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FO dissects Rex's blitz


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Nice read from the Football Outsiders...great insight on Rex's style of defense and confirms what many on the board noticed about last year under Mangini as we led the league in rushing only three defenders.

The Jets' defensive dominance has been one of the more interesting early stories of the 2009 season. A week before he put up a league-leading passing DYAR of 223 against the Titans, Texans quarterback Matt Schaub put up a real howler (-37) versus Rex Ryan's new defense. The Jets followed that performance by helping Tom Brady complete less than half his passes under constant pressure. Like all the best defenses -- LeBeau's Steelers, Ryan's old Ravens and the recent Giants and Eagles come to mind -- these Jets have the ability to maximize quarterback pressure while maintaining the concept of coverage. Every defense does this differently.

Ryan's expertise, gleaned in part from dad Buddy, emanates from the 46 defense. The 46 dictates that a defense must:

  • Outnumber point-of-attack blocking schemes (overloads)
  • Blitz the quarterback frequently from different looks and formations
  • Not rely on substitutions to set up those blitzes (immune to the no-huddle advantage)
  • Cover all pass routes, in conjunction with pressure (various zone blitz concepts)
  • Have linebackers free to get to the ball behind linemen who set the position for gaps and lanes

Against New England in Week 2, the Jets embraced and displayed every aspect of the Ryan philosophy. This was evident in three straight third-down incompletions, starting with 11:58 left in the first quarter.

Figure 3: Jets Overload BlitzCover3-092309-1.jpg

On third-and-7 from the Jets' 36, the Patriots lined up in a shotgun, bunch left, and Ryan called for the overload on the other side. Linebacker Bryan Thomas (99) originally set up at the line between linebacker Bart Scott (57) and end Shaun Ellis (92), but he motioned out to tight middle. In addition to his side overloads, Ryan loves to alter the reads for pressure up the middle. He also enjoys fortifying his overloads with unconventional personnel sets -- Exhibit A being the three-defensive back blitz against the Texans in Week 1 -- although this was a bit more conventional. The challenge for the Patriots in this play was how to pick up three blitzing defenders with two blockers. Ellis, Scott, and safety Kerry Rhodes (25) were rushing in off playside. The problem with this set-up is that right tackle Nick Kaczur was left to deal with Ellis one-on-one because right guard Stephen Neal was occupied keeping Thomas from blowing up the pocket from the middle. Running back Laurence Maroney blocked Rhodes outside, which left Scott with a free lane to the quarterback. The play was a quick slant to Joey Galloway (13) on the right side, but Brady didn't have time and threw the ball away. While most defensive coordinators would have favored the bunch formation and the clearout that followed, Ryan prefers advantages away from the obvious groupings, and he already had a nice little village of defenders over there.

The next third down incompletion to Galloway came with 8:59 left in the first quarter, and the Pats with third-and-5 at the Jets' 49. This time, Ryan plugged the middle with Scott and David Harris, putting them at the line on either A-gap. Then, cornerback Donald Strickland came with a delayed blitz from the left side, out of a bunched group of defensive backs pre-snap. This time, Strickland was the extra defender, blowing through the middle to Scott's right and pulling Neal off of Scott. Strickland got just enough penetration to hurry the throw left to Galloway, who was busy putting on a handfighting exhibition with Lito Sheppard. Galloway probably wanted to break outside and further downfield, and Sheppard may have gotten away with one there, with contact coming just after five yards.

On their next drive, the Pats experienced yet another pressure-induced third down incompletion. This was third-and-20 (following a holding call on tight end Chris Baker) from the Jets' 27, the fifth play of a drive that started at New York's 17 after a Leon Washington fumble. With 7:02 left in the first quarter, Brady took the ball under center and had to let it fly early again. The Jets brought a more conventional five-to-the-line approach, but Bryan Thomas just abused left tackle Matt Light on the outside speed rush. Brady had to move to his left out of the pocket, and Galloway wasn't where he needed to be to haul it in.

If there's one thing I re-learned when I wrote the Cover-3 tribute to Jim Johnson a month ago, it's that great defenses aren't born out of generic blitzing. Instead, they are derived from the more advanced concepts of diverse and situational pressure. Last year, the Jets rushed only three defenders 24.8 percent of the time, first in the NFL. Conversely, they rushed six or more defenders only 6.0 percent of the time, 24th in the league. Ryan's Ravens were far more difficult to pigeonhole. They ranked fifth in rushing three and five, and eighth in rushing seven or more. Ryan doesn’t, however, believe in "drop or blitz" -- there's far more creativity going on here. It allows a team built to excel in a 3-4 base to do different things. That's great news for the Jets, and an ever-increasing problem for their opponents. The Patriots hadn't been so upended by formation diversity since those tricky Dolphins gave them something to think about a year ago.


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