Chapter Two of Leonard Williams’ NFL career began Monday night against the Cowboys at MetLife Stadium and it looked a lot like Chapter One: Pretty good, but neither impactful or memorable.
A week ago, the fifth-year defensive lineman was acquired by the Giants from the Jets via a trade for a third-round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft and a conditional 2021 fifth-rounder that becomes a fourth-rounder if the Giants sign him prior to free agency.
And, in the Giants’ 37-18 loss to the Cowboys on Monday night, Williams played well, finishing with three tackles, a quarterback hit and a couple pressures.
The Giants were hoping for an immediate impact from Williams, who was more of a consistent, high-effort player than a game-changer in his four-plus seasons with the Jets.
What they got was much the same the Jets got for four-plus seasons — steady, hustle plays and several moments when he almost got to Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott.
But no sacks. No game-changing plays.
Williams’ first play of note as a Giant was actually a late hit on Prescott on Dallas’ second offensive possession, but his penalty actually was negated by a holding penalty on Dallas tackle Tyron Smith. The offsetting penalties also negated a 17-yard touchdown pass from Prescott to Amari Cooper, a big break for the Giants.
On the next two plays, Williams pressured Prescott on consecutive incomplete pass attempts to running back Tony Pollard, leaving Dallas to settle for a field goal and a 3-3 tie at the time.
Later in the first quarter, on a Dallas third-and-13 from the Giants 36-yard line, Williams again pressured Prescott on an incomplete pass to Cooper, again forcing Dallas into a field-goal attempt, this one, a 54-yarder, that went wide left.
Williams had one of his patented “almost’’ plays on a 42-yard Prescott scoring pass to tight end Blake Jarwin with 52 seconds remaining in the first half, a play that cut the Giants lead to 12-10.
Williams, with pressure up the middle, nearly got to Prescott before he released the ball. It was a familiar sight to Jets fans, who yearned for more sacks from the sixth-overall pick of the 2015 draft but never got enough of them (17 in 71 games, two in his past 18).
There was question about how quickly Williams would familiarize himself with his new team and system.
“I don’t think it will be too hard,” Williams said in the lead-up to the game. “When I was [at USC], I had a different defensive coordinator every year, I had two different D-coordinators [with the Jets]. I think because I’ve had so many different D-coordinators and had to learn defenses quickly, I’ve learned how to learn stuff fast.’’
Entering the Dallas game, the Giants’ defensive line had produced only 6.5 of their 22 sacks (they produced none Monday night) — two from Dexter Lawrence, two from Olsen Pierre, 1.5 from Dalvin Tomlinson and one from RJ McIntosh. Sacks, however, were not big part of Williams’ production with the Jets.
That lack of production, however, does not seem to concern the Giants.
“When I watched the [Jets] game against Jacksonville [a week ago], I saw him sack the quarterback,’’ Giants coach Pat Shurmur said before the game. “It just didn’t go down as a sack [because it was negated by a holding penalty]. I think you can have an impact as a rusher and have a big impact on the quarterback if you get inside push.’’