Why the Jets' defense is rock solid
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By Roderick Boone
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Brian Baldinger played in the NFL for 12 seasons and has broken down countless hours of video footage in his subsequent days as an analyst.
He studied his share of film during his days working on Fox NFL Sunday broadcasts before moving on to the NFL Network. So when he says he's never witnessed anything like these Jets on defense, ears should perk up a bit.
"I have not seen a defense play 11 guys this hard, every single play," Baldinger said. "It's captivating to watch them play."
The Jets will need to rely on their top-ranked defense when they take on Peyton Manning and the Colts with the AFC Championship on the line.
"If they go to Indianapolis and win, which I believe they will," Baldinger said, "to me, every team in the league . . . has to take a hard look at how the Jets are built and how they're doing this."
Five things Baldinger thinks makes the Jets' defense so tough:
1. The play of Darrelle Revis
The Pro Bowl lockdown cornerback has a nearly flawless technique and it all starts with his feet. His ability to backpedal into position and make quick breaks on the ball without guessing where the receiver is going is uncanny. He led the NFL in passes defensed with 34 and had a team-high six interceptions partially because the Jets typically bracket the other receivers and sometimes that funnels the plays in Revis' direction, forcing the opposing quarterback to throw into Revis' one-on-one coverage. Having Revis and his exceptional cover skills allows the Jets to leave him on the affectionately known "Revis Island" by himself and gives the Jets the option to use some of their exotic blitzes without fear of getting burned deep. Expect to see Revis lining up mostly on Reggie Wayne.
"If Darrelle is matched up on Reggie," Baldinger said, "there isn't a doubt in my mind that Peyton will go after him because he doesn't believe anyone can beat him and Reggie Wayne in combination. And now everybody is talking about it. It's a popular thing, a hot topic to talk about a shutdown corner. There's no doubt Peyton will take that personally."
2. The standup, unset look
There are times when the Jets appear as if they aren't sure where to line up on defense, almost as if they are confused. But really, that's to cause confusion among the opposition and make it more difficult for quarterbacks to understand the coverage ie: whether it's a two-deep, man-under look — and where the specific pressure is coming from. The linebackers, safeties and even defensive linemen all play the seemingly musical chairs game, especially on obvious passing situations where the Jets can pin their ears back and go after the quarterback. They did it to Philip Rivers last week on Revis' third-quarter interception on third-and-8 from the Jets' 36-yard line. Bart Scott came free and running back Darren Sproles was late getting over to make the play. But Scott's pressure was enough to flush Rivers to his right and force the bad throw.
3. Deep, talented and versatile LBs
The Jets may have one of the most fearsome inside linebacker tandem in the league in David Harris and Scott, and the interchangeable Calvin Pace and Bryan Thomas on the outside form a formidable duo as well. The Jets' odd couple — the chatty Scott can't do enough talking while Harris is about as quiet as they come for someone who lays the wood like he does — has combined for 248 tackles, 6 ½ sacks, 27 quarterback hits, 16 tackles for loss and a pair of forced fumbles. Scott and Harris can both drop back in pass coverage, are adept at rushing the passer and can play the run. The same can be said for Pace and Thomas, who's enjoying a resurgence in his first season in Ryan's scheme after hearing all the "bust" talk. Pace is simply a beast who still managed to lead the team in sacks with eight despite being suspended for the first four games of the season for violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing substances.
4. Solid gap integrity and line technique
Although they lost Pro Bowl nose tackle Kris Jenkins with a torn ACL in October, the Jets continued to get it done for the most part up front. Although it certainly may look like mass chaos at times along their defensive line, it's a controlled chaos and it's absolutely critical the lineman like Shaun Ellis hit their correct gaps in the Jets' aggressive 3-4 scheme. For example, they may give someone like a Mike DeVito the responsibility to two-gap — a defensive end on an offensive guard — and stand him up so a guy like Scott or Harris can come in behind him and run through that gap unblocked. Remember, Ryan was a defensive line/linebackers coach when he first came into the NFL to serve on his father Buddy's Arizona Cardinals staff in 1994 and he takes great pride in the lineman. Unheralded guys such as free agent pickup Marques Douglas and Sione Pouha, who stepped in for Jenkins, have thrived because of it.
5. Assignment responsibility
They aren't exactly totally assignment perfect, as we saw in that backbreaking 10-7 loss to the Falcons on Dec. 20. That's when nickel back Donald Strickland got caught up in wide receiver Michael Jenkins motioning to the outside and didn't stick with Pro Bowl tight end Tony Gonzalez, leading to Gonzalez's game-winning 6-yard touchdown toss from Matt Ryan with 1:38 left to play. But the Jets haven't had many blown coverages since. If they are in man-to-man, everybody for the most part knows they are in man-to-man. When it's a zone, guys know where they are supposed to be. They're even more aware of their secondary responsibilities. Let's say Thomas is rushing the passer and if he sees somebody leaking out of the backfield and he's supposed to drop to take the crosser away and be ready for it, he'll be there as he did so effectively last week.
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