The Minnesota Vikings must keep the former Pro Bowl defensive lineman at bay to pick up their first ever road victory against the New York Jets.
On Sunday, the Minnesota Vikings will travel to face the New York Jets. Throughout their history, the Vikings have never defeated the Jets on the road and with a team that’s hopefully beginning to hit its stride, Minnesota should be favored to put an end to that streak.
For all the good things happening to the Vikings over the past week, it only takes one bad matchup for everything to go down the tubes. This week, the Minnesota offensive line will be challenged as they’ll deal with standout defensive lineman Leonard Williams.
Williams has been one of the most notable faces on the Jets since he was drafted with the sixth overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft. Originally listed as a defensive tackle, Williams has kicked to the outside in Todd Bowles defense and has given New York mixed results.
In 2016, Williams had his best year as a pro, registering seven sacks and making a trip to his first Pro Bowl. However, after the Jets traded Sheldon Richardson to the Seattle Seahawks last August, there wasn’t much to divert attention from Williams as he recorded just two sacks in 2017.
So far this year, Williams has been a little more disruptive. The former USC standout has three sacks in five games for the Jets including a pair of sacks against the Denver Broncos in Week 5. While it is an improvement, it’s not what it could be as Williams ranks 48th in Pro Football Focus’ pass rushing grades among interior defenders while playing 208 snaps (sixth among interior defenders).
Even though Williams may not be at his best, he may not need to be to take advantage of an offensive line that has struggled to get off the canvas this season.
With Riley Reiff out again with a foot injury, the Vikings will have to rely on rookie Brian O’Neill at right tackle while sliding Rashod Hill to the left side. Williams power and speed may be a tough proposition for O’Neill, who’s main concern is his lack of strength.
Should the Jets slide Williams to the inside, the Vikings may be even more vulnerable. Pat Elflein is still getting up to speed after joining the team in Week 4 and Mike Remmers has been playing out of position at right guard. Meanwhile left guard Tom Compton has been adequate, but kind of is what he is.
If the offensive line can’t stop Williams, it could be a problem for the Vikings against a Jets team that blitzes frequently and has forced a turnover on 19 percent of its offensive drives (fourth in the NFL). On the flipside, Minnesota quarterback Kirk Cousins has had issues holding onto the ball when he is hit as he has six fumbles this season.
While they will also have to keep an eye on New York safety Jamal Adams, the Vikings will need to make sure Williams is held in check. Otherwise Minnesota will be back to where they were a couple weeks ago, trying to recapture the magic of last season’s eight game winning streak.