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Leonard Williams: What has he shown the Giants in two games?

Let’s go to the film and find out

New York Giants v New York Jets
Leonard Williams
Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

On Oct. 29th, 2019, the New York Giants officially acquired 25-year-old defensive lineman Leonard Williams from the New York Jets. Assertions about the steep price for the former USC Trojan are permissible, due to the fact that Big Blue traded a 2020 third-rounder, and either a 2021 fourth- or fifth-rounder depending on Williams 2020 landing spot, for a pending unrestricted free agent; couple the steep price with the Giants current woes, which will lead to a high draft slot, and you’ll get queries for the general manager.

Giants fans, regardless if you believe the perceived precipitous nature of the trade was ill advised, your team still received a talented young defensive linemen who was not being maximized with the Jets in 2019. Prior to 2019, Williams had 17 sacks and 32 tackles for a loss in his 4 seasons with the Jets; in the current year as a member of Gang Green, Williams had 17 pressures, 10 hurries, 7 hits, and 0 sacks in 8 games according to Pro Football Focus. In his two games with the Giants, Williams has recorded 11 pressures, 6 hurries, 5 hits, and 0 sacks.

One of my favorite parts about Williams’ game is his versatility along the defensive line, which assists the other young assets the Giants have in that unit. Williams can effectively play all over the defensive line in passing situations and it’s proven to be productive from a pressure standpoint. Let’s look at some of what Williams has done in his two games with the Giants.

Pass rusher

This is Williams’ first game with the Giants, against the Cowboys on Monday Night Football. You can see how he shifts from a 5T on the outside shoulder of Pro Bowl left tackle Tyron Smith, to a 4iT on the inside shoulder. Williams starts inside at the snap, keeping his eyes on the mesh point of the potential run, albeit a play action pass. With his eyes in the backfield, Williams controls the breastplate of Smith and gains inside hand placement. Williams then realizes it’s a pass, so he maintains a low center of gravity and forces Smith to uncoil his hips by utilizing lower leg drive. Once Smith is upright, Williams sticks his inside foot into the ground, drops his weight, and uses both hands to violently pull Smith’s unbalanced body inside and to the deck, while simultaneously flipping his own hips outside to get around the tackle and force an incompletion. This is a very good rep against a very good tackle, and Williams flashes these kinds of plays on film, which is very encouraging.

Above, Williams lined up outside of the tight end to the strength of the formation. Chuma Edoga attempts to jump-set Williams, but utilizes marginal hand location and attacks too high, which forces his pad level to rise and allows Williams to easily get underneath his arms. Williams utilizes a simple double swat of Edoga’s arms which holds the young tackle in place and gives Williams the edge. Williams locates Darnold in the pocket, but the second-year quarterback was able to find his safety valve check down, so Williams’ first sack with the Giants will have to wait.

Here is another good rep that forced an incompletion against the Cowboys. It’s a third-and-long and Williams is lined up as the field 4iT on the inside shoulder of Tyron Smith. Leonard Williams goes up against Connor Williams and quickly establishes the half man relationship by clearing the guard’s hands and attacking the outside shoulder of the Cowboy. Leonard Williams is not the EMOLOS (End Man On the Line Of Scrimmage) on this play, but up the pass rushing arc, he dips his inside shoulder and rips up so hard, which forced Connor Williams’ up and off-balanced. This is a very common pass rushing move, but what I love most is the flexibility displayed in the lower half of Leonard Williams. Once he gets to the top of the arc, he swivels his hips towards the quarterback and turns the corner through contact at 300 plus pounds. This is not easy to do and I’m sure Dave Gettlemen loves the fact that a 300 plus pound defensive linemen can bend like he did on this play. Winning one-on one is an excellent trait for any football player, but defensive coordinator James Bettcher has also devised plays to maximize Williams’ ability to get after the passer. Like this one:

Above is a cross-rushing stunt where Markus Golden and Dexter Lawrence slant hard inside from the strong side of the formation, while Williams attacks the weak side A-Gap from the 3T position, also while Dalvin Tomlinson looped around to the weak side B-Gap. Golden and Lawrence acted as a pick for Williams on this play and Williams essentially acted as a pick for Tomlinson. While all of that was going on at the line of scrimmage, Jabrill Peppers blitzed off the field side edge. Williams ends up fighting through contact and finding a crease to run through, which forced the incompletion.

Above, the Giants run a double stunt with Alec Ogletree and Dexter Lawrence slanting to the boundary and Williams penetrating the B-Gap which forces the tackle to close in and allowed for Lorenzo Carter to almost loop right into the pocket from the boundary side of the defensive alignment. Williams was in a two-point stance and helped cause some chaos for the Jets offensive line, but the net result wasn’t positive for the Giants, although the play shows some versatility from the former Jets star defensive linemen.

Another creative blitz package by Bettcher in a passing situation for the New York Giants. Here we see Williams as the 5T to the field with Ogletree (47) lined over the B-Gap moving around. At the snap, Williams explodes off his outside foot to the near A-Gap where the guard and center were protecting, but Williams attacks the inside shoulder of the guard, pushes him back with very good pad level, and creates an alley to the quarterback. While Ogletree and Carter loop around the outside of Williams on this six-man pressure. Williams is the catalyst to the incompletion by Darnold. He won his matchup and earned a hit on the play; again, just a few milliseconds away from a sack.

Run defense

Williams has been up and down against the run in his short time with the Giants, facing two offensive line units that are very different. According to Pro Football Focus, the Cowboys rank sixth in run blocking and the Jets rank 25th, while the Cowboys rank eighth in pass blocking and the Jets 27th. Below you’ll see two positive clips from the Jets game:

Williams flashes very good backside pursuit from the 3T position in the first clip, which is assisted by the poor blocking attempt of Kelvin Beachum (68). The up-field burst of Williams and the over pursuit of Beachum allow for the former Jet to track down Le’Veon Bell for a minimal gain. Backside pursuit has been one of the many problems with the 2019 Giants defense.

In the second clip, Williams is the play-side 3T and he does an excellent job, winning the leverage battle, establishing his position inside, while pushing his guard into the backfield to box the running back towards teammates. You can see Williams utilize that incredible length to maintain contact on the guard, while he brings his outside arm over top of the linemen and quickly disengages to restrict that A-Gap and make the tackle. This is an excellent rep by Williams and shows the ability of the 25 year old to win these one versus one matchups against the run, albeit this is the Jets offensive line.

Williams’ run defense against the Cowboys was a different story as hestruggled to hold up at the point of attack. The fact that Dallas utilized a lot of stretch zone to displace the Giants run-fits did not ease the transition into blue for Williams, who was caught over-pursuing at times and was just dominated at others.

Williams is the 1T in the first clip against a stretch zone run, which the Giants struggled to defend the entire game. Williams is reached by the center Travis Frederick (72), and Williams is responsible for that play-side A-Gap. At the snap, Williams loses the pad level battle to Frederick and attempts to flow towards the direction of the run, which would be located towards the up-field shoulder of Frederick. The Pro-Bowl center is in excellent position to combat this: low center of gravity, inside arm on Williams’ inside shoulder, helmet on Williams outside shoulder. Williams is too high and is easily tossed by Frederick, which provides a huge gap to Ezekiel Elliott. Luckily for the Giants, Dexter Lawrence and Markus Golden were too much for the backside offensive linemen to handle, so the gap was constricted, but Giants fans can’t have a lot of these types of plays from Williams. In the second clip, Williams shifts to the 1T right before the snap and he does a solid job taking on the double team, until Ogletree gets to that B-Gap to create another Frederick versus Williams matchup. While this is a difficult rep to win for Williams, he does allow Frederick to fully seal that A-Gap and create a gigantic hole in the middle of the defensive line. Again, that initial double team makes this play very hard for Williams, but judging by Ogletree’s reaction towards the B-Gap, and Williams/Lawrence opening inside, it seemed imperative for Williams to not get sealed by Frederick like he did. Luckily, again, the unblocked alley defender made a solid tackle in space to negate what could have been a huge play.

Final thoughts

These plays don’t paint the entire picture of Leonard Williams as a player, but they are droplets on an eight-game canvas where Williams must prove his worth for the price Dave Gettleman paid. Williams is winning one-onone pass rushing situations, from all over the line, while being utilized creatively by Bettcher. He’s playing hard, is lauded for his character, and has an incredibly high pedigree, while also proving his high value in the NFL earlier in his career. I believe he could be a valuable piece for the Giants moving forward, and I hope this piece comes at a responsible price, given the capital, but that remains to be seen.