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Jets’ defense shows no signs of missing Leonard Williams

The Jets defense was supposed to get worse without Leonard Williams, not better.

That seemed to be the case against the Dolphins on Nov. 3, in their first game without him since his trade with the Giants. But a week later, with Williams on the opposing sideline, the Jets’ front seven turned in its best game of the season, keying a slump-busting 34-27 victory over Big Blue at MetLife Stadium.

The rag-tag unit, which was without its top five inside linebackers in addition to not having Williams, was hardly recognizable as the group that allowed the tanking Dolphins to pile up 26 points and 316 yards of offense. The Jets produced a season-high six sacks — they entered the game with 13 this year — and held Saquon Barkley to just a single yard rushing on 13 carries.

“Hey, man, that’s what we do best is stop the run,” defensive tackle Steve McLendon said. “We take great pride in stopping the run.”

Jets
Kyle Phillips strips the ball from Saquon Barkley.Robert Sabo

After the game, Barkley went for X-rays, though he declined to discuss his health. He missed just three games with a high ankle sprain and hasn’t looked like himself since returning earlier tha expected.

“I don’t know how healthy he is,” linebacker Jordan Jenkins said. “Still, he’s an elite back and we shut him down. So, kudos to us.”

The Jets had been encouraged by their run defense lately. They held the Dolphins to 50 yards on the ground. The week before, Jaguars running back Leonard Fournette netted 76 yards, and 66 came on one carry.

The pass rush, however, was the most important aspect of the afternoon for the defense, especially with a suspect secondary that was without starters Trumaine Johnson and Darryl Roberts. Not only did the Jets sack Daniel Jones six times — safety Jamal Adams and linebacker Jordan Jenkins had two apiece and rookie tackle Nathan Shepherd registered the first of his career — but they hit him on 10 occasions, and they came at big moments.

“You got to be proud as a defense,” linebacker Brandon Copeland said.

There was Adams ripping the ball away from Jones on a sack on the first drive of the second half and going 25 yards for a score. There was Jenkins getting to Jones on a key third down in the final minutes.

Jones did have some nice moments, throwing for 308 yards and four touchdowns. But he was blanked in the fourth quarter and the Giants failed to produce points on their final five possessions.

“We already said before we left this locker room we’re going to be relentless,” McLendon said. “No matter what happens, we’re going to fight for one another for 60 minutes.”

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