Rex Ryan’s Evolving New York Jets Defense

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As Rex Ryan prepares to begin his sixth season as the HC of the NYJ, all eyes will be on second year QB Geno Smith, free agent acquisition Eric Decker, and rookie Calvin Pryor’s impact on what could be a very good Jets defense. How good, you ask? Let’s begin by comparing last year’s unit to arguably Rex’s best unit, which was the 2009 defense.

Rush Defense
The 2009 unit was almost as good as the 2013 unit when it came to stopping the run. In 2009 the New York Jets ranked 8th and allowed the 4th fewest yards per carry with 3.8. They also allowed 11 rushing touchdowns. Their leading tackler was ILB David Harris. The defense allowed 8 teams to rush for 100+ yards, including a stretch where they allowed 100+ yards on the ground in five consecutive games. The top 5 tacklers for the 2009 unit were Harris, Bart Scott, Jim Leonhard, Kerry Rhodes, and Calvin Pace; any time you have two players in the secondary in your top 5 in tackles, it usually means that running backs are getting beyond your first and second wave of run defenders. By comparison, the 2013 unit had two defensive linemen (Muhammad Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson) in their top 5 in tackles. This should highlight what kind of season both Wilkerson and Richardson had, as both were incredibly disruptive against the run. The 2013 defense, also, only allowed 5 teams to rush for over 100 yards against them. They held teams to under 100+ yards running the ball for 8 straight games last year. They were 3rd in total rushing yards allowed, had 6 rushing touchdowns allowed, and were 1st in yards per carry allowed.
Advantage: 2013

Pass Defense
In 2009, the Jets totaled 32 sacks and 17 interceptions. Calvin Pace led the team with 8 sacks and Darrelle Revis led the team with 6 interceptions, respectively. The 2009 Jets had three guys with at least three interceptions. They allowed 200 yards passing only five times all year and allowed a league low 8 passing touchdowns. The 2009 pass defense also allowed the fewest total passing yards (2,459) and the fewest yards per attempt (4.6). The 2013 Jets pass defense is a disaster in comparison to the 2009 version. The 2013 Jets defense had 8 more sacks than the 2009 version, and boasted having two different players notching 10 sacks in Pace and Wilkerson. The pass defense only had 13 interceptions and 38 passes defended. This was a ratio of 1 pass defended every 15 pass attempts, which means that on average the Jets pass defense from last year deflected two passes a game. By comparison, the 2009 pass defense had 86 passes defended for a ratio of 1 every 5 attempts. The 2013 version also allowed 200+ passing yards in 13 out of 16 games.
Advantage: 2009

Turnovers
The 2009 Jets defense, like I mentioned previously, had 17 interceptions. Couple that with their 13 fumble recoveries and the 2009 defense forced 30 turnovers. This was an average of almost two turnovers a game. This allowed the Jets to manage the 25+ turnovers by Mark Sanchez during his rookie year. The 2013 Jets defense forced 23 turnovers. This is almost a full turnover per game less than what the 2009 defense forced.
Advantage: 2009

What Does This Mean for 2014
The 2013 Jets defense was a full year younger than the 2009 Jets defense, so there is room for growth whereas the 2009 version had veterans at many key positions. The only stalwarts from that 2009 defense that remain are David Harris and Calvin Pace. The Jets have downgraded in the secondary from 2009. Like Connor Rogers touched on in his morning #CupOfCoffee, this has been a gradual transformation.

The Jets could boast the best pass defense in the league in 2009 but had very little to show for it in terms of having an adequate pass rush. The starters in the secondary were Revis, Lito Sheppard, Kerry Rhodes, and Jim Leonhard. This year’s secondary is led by Dee Milliner, with Dmitri Patterson slotted in as the other CB, and Calvin Pryor and Antonio Allen presumed to start at the safeties. While the secondary has been downgraded, it has the chance to produce similarly to the 2009 version statistically because of the improved pass rush. With all due respect to Shaun Ellis, the leader of the defensive line in 2009, Wilkerson is arguably the second best 3-4 defensive end in football. Sheldon Richardson is better than Marques Douglas, the second best defensive lineman that Ellis played with in 2009. Damon Harrison is better than the 2009 version of Sione Pouha. Newly acquired Jason Babin, as a pure pass rusher, is better than anyone the Jets had in 2009. You know that the 2013 unit could stop the run. If the pass rush is as good as I expect, and better than the 2009 version, then there’s a good chance the Jets will be playing in January.

2 thoughts on “Rex Ryan’s Evolving New York Jets Defense

  1. I think an important piece of the evolution is Calvin Pryor. This is the first time the Jets under Redx Ryan have invested some serious talent into the safety position, at the same time as they moved away from established shut-down corners. They still have Milliner and they have a bunch of interesting options to develop across from him, but the presence of Pryor and better coverage from the safeties in general will not allow the corners to develop the same “island” reputation Revis had, or at least on the same level as Revis. Ryan now has to establish his secondary’s identity: you either have Milliner isolated in man coverage, while the safeties blitz and play in-the-box as much as they drop back, similar to the ’09 Jets, or you have Pryor sitting back in coverage and assisting the corners, similar to Reed’s role with the Ravens. Ryan can marry the systems, but individual duties must be delegated, so that everyone knows what he is doing, and no one is overloaded in any particular situation.

    You also have the front seven moving from relying on its linebackers to relying on its d-line, which is also more versatile and athletic than ever before. If Coples has a leap in production as he should, and the rest of the young players continue their growth, the one element missing will be a dynamic, young pass rusher, situational or full-time, across from Coples, and next year’s draft looks to be loaded with such prospects.

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