For Morris Claiborne, the quantitative coincides with the qualitative. Both tell him he’s enjoying the best season of his career.
“I’m not a big numbers guy, I don’t really pay attention to the numbers,” the Jets cornerback told me this week as he and his team prepared for a Sunday visit from the Vikings. “But just the way it feels going along, I feel like this is the best I’ve done. I feel like I’m playing my best football.”
That’s saying something for the seventh-year Claiborne, who began his pro career as a Dallas first-round draft choice and had some good stretches but no monster seasons before hitting unrestricted free agency in 2017 and coming to North Jersey.
Despite not obsessing about his stats, he acknowledges the past two games support his gut instinct.
■ Against the Broncos, he broke up four Case Keenum passes, deflecting the last one to Marcus Maye for his 104-yard interception return that died at the Denver 1 to end the game. Claiborne became the first Jets DB to record four pass defenses in a game since Dee Milliner’s brief moment in the green spotlight late in his 2013 rookie season, when he had six PDs in Game 15 vs. Cleveland and four in the season finale at Miami.
■ Then he put his quick stamp on the Colts, taking the Andrew Luck pass deflected by RB Marlon Mack and S Jamal Adams 17 yards for a touchdown just 14 seconds into the game — the fastest defensive score and fastest home score from the start of a game in franchise history, and also the first IR TD by a Jets corner since Antonio Cromartie went 40 yards with a Ryan Fitzpatrick pass in the ’12 season opener vs. the Bills. Claiborne later defensed another Luck pass, for Ryan Grant, which popped in the air for Avery Williamson to pick off.
Secondary coach Dennard Wilson gave a scouting report on Claiborne this season, saying: “I think Mo has improved. He knows what he’s looking at, he knows what he’s reading, and he’s playing faster.” Claiborne agreed and had some insight on the “faster” part of that analysis.
“Especially as a young guy, you can get real caught up in not finishing the play, not finishing through the ball,” he said. “I feel like back then in my career I didn’t have that finish-it mentality. Now I’ve learned to just run through everything, play to the end of the whistle, try to be in the right spots, take your coaching, everything you learn throughout the week, and actually put it to the game.”
It’s clearly showing in those Mo numbers. He’s already set a personal season best with his second interception vs. Indy and he’s only two shy of his unofficial career-high 11 PDs, set last season. And he’s got 10 more games to improve on all the numbers.
Picking and Running
The Jets are the NFL’s runaway leaders after six weeks with 287 interception return yards. A good chunk of that was Maye’s runback against Denver but not all of it.
LB Darron Lee, for example, has returns of 36 yards for a TD, 21 yards and, vs. Indianapolis, 25 yards. He has 10 games to get 25 more IR yards and pass Mo Lewis at 106 yards for the most return yards by a Jets linebacker in a season.
And in fact, Lee’s three interceptions lead all NFL ‘backers and tie him for the league lead among all players.
But the picks and the yards aren’t enough for D-Lee.
“That’s nice,” Lee said. “But we always want to capitalize on those and turn them into points. Scoring on defense, that’s been a main emphasis for us since the spring. It’s great to hear the yards are up but we’ve got to finish those plays. I think you’ve got to take that next step and turn a lot of those returns into touchdowns.”