Scouts Buzz: Ryan assembling championship-caliber Jets defense
By adding Bart Scott and others, Jets are assembling a formidable D
The Patriots are revamping their offense to better protect Tom Brady
Dallas made a mistake cutting T.O., who's still as productive as ever
If the adage about defense winning championships is true, the league should pencil the Jets in as title contenders. Building on the solid foundation former coach Eric Mangini left behind, new head coach Rex Ryan is assembling a unit that should be formidable in 2009.
Ryan's defenses excel at suffocating opponents and creating turnovers. During his four-year tenure as the Ravens' defensive coordinator, Ryan oversaw a squad that ranked in the top five in total defense three times and led the league in takeaways in 2008. The unit perennially ranked among league leaders in rush defense and didn't allow a 100-yard rusher in its last 35 regular-season games.
While Ryan has been lauded for his innovative game plans, it was his superb use of the Ravens' personnel that truly made Baltimore difficult to attack. From flip-flopping Terrell Suggs' and Jarret Johnson's responsibilities on the edges to interchanging Bart Scott's and Ray Lewis' roles as inside linebackers, Ryan masterfully melded his players into an aggressive unit that befuddled offenses.
With the Jets adding Scott, Lito Sheppard and Jim Leonhard to the fold via free agency, New York's defense now features playmakers at every level. Moreover, the Jets are counting on a wild card to blossom in Ryan's scheme. Last year's first-round pick, Vernon Gholston, could become an X-factor as a situational pass rusher. While some have already labeled Gholston a bust due to his non-productive rookie season (13 tackles with no sacks), Ryan envisions Gholston developing into a Suggs-like difference maker off the edge. Gholston was drafted for his superior athleticism and intriguing rush skills, so expect Ryan to feature him in a package that allows him to consistently play to those strengths. By allowing Gholston to focus on excelling in a limited role, Ryan will not only boost the second year player's confidence and production, but also give the team an additional pass rusher in the lineup.
Scott and David Harris will play pivotal roles as inside linebackers as the defense funnels everything to them. Though Scott will play primarily as the WILL linebacker (run through player), his versatility gives Ryan the option of flip-flopping the duo's roles to disrupt the offense's ability to correctly identify personnel. This is important since the offense sets its blocking schemes based on where the MIKE lines up, and any confusion will result in one or more defenders running free on blitzes. The Ravens' ability to interchange Scott and Lewis frequently resulted in big plays, and the move should have the same effect in New York.
In the back end, the Jets have the pieces in place to produce turnovers at a high rate. Pro Bowl corner Darrelle Revis is one of the best in the game, and his ability to lock down a side of the field allows the team to use combination coverage that features zone on the opposite side. However, the tactic used by the previous regime may not be necessary with the addition of Sheppard. The two-time Pro Bowl defender has 18 career interceptions and can man the corner without consistent safety help over the top. Though he finished his last season in Philadelphia as a sub-defender, he has started 61 games in his career and has performed at a high level when in the lineup.
Furthermore, Kerry Rhodes should become a household name in the Jets' new system as they free him to roam the middle of the field as a ball hawk. The fourth-year pro has 12 career interceptions and displays Ed Reed-like range and awareness as a deep middle player. Though he isn't as accomplished as a playmaker, he will benefit from playing alongside Leonhard as the Jets set traps for the offense with their ever-changing coverage.
Leonhard's experience in the defense means Rhodes won't have the burden of making the checks in the backend, freeing him to concentrate solely on making plays on the ball. In addition, he will have the opportunity to become more involved in the rush scheme on safety blitzes. Rhodes had only one sack last season, but made a career-high five sacks in 2006, when he was used extensively in the Jets' sub-package.
With the personnel and scheme in place to field a stellar defense, the only thing keeping this unit from achieving greatness is the nasty attitude typically associated with dominant defenses. However, if Scott's comments at his introductory press conference are any indication, the Jets aren't too far off from developing that swagger.
"We won't back down from anybody," said Scott. "We won't take a step back from anybody. You guys can expect to see a very physical, violent defense. I don't know if this division has ever seen a violent defense."
NFL Truth & Rumors