Every Play Counts is Michael David Smith's weekly look at one specific player or one aspect of a team on every single play of the previous game.
The New York Jets have gone from 4-12 last year to 5-3 this year thanks in large part to the addition of a high-priced veteran player. But that player is not Brett Favre.
Favre has been mediocre at best leading the Jets' offense this year, but the Jets' defense has improved significantly with the addition of defensive tackle Kris Jenkins, who had a thoroughly dominant game in Sunday's win over the Bills.
Jenkins had two sacks on Sunday, twice tackled Buffalo running backs for no gain, and generally destroyed every object in his path.
The really amazing thing about watching Jenkins is seeing how nimble he can be. Jenkins is listed at 349 pounds and probably weighs quite a bit more than that, but he's quick on his feet. On a handoff to Fred Jackson in the first quarter, the Bills' blocking scheme called for center Duke Preston to block Jenkins at the snap, then pass him off to guard Derrick Dockery. But when Dockery tried to throw a cut block to Jenkins' knees, Jenkins just stepped right over him, grabbed Jackson at the line of scrimmage and threw him to the turf.
Later on the same drive, Jenkins made what I consider the play of the game: With the Bills facing third-and-goal, he tossed Dockery aside like a rag doll and ran head-first into Bills quarterback Trent Edwards, forcing Edwards to rush his throw, which was intercepted by Jets safety Abram Elam, who ran it back 92 yards for a touchdown. The Jets were in easy field goal range, meaning the touchdown was a 10-point swing. And while some would say Elam should get most of the credit for the pick-six, I'd argue that what Jenkins did was more impressive. There are a lot of NFL safeties who can step in front of a badly thrown pass and sprint to the end zone with it. There aren't many defensive tackles who can throw Derrick Dockery around.
Jenkins' ability to wedge his enormous frame between two offensive linemen who are double-teaming him is extremely impressive. On a first-and-10 handoff to Jackson in the second quarter, Jenkins was blocked by both Preston and right guard Jason Whittle. Although they both got their hands on him, he turned his body sideways, squeezed in between Preston and Whittle and got a hand on Jackson's leg to trip him up for a gain of a yard.
Jenkins is known mostly as a run stuffer, but watching him against the Bills, I was struck by how effective he is when called upon to rush the passer. On a second-and-10 in the third quarter, Edwards dropped back to pass and Jenkins, double-teamed by Preston and Dockery, tried to rush to the left. But when Jets linebacker Bryan Thomas came in on a blitz and forced Edwards to roll out of the pocket, Jenkins quickly shifted gears, broke free of Preston and shook off Dockery with a swim move, and grabbed Edwards as he tried to escape for the sack.
Early in the fourth quarter, Jenkins showed off a surprising speed rush to the outside, lining up at his customary nose tackle position and then looping around and hitting Edwards as he passed. Although Edwards got the ball off in time, it was a bad pass that went right into the hands of Jets cornerback David Barrett. If Barrett had held onto the ball in the flat, he might have taken it back for a touchdown -- which means Jenkins' pressure could have given the Jets two scores on the day.
Four plays after that pressure, Jenkins was at it again. He got such a quick first step that he was already past Preston by the time Preston had a chance to look up, and he knocked Whittle to the ground before wrapping up Edwards for his second sack. At this point, Edwards and the Bills' offensive line must have wished they had never gotten out of bed in the morning.
Jenkins didn't have a perfect game on Sunday. He jumped offside in the first quarter, and there were a couple of times when he looked to me like he was lined up in the neutral zone, although he was never called for that. He also takes a fair number of breathers during the game; he usually went to the sideline when the Jets sent in a nickel package.
But it's also important to note that by virtue of the attention opposing offenses have to give him, Jenkins also has an impact on the plays that don't show up for him in the box score. In the first quarter, when Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis came on a blitz and stripped the ball from Edwards, Bills fullback Corey McIntyre badly missed Revis on the blitz pickup. And why did he miss? Because he took two steps to the inside at the start of the play, thinking that the player he'd have to block was Jenkins. The threat of Jenkins sacking Edwards helped Revis sack Edwards.
And it should be noted that Jenkins did all this while being doubled on essentially every play of the game, run and pass. Even though Jenkins only had a couple of tackles on running plays Sunday, his stout presence in the middle of the line made it just about impossible for the Bills' running backs to find any holes. The Bills as a team ended the game with 17 carries for 30 yards.
Jenkins came into the league as the Carolina Panthers' second-round draft pick in 2001, and by 2003 he had become such a dominant force that I was convinced he was heading to the Hall of Fame some day. But injuries limited him to just four games in 2004 and one game in 2005, and even though he was healthy the last two years in Carolina, he didn't look like the same player.
But the 2008 version of Jenkins is as good as ever. That's not to say he's the same player he was in Carolina: With the Panthers he was a 4-3 penetrating tackle, while now he's the nose man in a 3-4 and has to do more reading and reacting. But at age 29, Jenkins is undergoing a career renaissance, and against the Bills he showed that, unlike Brett Favre, he's in his prime.
Every Play Counts: Jets' Kris Jenkins Dominates the Bills originally appeared on NFL FanHouse on Wed, 05 Nov 2008 09:00:00 EST . Please see our terms for use of feeds.