Last week, the Eagles shut out the Los Angeles Rams’ all-planet defensive tackle Aaron Donald. They did it by first knowing where he was lined up at all times, and putting as many bodies on him as they could. It has been a highly successful way of neutralizing a game-destroyer like Donald.
This Sunday at MetLife Stadium, the Eagles will face another interior defensive lineman with as much ability as Donald in New York Jets’ 6-foot-3, 303-pound defensive tackle Quinnen Williams.
In the first five games this season, Williams has three tackles for losses, 17 combined tackles, a fumble recovery, and half a sack. According to Pro Football Focus, Williams gets double-teamed about 70 percent on pass-rushing snaps and has 20 pressures this year.
Against the Rams, the Eagles held Donald without a sack and one pressure. Whether it was left tackle Jordan Mailata, left guard Landon Dickerson, center Jason Kelce, right guard Sua Opeta, playing in place of the injured Cam Jurgens, or right tackle Lane Johnson, someone was picking up Donald. Maybe call in a spy in reverse of what defenses do against the Eagles’ Jalen Hurts, placing a linebacker on Hurts the times he skips out of the pocket. In the Eagles’ case, someone always had an eye on Donald, like someone will always have an eye on Williams this Sunday.
That someone will be Kelce, informing the rest of the line where Williams is lining up. Wherever Donald was, Kelce slid the Eagles’ protection that way. During one moment in the Rams’ game, on the Eagles’ third drive, Opeta opened a hole for Hurts, who went up the middle for 12 yards on a third-and-nine taking the ball from the Rams’ 46 to the 34. Opeta did a nice job occupying Donald up the middle to free Hurts on a quarterback draw.
“They’re different types of players, but they get the same type of respect,” Eagles’ coach Nick Sirianni said in comparing Donald and Williams. “Very, very good player. Excellent. We have to know where he is on every single play as well ... We’ve been thinking about him a lot and we’ll continue to think about him throughout the rest of the week.”
With the added attention Williams receives, it has allowed the Jets’ other defensive linemen like Bryce Huff (26 pressures) and John Franklin-Myers (22) to cause problems. The Jets’ defense overall has kept them in games, overall ranked No. 14 against the pass in the NFL, giving up 206.4 yards a game, and more importantly, they are No. 3 overall in Red Zone defense, allowing opposing teams touchdowns 31.25-percent, behind only Baltimore (25%) and Tampa Bay (27.27%). They have also done well against dual-threat quarterbacks, forcing Buffalo’s Josh Allen and Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes, two of the NFL’s best, into a combined five interceptions.
“Every team has great players,” Eagles’ offensive coordinator Brian Johnson said. “For us, being a group of men who like to compete, welcome those challenges of being able to play against the best. I think anybody that plays this game or does anything, quite frankly, at a high level looks forward to those types of challenges and opportunities to go out there and show what you could do.”
The best way to attack Williams and the Jets’ defense appears to be running at them. The Jets are ranked No. 29 in the NFL overall against the run, giving up an average of 146.2 yards a game—and an average of 166.7 over their last three games, 157 in a loss to New England, 204 in a loss to Kansas City and 139 in beating woeful Denver.
Joseph Santoliquito is a hall of fame, award-winning sportswriter based in the Philadelphia area who has written feature stories for SI.com, ESPN.com, NFL.com, MLB.com, Deadspin and The Philadelphia Daily News. In 2006, he was nominated for an Emmy Award for a special project piece for ESPN.com called “Love at First Beep.” He is most noted for his award-winning ESPN.com feature on high school wrestler A.J. Detwiler in February 2006, which appeared on SportsCenter. In 2015, he was elected president of the Boxing Writers Association of America.