As the 2010 post-season approaches, who would have thought we'd be more concerned about the Jets defense preventing them from winning a Super Bowl than their offense?
In 2009, Rex Ryan won the fan base over with his personality and confidence but also with a smash-mouth, aggressive defense that was the best in the NFL. It was logical to think they would improve in 2010 as the players grew more comfortable with the system and because of key additions like Brodney Pool, Jason Taylor, Antonio Cromartie, and Kyle Wilson. Unfortunately, this has been far from the case.
Ignore the statistics that Ryan frequently likes to mention, all you need to do is watch to see how far the Jets have fallen from being a dominant unit. There have been some ugly moments in recent weeks, including the Patriots running a 45 spot up and the Bears putting up 38 points last week.
The blueprint to scoring on the Jets seems to be relatively simple, avoid Darrelle Revis and throw down the field to take advantage of Ryan's stubbornness of leaving his other over-matched defensive backs in single coverage. One of the problems that Ryan seems to have, is that once an offense figures out how to beat his "Plan A," he can't adjust on the fly and come up with adequate "Plan B." We saw this in the AFC Championship Game last year and we saw it this past Sunday against the Bears.
Part of the problem is the Jets personnel. Let's get to some blunt truths: they have nobody who can get after the quarterback with any consistency. Bryan Thomas currently leads the team in sacks with 6. Jason Taylor has been a disappointment with 4 sacks. Calvin Pace has been a major let down with 4.5 sacks. David Harris and Bart Scott aren't providing enough big, impact plays. The Jets have no pass rushers on their defensive line, which is normally acceptable because at least they stop the run but they haven't even done that in recent weeks. Shaun Ellis is a serviceable, cagey veteran with 4.5 sacks but beyond that Mike DeVito, Sione Pouha, and Trevor Pryce have combined for 3 sacks all year.
In the secondary, Kyle Wilson has been a bust in his rookie year. He has been outplayed by Dwight Lowery and Drew Coleman, who despite making their share of big plays, are still inconsistent in coverage and can't handle 1 on 1 match-ups against most team's #2 or #3 wide receiver. The Jets have also been forced to play without Jim Leonhard at safety, who they lost to injury, which has given role players like Lowery and Eric Smith more reps than they can handle. Beyond that, it hasn't helped that outside of a big game against Miami, Brodney Pool has done nothing in 2010.
Unfortunately, the pass rusher and play-making safety the Jets need aren't coming for the playoffs. It is now up to Ryan to earn his reputation as one of the brightest defensive minds in the game. He needs to find a way to get his under manned unit to perform at a level that will allow the Jets to compete in January. I don't know if it is switching roles around in the secondary, finding a different a way to use Darrelle Revis, or mixing together new personnel groups in the front seven. However, Ryan must manufacture some type of pass rush and find ways to avoid putting Dwight Lowery, Drew Coleman, and Kyle Wilson in single coverage as frequently as possible.
Mark Sanchez, Shonn Greene, Braylon Edwards and the rest of offense look ready to hit the ground running in the playoffs, hopefully the defense can elevate their play to make sure 34 points is enough to win a game.