FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Leonard Williams began the year with an ambitious goal: one sack per game. It'll take some serious catching up to reach 16 sacks.
Through five games, Williams has yet to register a sack, easily the biggest mystery of the New York Jets' surprising 3-2 start. Actually, his sack slump is eight games, if you go back to the end of last season.
Williams, drafted sixth overall in 2015, is generally regarded as the best player on the team, so his slow start is surprising, perhaps alarming.
"I think about it, obviously," he said Monday. "You want to get sacks. Sacks definitely contribute to the defense, which contributes to the team.
"I know they're going to come," Williams added. "I just have to keep playing. I can't get frustrated, and I can't start changing my game. I have to stick to what I'm doing and let them come."
So what gives? A few reasons for his drought:
1. He's drawing extra attention: An unofficial film review of Sunday's game revealed Williams was double-teamed by the Cleveland Browns on at least 13 of 31 pass plays. There were at least another seven plays in which he drew a partial double-team. Clearly, he was the focus of the Browns' pass protection, continuing a trend by the Jets' opponents. Muhammad Wilkerson, also looking for his first sack, was doubled on only six of 25 pass plays.
2. There's no complementary edge rusher: Unless there's a blitz, the Jets' pass rush generally comes from the interior. The lack of a speed rusher on the perimeter is blatantly obvious, allowing teams to slide their protection to Williams and Wilkerson.
3. The Sheldon Richardson factor: Some might say Richardson's absence is having a trickle-down effect on Williams and Wilkerson, but it's hard to buy that theory. The Jets notched 11 sacks last season with Williams and Wilkerson on the field without Richardson, but only six when all three were on the field together, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
4. The wrist injury: Williams injured his left wrist in the preseason, limiting him in practice for the first four weeks of the season, but he was a full participant last week. The wrist probably is a factor -- defensive linemen rely on their hands to disengage from blocks -- but let's not overplay it. Every player deals with injuries.
Williams said he's not discouraged.
"Last year I went through a period where I didn't get sacks in a few games," he said. "That's how the league is. [The opponent] gets paid just as much to play the game."
Williams finished with seven sacks last season, Wilkerson only 4.5. The Jets have managed to win three straight without production from their top defensive players, but that needs to change if they hope to beat the top teams and establish themselves as a contender. They face the New England Patriots on Sunday, and everybody knows the best way to defend QB Tom Brady is to get pressure up the middle.
More than ever, the Jets need their W & W tandem to break out.
"I don’t worry about their sacks," coach Todd Bowles said. "Their sacks will come, but they’re playing hard. They’re taking a lot of doubles up for everybody else, but there are certain schemes that require different things and they're doing those different things. They're great team players and great individual players, so the sacks will come. When they come, they’ll come, but they’re working hard at it, and they’re getting pressure."
Bowles is right about that, as the Jets are ranked fifth in pressure percentage (31.7 percent of dropbacks), per ESPN Stats & Info. The problem is, they have only seven sacks, the second-lowest total in the league.