Normally I like to have my Hoss Of The Week be a guy who played on a team that actually won that weekend. Sometimes, I have to make an exception when a guy just plays so damn well that you can't ignore it, even if it wasn't quite enough to get his team a victory. The play of Jets second-year defensive lineman Leonard Williams in a loss to the Bengals on Sunday was just such a performance.
I was high on Williams last year before the draft. I thought he should've been one of the very top picks overall. The fact that he was still on the board for the Jets to get him with the sixth pick last spring was something that I didn't think was likely before the draft. And considering all the talent the Jets had already amassed on their defensive line, it was damn near unfair in my opinion. The only real question was where would they end up playing him?
I thought Williams would be ridiculous as a five technique in a 3-4, but the Jets already had two cats for that role. Mo Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson weren't about to go to the bench, so just where would New York line up the super rookie?
This "problem" was resolved last season when the Jets, in somewhat of a surprise, moved Richardson to outside linebacker.
It worked out pretty well. They really didn't have a dominant outside linebacker to speak of and Richardson, while probably more natural at playing with his hand in the dirt, turned out to be athletic enough to hold his own standing up out on the edge. That allowed Williams to play as a defensive tackle/defensive end with his hand in the dirt instead. Still, that probably isn't where we can expect to see Richardson line up long term.
So if Wilkerson, Richardson and Williams are all defensive ends this year, as they are listed on the Jets' website, what the hell happens when Richardson returns from his suspension?
If Sunday was any indication, Williams is going to play quite a bit of shaded nose tackle this year. Considering this week's results, he just might be incredible at it.
New York signed former Steelers nose tackle Steve McClendon this offseason, so I was surprised to turn on the tape and see Williams lined up there so much instead. Maybe I wasn't the only one surprised. Considering how many plays Williams made as a nose tackle, the Bengals might not have been expecting it either.
You might already know that he had two-and-a-half sacks on Sunday, but did you know one and a half of them came from when he was at nose? How often does that happen?!
Not very often in my experience.
And these weren't protection busts either. On the sack Williams shared with Wilkerson, he lined up in the left A gap with Wilkerson as a defensive end outside the tackle on that same side. They ran a pass rush game where Wilkerson comes inside to the B gap and Williams looped around him.
On the sack Williams got on his own in the fourth quarter, he actually made Bengals center Russell Bodine look silly with a quick swim move from the left A gap to the right gap on a play that was supposed to have "max protection" for Cincy quarterback Andy Dalton.
Cincinnati tried to fake a run on a play action pass and had the right guard pull left to really sell it. Williams saw it, beat Bodine like a drum and then ripped through the left tackle's (yeah you read that right) block to take Dalton down.
This was on second-and-4 with the Bengals already at the Jets' 26-yard-line, and threatening to add to their 20-19 lead with 9:54 left in the game. The loss of 8 yards on that sack helped to force the Bengals into trying for a field goal rather than a touchdown on that drive. They ended up missing.
That's what I call impactful!
One thing in particular about Williams' play that stood out to me was how well he used his hands. He was able to control offensive linemen consistently and just straight up dumped the center into Dalton's lap a couple of times. If he can continue to have that kind of hand placement and consistently get his arms fully extended, then his play and production will continue to look a lot like it did against the Bengals.
Like I said, Williams couldn't make quite enough plays on Sunday to will his team to victory, but there is no denying the dude was wrecking shop all day. Two-and-a-half sacks, three pressures -- one was on a screen, but he definitely sped up the throw and helped force the incompletion -- to go with two other solo tackles and two assists is one helluva day for any defensive lineman, especially a guy who was a shaded nose tackle for most of the day.
Oh, I almost forgot to mention that one of those pressures also helped force Dalton into throwing an interception in the first quarter.
I can't say for sure what they will do when Richardson comes back from suspension. What I do know is that after seeing what Williams did on Sunday, I don't think it much matters where they line him up at. That dude is gonna ball regardless. That's why I gladly award him my Hoss Of The Week award for the first week of the 2016 NFL season.
I doubt it will be his last.