Young teams and young players have a lot in common. The group and the individual can both have inconsistent production. Both can experience roller-coasters of emotions.
So it seems with Jets defensive lineman Leonard Williams. Last week, upbeat Leo said the strong showing in the 34-21 win over the Bills "just set the bar for us as a defense. We stopped the run, we got after the quarterback, we got takeaways. We did everything a great defense wants to do. We showed we could do it."
Monday, Williams wasn't as animated on a day-after conference call about the 15-10 loss to the Buccaneers.
"We made a few mistakes when it counted," he said. "We're definitely still positive about who we are. We know we didn't play our best game. We're going to have to try to rest up this week and just come back stronger."
It's been that kind of year not just for the Jets and their defense but also for Williams — who, we still need to remind ourselves, isn't yet 23½ years old. After his "breakout," Pro Bowl season last year, he battled through a wrist injury that had him on the injury report for the first two months of the season and, although he has never used it as an alibi, surely contributed to his zero sacks through those first eight games.
Top Photos from the First 10 Games of the 2017 Season
Yet there have been unmistakable signs that Leo, like Muhammad Wilkerson the past several games, is starting to find his stride. He had his first full sack of the season Sunday, taking down former teammate Ryan Fitzpatrick in the second quarter, and followed that with three more Fitz hits (plus a fourth wiped out by penalty).
And while fans and reporters are more enamored of sacks than of just contacting the QB, the latter is still important and No. 92 has been on a recent hitting streak. Although hits are unofficial, they're still tallied in every NFL game, and Williams, after notching just six in the first six games, has 11 the last four. His 17 total hits are tops on the Green & White and tied for third in the league.
"I definitely personally wanted more sacks, obviously," he said. "But at the same time my coaches and teammates know how I come to work every day, they know how much work and effort I put into this game and this team. So I wasn't too disappointed. And the sacks are going to start coming more."
The Jets' defense has also begun tentative climbs in the NFL in the last month, as these league rankings indicate:
|After 7 Weeks||25||28||20||t-19|
So there is progress, for Williams and for his unit. And that progress will need to be continued in the last month and a half, when they run up against offenses piloted by Cam Newton, Alex Smith, Drew Brees, Philip Rivers and Tom Brady.
"I think that's the main thing we've been needing to work on is staying consistent every week, no matter the opponent," Leo said. "Don't play up or don't play down. Just play us."