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Sheldon Richardson’s return to the New York Jets defense makes this group one of the most lethal in the league, and here’s why.

By Jeff Jarboe

1authorjeffjarboe - Why Sheldon Richardson Is The Key To The New York Jets DefenseThe New York Jets will look to earn their fourth win of the season this Sunday when they face off with Washington at home, and they’ll be doing so with the help of star defensive end Sheldon Richardson.

Richardson will see his first action of the season on Sunday after serving his four-game suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy and testing positive for marijuana.

Arguably the best player on New York’s defensive front last year, Richardson racked up a total of 66 tackles, eight sacks and one forced fumble. Even with one of the most disruptive players in the league sitting out though, New York’s defensive line has established themselves as one of the best in the league through four games.

This is due in large part to the arrival of Richardson’s replacement during the first quarter of the season, rookie sixth overall pick Leonard Williams. Though he hasn’t put up the sack numbers fans hoped he would just yet, Williams has been providing consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks and has been dominant in the run game.

With Williams playing as well as he has been, it’s easy to think that the Jets are fine without Richardson and his return won’t make much of a difference. But that is not the case–they need him now more than ever.

The Jets defense has been very, very good through the first four games due in large part to Todd Bowles‘ creative pressure packages and the play of Darrelle Revis in the secondary. The defensive line has played well too, primarily against the run but they have failed to dominate in one specific area–outside pass rush.

Williams has been disruptive and the sack numbers there will surely come, but the rest of the pass rushers on this defense have been quiet through the first four games. The team exercised the fifth-year option on Quinton Coples with the hopes that he would be the outside pass rusher they desperately needed, but he has yet to record a sack through four games.

Opposite Coples, 34-year-old Calvin Pace can’t win any one-on-one match ups and Lorenzo Mauldin is still developing.

This is why the return of Sheldon Richardson is so crucial–he provides this defense with a versatile pass rusher who can win one-on-one match ups on the outside. Up to this point, the Jets have been most successful blitzing up the middle and off the edge with DeMario Davis and Buster Skrine, respectively.

Todd Bowles’ ability to use his talented defensive line to divert the attention of opposing offensive linemen and create lanes for extra pass rushers has allowed the Jets to force a league-high 13 turnovers through four games. However, it’s only when he’s bringing these extra blitzers that the Jets are actually getting to the quarterback.

On passing downs where the Jets are not bringing these extra rushers, the defensive line is not getting as much penetration. Leonard Williams has shown he’s certainly capable of winning one-on-one match ups and the same goes for Muhammad Wilkerson, who currently has three and a half sacks, but Wilkerson is more of an inside rusher and Williams is still coming along.

Plugging Richardson back into this lineup gives the Jets the potential to only rush three or four guys on crucial passing situations where they need to have men in the secondary, and still be able to pressure the quarterback. His return allows Muhammad Wilkerson and Leonard Williams to move around and rush from a variety of different spots, and it spreads opposing offensive lines out to create lanes for those additional rushers that Bowles loves so much.

They may have done well during his absence, but the New York Jets defense is definitely better off with Sheldon Richardson in the lineup. As they get set to go up against the league’s 10th ranked offense this weekend, they’re are going to need to need Richardson’s outside rushing ability more than ever if they want to improve to 4-1.

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I’m a senior journalism and communications major at THE University of Connecticut, as well as a die hard Jets and Knicks fan. College football and basketball have their place in my heart, but the NFL is my pride and joy.