Finally healthy, Leo Williams could be huge factor for stretch run

Leonard Williams ditched a cast on his left wrist a month ago, and since then he's found his form. Roy K. Miller/Icon Sportswire

The Big Cat's left paw feels good again, which probably explains why his productivity has increased in recent games.

After playing the first six games with a cast on his sprained left wrist, a preseason injury, Leonard Williams ditched it a month ago and returned to the form he displayed last season as one of the top young defensive linemen in the NFL.

"I'm feeling really good, physically," he said. "At the beginning of the season -- I don't want to use excuses -- but I could see on film that my wrist was definitely affecting me. I was playing with a cast, and I see that I wasn't really shooting my hand as effectively as I could have.

"These last few games, on film, it just looks completely different. I've been able to shed people. I've been able to use my hands, get off blocks, and just be more effective."

The New York Jets downplayed the injury because that's what teams do, lest they reveal a vulnerability to the opposition. For an interior lineman, a bad wrist is a big deal. It makes it harder to disengage from blocks and win the hand-fighting battles that occur in the trenches.

Williams went the first eight games without a sack and, for the first time in his young career, he was criticized by the media. It happens to every player at some point, even the great ones. In 2003, Curtis Martin got off to an alarmingly slow start, triggering intense criticism from those who felt he was washed up at 30. The next year, he won the NFL rushing crown, the signature season of his Hall of Fame career.

To his credit, Williams never complained and kept playing.

"It was challenging, because I still had to play every week and I still had to practice," he said. "It's been healed up. I got it all fixed. Now, it's all good, so it's not an issue anymore."

As a result, Williams has been a factor as a pass-rusher. In the last four games, he's had 14 pressures and two sacks, according to Pro Football Focus. In the first six games, it was 14 pressures and zero sacks.

A healthy and productive Williams should help the defense for the stretch run. The defense has played two good games in a row, and it'll have to continue its ascent if the Jets (4-6) hope to stay in contention.

"I just want to keep playing the way I've been playing the last four games," Williams said. "I've been doing way better in the run game and I've been able to get to the quarterback a lot."