FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Leonard Williams knows exactly what the stat sheet shows from the New York Jets’ last game, and he realizes how it looks to some fans and media.
The big defensive end played 65 of 77 snaps in the 21-17 loss at Cleveland — and didn’t register a single statistic.
No tackles, no sacks, no quarterback hits. Not even a pass defenced. But there was plenty of criticism of arguably the Jets’ best all-around defensive player.
“I just simply didn’t get much action,” Williams said Friday. “That’s pretty much it. In the run game, I was in my gap. It wasn’t like I was getting blown off the ball and was just playing bad. I’m setting the gap and I’m in my B-gap, and the ball goes the opposite way. In pass-rushing situations, I’m getting double-teamed or the ball comes out quick. It just happens like that sometimes. You’re not always going to get all the action in every game.
“I definitely wasn’t worried about the stat sheet.”
That said, he understands why some are.
Williams is in his fourth NFL season after being the Jets’ first-round pick — No. 6 overall — in 2015. He has 12 career sacks, but only two in his last 22 games and none in his last seven. That has raised eyebrows, with some wondering when — or, if — Williams will have the big-time breakout so many anticipated by now.
“That’s the reason why fans go to games, they want to see the big plays, they want to see the sacks, the touchdowns, the hoorah moments,” Williams said. “If you’re looking at a guy you’re expecting to make those type of moments, and it’s not happening, it’s natural for a fan feel that way.”
New York has eight sacks this season, tying for 10th in the NFL, but Williams doesn’t have any. Well, he actually did have a half-sack when he and Avery Williamson took down Miami’s Ryan Tannehill in Week 3, but it was nullified by a penalty.
“That’s kind of disappointing, but at the same time, it’s driving me to get that first one even more,” Williams said. “I know they come in bunches, so once I start getting them, they’re going to keep coming, so I’m definitely hungry to get after it.”
Opposing offences have clearly singled him out in their game plans, intent on not letting him be the guy to punish their quarterbacks.
“Yeah, it started last year, too, so I try to work on beating double-teams,” Williams said. “I’m not making an excuse about it and I try not to say, ‘Oh, because I’m getting double-teamed, that’s why I’m not this and this and this.’ Instead, I’m trying to figure out how to beat a double-team.”
That’s a work in progress, and he’s certainly getting plenty of practice in games.
Also, the statistics might not show the entire story.
In the Jets’ defensive line room, the players have a fines system in which they get dinged for what Williams calls “stupid, silly stuff.” They can have the amount they owe knocked down a bit for examples of what they classify as “hidden production.”
“If I’m running with the outside backer and I pick the guy really good for him and he comes free and makes the sack,” Williams explained, “that’s a ‘hidden-production’ type of thing.”
While the Jets don’t keep actual stats on “hidden production,” it helps explain why coach Todd Bowles gave Williams a positive grade for his game against Cleveland.
“I thought they tried to double him a lot and he got to the quarterback when the ball was out,” the coach said. “He took the pressure off the other guys. They sent two or three guys at him almost every other play, but Leonard caused a lot of other people to make plays and that doesn’t show up on the stat sheet. I’m happy with what he did.”
Make no mistake: Williams would like to have some tackles and sacks next to his name. For now, Williams isn’t putting extra pressure on himself or getting frustrated. He’s focused on making sure he’s doing his job at all times so that the film proves it when the team gathers.
“I’m not going to say that stats don’t matter completely,” he said. “I’m just saying that if there’s a game where I didn’t get as much stats as I wanted to, it depends on how I looked on film. If I didn’t get stats, but I looked good on film — I was in my right spot, I was doing what I was supposed to do, I didn’t have any mental errors and I’m helping the other guys get freed up — then that’s a good game to me.
“But, if I didn’t have any stats and I’m playing bad, then that’s a different story, and I’m going to be really hard on myself. At the same time, we’re all players and production matters in any type of job. I clearly want the stats, but if I’m watching film and it just didn’t work out that way, I’m not going to beat myself up about it if I did I was supposed to do.”