Jets' defense is all about stylized aggression
Darrelle Revis didn't want to give away any secrets, so he declined to name the play that effectively ended Sunday's 16-9 upset of the Patriots. Even after a few minutes of prodding, Revis wouldn't budge.
"Can't do it," he said. "I'd be giving away too much information."
"Just call it Cover Zero," Revis said. "Let's leave it at that."
Cover Zero is the jargon to describe the Jets' all-out blitz - a seven-man attack of Brady - that ended with Brady releasing the ball sooner than he preferred and Lowery batting down the pass and ending the Patriots' chances at sending the game into overtime.
The signature statistic of the Jets' 2-0 start has been a defense that has yet to allow a touchdown in upsets in Houston and at home against the Patriots. The Jets beat a Texans team that was 12-4 at home the last two seasons and a Patriots team that had beaten the Jets eight consecutive times at Giants Stadium.
In both games, Ryan's defense showed the kind of versatility that he believes will turn the Jets into one of the league's top units. The transformation from Eric Mangini's more conservative, read-and-react style to Ryan's hyper-aggressive schemes has been stunning.
Here's a look at what makes Ryan's system tick:
1 Start with the base 3-4 alignment.
Ryan runs a version of a 3-4 defense that has been alternately in and out of style in the NFL. These days, it is in vogue, with teams such as the defending Super Bowl champion Steelers, Patriots, Dolphins and Ravens using it. With three down linemen and four linebackers, Ryan believes there is value in using his linebackers alternately in pass coverage and rush duties.
Usually, the weakside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme will be designated as the pass rusher.
2 Use an attack mode.
The linchpin of the Ryan defense is aggressiveness. Whether it's stopping the run or the pass, Ryan believes there is more to be gained by imposing your will against an offense, as opposed to reacting to what an offense gives you. For instance, in a more traditional "cover 2" scheme, in which a safety is assigned to each half of the field and theoretically can prevent the big play, Ryan would rather send another blitzer - either a linebacker or a defensive back - and force the quarterback to hurry his throws. That's exactly what happened against the Texans' Matt Schaub and Brady, both of whom had little time to get off their passes. According to Ryan, Brady was hit 23 times despite not being sacked; that's a huge number, and it contributed to his failure to complete 50 percent of his passes.
"We'll come after you," said Scott, who played under Ryan with the Ravens before signing with the Jets as a free agent in the offseason. "We're going to be in your face wherever you turn."
There is risk with this style, especially if a quarterback can solve the blitz and take advantage of the man-to-man coverage in the secondary. But Ryan believes the percentages lie with the defense.
3 Versatility.Heading into the Patriots game, Ryan knew he needed to attack Brady with speed, and that meant a heavy dose of blitzing from the secondary. Why there? Because defensive backs Kerry Rhodes, Jim Leonhard and Lowery are quicker than the linebackers and can get to the quarterback faster. So Ryan activated 10 defensive backs, which is a very large number for a game. As it turned out, he wound up using all 10, because of the scheme as well as injuries to Lito Sheppard and Donald Strickland. By contrast, Ryan went with only four down linemen on the roster, which is an unusually low number, even for the 3-4 defense.
4 Molding the system around his players.
During his years with the Ravens, Ryan was quite adept at putting players in their natural positions, as opposed to fitting them into roles not necessarily suited to them. Case in point: Jarret Johnson, who came to the Ravens as a 6-3, 270-pound defensive lineman.
"Most coaches would have looked at me and seen an undersized defensive end who isn't really the athlete they want," Johnson said. "But Rex found a quality in me and found a position for me." Johnson eventually was converted into an outside linebacker and was second on the team in sacks last season.
"It's not about driving the square peg into a round hole," Ryan said. "To me, it's the players over the system. I've been around enough things and, along with my coaching staff, we've found creative ways to use players."
5 Using an amalgam of influences from his past.
Ryan grew up with NFL defenses; as the son of defensive mastermind Buddy Ryan, Rex constantly was exposed to the strategic nuances of the sport. As a high school and college player, Ryan also absorbed information that he carried with him through his coaching apprenticeship.
"I've picked up things all over the place," Ryan said. "I'm influenced by the guys I played for in college. I worked under Marvin Lewis and Mike Nolan. I picked up a ton from my dad, who was probably 20 years ahead of his time."
Buddy Ryan made the "46 defense" one of the most effective blitzing schemes in NFL history, and there are some influences with the Jets. But not necessarily all the time; Rex Ryan said he employed a "46" scheme only once or twice against the Patriots. "We'll take input from a lot of places and do what's best for our team," Ryan said.
So far, it has worked to perfection for the Jets. The players expect nothing less.
"We've got a great system," Scott said. "It's up to us to make the plays. We plan on doing that."