Coming off a great win, the Detroit Lions will be facing the New York Jets at Ford Field this Sunday. Of course, the Jets defense needs no introduction. Last season, the Jets defense ranked first in the NFL last season (first against the pass, eighth against the run). This season, there has been a bit of a fall off, as the Jets defense ranks 7th in the NFL, 18th against the pass, and 4th against the run. The scheme and coordination of their defense comes from their head coach, Rex Ryan. Of course, he too needs no introduction as he already has with statements like,”the best defense in the NFL is coming to town”.
The Jets, as most people know, run a variation of a zone blitz scheme, even though there are some big differences between Ryan’s 3-4 zone blitz and the regular zone blitz. His 34 defense actually originates from his dad, Buddy Ryan’s, 46 defenses with the Chicago Bears. The 46 defense is really just a variation of a 4-3, cover two defense. The only difference is that there are sort of four linebackers instead of three as the strong safety almost always joined the linebacking crew. Ryan’s 3-4 (or “34”) defense is similar in that you will often see him bring the strong safety down to where the linebackers are, but they play a far more integral role in Rex Ryan’s scheme.
The biggest thing that one needs to understand about the New York Jets defense is that they will bring blitzes from anywhere and everywhere and they will move players around at will. To Rex Ryan, there really is no defensive tackle, defensive end, linebacker, etc. On Sunday, you will often see a defensive end doing a linebacker’s job, a linebacker doing a safety’s job, and etc. Case in point, in last year’s game against the Texans, the Jets decided on a few plays early in the game to put Kris Jenkins, their 360 lb nose tackle, behind linebackers David Harris and Bart Scott. Basically, all three men blitzed, except Kris Jenkins came last, instead of first under usual schemes.
Perhaps the only place that the Jets don’t bring blitzes from are the two cornerback spots (they will bring blitzes using nickel and dime backs) mainly because Darrell Revis and Antonio Cromartie are too valuable in coverage. Plus, those two corners (especially Revis) is the reason that the Jets defense is so successful. It is the coverage skills of Revis and Cromartie that give the rest of the Jets defenders the time required to get to the quarterback, and even when they don’t the blitz often forces errant throws by the quarterbacks. In fact, the Jets actually don’t get to the quarterback as most people think. Coming into week 8, the Jets only have 15 sacks, which is tied for 15th in the league with teams like Arizona and Jacksonville. It is really the confusion and quick release from the quarterback that makes the Jets defense hard to beat.
Now, I could keep talking about the Jets defense, but the best way to explain their defense would be to use a play. The following is a snapshot of the Jets on defense against the Rams last year. You will immediately notice that the Jets are in sort of a funky formation. Only Vernon Gholston is on the defensive line, while everyone else is standing up.
A couple of seconds later, everyone shifts around, and now there is a three man line, but Jim Leonhard has come down to the linebacking levels. This is the so called “34 Ryan” defense, named after his father’s 46 defenses, people talk about.
When the ball gets snapped, you will notice that Calvin Pace, who was on the line, has dropped off into coverage, while David Harris and Jim Leonhard, who were in the linebacking crew blitzes and actually gets to the quarterback. This is the type of things that Matthew Stafford and the Lions offense will face Sunday against the Jets.
Now, how to attack a defense like this. The best way is to have a lot of quick hit, and slant plays ready to go. You can’t really have definitive play calls (NFL offenses rarely do). What I mean by that is that you can’t simply make a play call in the huddle and expect to run the same exact play at the snap. The Jets will never allow an offense to do that. The best way to attack it would be for the receivers to read where the blitzes came from and adjust their routes so that they sit in the zones left uncovered by the blitzers. Wes Welker has been cashing his paychecks on this concept for the past three years.
The other thing to do against this defense would be to take advantage of the aggressiveness of this defense. Remember I told you about how the Jets kept lining up Kris Jenkins behind the backers against the Texans early in the game? Well, the third time the Jets tried doing that, Houston called a quick screen to Steve Slaton and picked up a 14 yard first down. Jahvid Best is perfect for things like this.
In conclusion, the Jets defense isn’t a hard defense to beat if you can properly read what they are trying to do. It is really up to the coaching staff and Matthew Stafford to study film and figure out all of the different looks the Jets are going to give them and find the best ways to attack them. Obviously, it’s easier said than done. Seven other teams before the Lions have done the same, and only two have properly figured out how to make it work so far this season. It is a tough task for the Lions and their coaching staff, but the Lions have managed to score 20 points (if you count Calvin Johnson’s touchdown) against the 6th ranked defense in the Bears and 2nd ranked defense in the Giants. Not a whole lot, but both of those games were on the road with Shaun Hill at the helm, so you have to believe that the Lions are capable of putting up more points against the 7th ranked Jets defense at home and with Stafford.