The Jets’ defensive keystone was lost for the year on Sunday when Darrelle Revis tore his ACL, and now they look to be on the brink of collapse.
A struggling run defense, inconsistent pass rush, and an unfamiliar reliance on a group of defensive backs who aren’t nearly on Revis’ level are left. However, a glimmer of hope resides in the mind of Rex Ryan. Ryan is one of the league’s brightest minds when it comes to designing blitzes, and the anticipation is that he’ll up the ante going forward to replace Revis island.
Ryan was home-schooled by his father, Buddy Ryan. Buddy taught Rex the philosophy and intricacies of the 46 defense and later — 1999 to be exact — Rex wrote a book on the defense properly titled ”Coaching Football’s 46 Defense“. The book offers a significant amount of insight to Ryan’s defensive tendencies, which include blitzing the offense “relentlessly (p. 16)” to “dictate the flow of the game” (p. 17) and playing man-free (Cover 1) behind disguised blitzes. All of these things fit the description of Ryan’s current defense, yes?
The noted man-free coverage is one that’s particularly vital because it’s where the Jets excelled with Revis on the field. They could play it and rotate away from him to help out the other defenders because they knew he, Revis, could play man coverage with anyone.
He has rare cat-like quickness that enables him to mirror receivers on every break of their route, and he has the ball skills to make a play on any throw and the ability to tackle in open space to erase any mistakes he made in technique — which didn’t happen often. They can’t do this consistently with Antonio Cromartie, for instance, because he doesn’t do any of those things as well as Revis. But it’s likely that they’ll try to just like they did against the Steelers, and they paid for it by allowing a late first half touchdown on a pass to Mike Wallace.
Ryan also makes mention of “outnumber[ing] the tackle-to-tackle blocking schemes at the point of attack” (p. 16) in his book, which explains the overload pressures that he’s accustomed to using. These consist of often using defensive backs to get to the quarterback, particularly at his throwing arm to force a throw across the body. Defensive backs are ideal because they are quicker through their blitz paths than linebackers and offer the element of surprise.
One snap from Week 2 against the Steelers illustrated Ryan’s blitz brilliance, and it took place in the condensed the red zone. The ball was on the eight-yard line and the Steelers lined up in an empty set, with three potential pass catchers to the left and two to the right. There was no tailback in the backfield, and just big burly Ben Roethlisberger in shotgun set. The Jets had two defensive linemen, four linebackers and five defensive backs to effectively create a nickel package.
The Jets were going to be sending a pressure overload to Ben’s left and playing man-free with a robber. This meant one of the linebackers (Calvin Pace, No. 97) was going to be roaming the underneath middle, hoping to rob a crossing route or stop Roethlisberger from his patented run after another incredible evasion of a sack. If everything went right in the trenches, Pace wouldn’t have to worry about covering because the blitz would create 2tworushers against one blocker — specifically the left tackle — and a sack would result.
When the ball was snapped, things went according to plan. The defensive backs and two linebackers were handling their business in coverage and the defensive line was handling theirs in the trenches after the two down linemen occupied four blockers.
An unexpected blitz from the strong-side slot defender, LaRon Landry, meant that he and the contain rusher, Aaron Maybin, were going to be up against the Steelers left tackle, meaning the Jets had a numbers advantage at the point of attack (as wished by Ryan in his book) and a free path for one of the two rushers. Because Maybin was the contain rusher, he was going to the outside and widening the tackle for his teammates, creating a large gap for Landry.
Landry is an ideal pass rusher for this blitz because he has great foot speed and range to go along with immense physicality. Conversely, he also isn’t the ideal rusher because he’s a bit undisciplined and out of control, and that cost him on this play as he wasn’t able to get the sack despite a sublime design. He whiffed on a free shot at Roethlisberger, who eventually stepped up into the pocket and delivered a six-yard pass just short of the goal-line.
In a way, it was a win-lose situation for the Jets. Landry missed the sack but forced a hurried throw that finished short of the desired destination.
A hurried throw is what Ryan wants when he designs these blitzes. He wants the quarterback to get rid of the ball quickly to cut down on the time spent in coverage by the defensive backs and force a minimal gain at most, and that group of DBs now includes (former?) running back Joe McKnight. Interestingly enough, Ryan hasn’t called as many blitzes as he once did. According to Capital New York’s Greg Hanlon, the Jets were “ranked just 12th in blitz percentage last year, down from third and first the previous two years.”
That should go back up after the loss of Revis.