeties deep. I think the Jets might have had a different goal in mind, though. Jamal Adams was frequently around the line of scrimmage.
What an effective two gapping defensive lineman can also do is draw a double team. That means a blocker doesn’t get to a linebacker.
With the Jets so decimated by injury at the linebacker position. I get the feeling the Jets might be using Williams to protect the linebackers. He eats up blockers so that these linebackers don’t have to shed them.
And Williams was still very capable of impacting plays.
Here the Giants are trying to pull their center. Williams makes contact off the snap to keep his gap integrity.
This contact in turn slows the center down and prevents him from throwing a good block on Harvey Langi.
On this play Langi got off the weak, late block and chased Saquon Barkley to the sideline for no gain.
Williams was also still able to impact a play as a pass rusher while maintaining his two gaps. He used his power to go straight through his guy and record a pressure.
That brings me to pass rushing. We saw what Williams was doing on early downs, but there was a distinct trend on obvious passing downs. The Jets constantly had him looping to a gap far away from where he lined up.
This happened over and over on passing downs.
I have to say I’m not a big fan of this deployment for Williams. As the NFL has become more and more of a passing league, space eating, two gap linemen have gone out of style. Everybody wants their guys to penetrate and get the ball. Players who can effectively two gap can be acquired for limited resources, forget about the third pick in the Draft. A number three overall pick has unique playmaking ability. That’s what you want to utilize. I get why they’re using him this way, but it doesn’t seem like the best use of his talents.
As far as the stunts and loops on passing downs, there are reasons for it. It just seems too cute for my taste to do it so regularly. Let this guy go to work North and South. Shepherd’s sack was one instances where they just let Williams fire upfield. He occupied three blockers and left Shepherd with a one on one to win.
If you are upset that Williams isn’t filling up the stat sheet yet, it might be worth going easy on him. I’m not sure he’s being put in a position to do that.