New York Jets head coach/defensive coordinator/ultimate mouthpiece Rex Ryan may come off somewhat clownishly at times, but make no mistake – when it comes to creating disruptive defensive schemes, there may be no smarter man in the NFL. Like brother Rob, who of course runs Cleveland's current defense, Rex has taken the concepts of dad Buddy Ryan to an entirely new level. While Buddy's 46 defense was based more on stationary four-man fronts, Rex and Rob run creative multi-front concepts.
Rex may be the Jackson Pollack of defensive playcallers; you never know what you're going to see on the field. At times, the Jets put up 5-2 fronts with slanted linebackers in a modified 46 look. At other times, the moving outside linebacker idea brought forth by Bill Belichick back when he had Lawrence Taylor as a chess piece.
The two most interesting and effective defensive ideas Rex brings to the table are delayed cluster blitzes and A-gap pressure. If you see an odd front lining up to stop Colt McCoy this Sunday, and there are different defensive backs moving around pre-snap, you can expect more than one to shoot through gaps established by the front line. But the A-gap stuffs are perhaps the Jets' most effective concept.
The two main players here are safety Jim Leonhard and do-it-all safety/linebacker James Ihedigbo. Few teams run them more or better – in 2009, the Jets sent six or more defenders after the passer 31.1 percent of the time (fifth-highest in the league) and ran zone blitzes 14.7 percent of the time. One out of every five sacks came from their defensive backs, which was also tops in the NFL.
So, when you see effective blitzes from all areas, how do you counteract them?
On Oct. 31, the Green Bay Packers came up with what was probably the most effective formation against a multi-blitz defense, and it's something for the Browns to keep in mind. With 9:00 left in the game, the Pack lined up in a shotgun, two-back set against the Jets' base nickel defense. However, as we have discussed, the concept of a base defense with Rex Ryan is always a flexible one. Pre-snap, linebacker Bart Scott (57) moved up to fill the second "endbacker" position, and Leonhard (36) started to cheat up. With a moving safety and linebacker David Harris (52) left at the second level, the read would be pretty clearly for an A-gap blitz, which would allow the Packers and quarterback Aaron Rodgers to alter their protection calls.
In this case, the offensive formation, with backs Brandon Jackson and John Kuhn aligned between the guard and tackle on each side about a yard up from Rodgers, worked well enough for the quarterback to diagnose the play. The Jets did run a zone blitz – actually a double zone blitz, with Scott backing into the zone and linebacker Calvin Pace (97) jumping into the left flat to cover, but the backs' ability to pick up the interior pressure gave Rodgers the time needed to hit receiver Jordy Nelson (87) on the zone-beating slant for a 14-yard gain. It wasn't easy, and Rodgers still got a quarterback hit for his trouble, but there are ways to call your shots against the Jets' outstanding defense. You just have to be very careful with pressure, exploit coverage matchups when they can be seen, take the underneath stuff when it's there, and execute at a near-perfect level.
No problem, right? We'll see, come Sunday.