When the 6-1 New Orleans Saints travel to MetLife Stadium to face the 4-4 New York Jets, it will be a clash between two of the most versatile (and celebrated) defensive schemes in the NFL. In a league based on generating points, it's rare for two defenses to garner as much attention as each respective squad has.
What makes it even more uncanny, both defenses are ran by brothers, twin brothers to be exact. Rex (Jets head coach) and Rob Ryan (Saints defensive coordinator) are two of the very best defensive minds in the sport. Rex may actually be the consensus best.
Both are sons of famed coach Buddy Ryan of '85 Chicago Bears fame. If you're looking for multiple alignments, blitzes and varying coverage shells, then this is the game for you. If you're looking for coaches devoid of charisma, that lack machismo, may I suggest baseball?
The Ryan bros. possess larger-than-life personalities (among other things), and that attribute reverberates through their defensive units. With Rob's unit currently ranked as the seventh overall defense, as opposed to Rex's 14th-ranked unit, you can bet the Jets will be pulling out all stops in this one.
The difference may come down to the fact that Rob is also working with the seventh-ranked offense, while Rex's offense is a similarly ranked 14th.
Now how's that for twin symmetry?
For most of their careers, Rex and Rob have run similar schemes, with much different philosophies. Rex's defenses were 3-4-based centered on great defensive back play. Rob's units were built around front seven play in both 4-3 and 3-4 alignments, with stunts being the primary way of manufacturing pressure.
This season is by far the most similar both defenses have resembled one another.
Stop me if you've heard this one before. The Jets are a 3-4-based team in philosophy that spends the majority of their time in an even-front alignment. They want to get pressure organically but will alter their game plan to be extremely heavy on manufactured pressure by way of blitzes.
That sounds like your beloved Saints doesn't it? If this article were done a couple of years back, the Jets would be an odd-based outfit that would often deploy up to seven defensive backs for some of the wittiest overload blitzes ever conjured up.
The Jets were short on premier talent (outside of the defensive backs) but ran the most complex scheme in the NFL. The whole was greater than the sum of its parts. These days, the Jets are loaded with talent.
Defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson has been the best 5-technique lineman in the NFL this season. To take it a step further, he's been the best lineman period. Ironically, Saints end Cameron Jordan has been pushing him the entire way, along with Houston Texans end, and reigning defensive player of the year, J.J. Watt.
All three were members of the 2011 draft and have similar size and versatility. Wilkerson, 6'4", 315 pounds, is simply indefensible. Despite being the size of most right tackles, Wilkerson moves with the fluidity of an outside linebacker. His ability to transition between power and finesse moves is uncanny.
The Jets move him around so much that he may face every member of the Saints offensive line at one point in time. And with the way the line is playing as a whole, we may have a one-man wrecking crew on the loose.
How many 315-pound linemen have you seemed lined up at a 9-technique? Usually you wouldn't position someone that big out so wide, because quickness would not be their best attribute. This theory doesn't apply to Wilkerson.
Look at how this gazelle-like behemoth uses an arm-over move on his way to a strip sack. Whether it's playing out wide, or playing the 3- and 5-technique as he normally does, the Saints will have to scheme their way into double-teams against Wilkerson.
Only problem is the Jets may have just drafted the next Wilkerson in former Missouri tackle Sheldon Richardson (6'3", 294 lbs). The duo of Richardson and Wilkerson will be even more formidable than what the Saints saw against the Buffalo Bills' duo of Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams.
This may be the game for Saints fullback Jed Collins to operate in the backfield. The Saints will need plenty of extra blocking to keep quarterback Drew Brees upright.
In addition to Richardson and Wilkerson, lineman/linebacker Quinton Coples has just as much raw talent. But he's beginning to look like a draft bust after being picked in the first round prior to last season. Nose tackle Damon "Snacks" Harrison (6'4", 350 lbs) is a beast against the run.
But knowing the Saints, he will be rendered obsolete as the Saints pass the ball 100 times or more. Just kidding people...I think.
The Jets are third in the league against the run, giving up an average of 3.1 yards per carry. They are 21st against the pass but are tied for fifth in sacks. It may be better to go to a pure West Coast offense relying on short passes and screens.
Trying to pick up chunk plays against the Jets may prove to be hazardous for Brees' health. Jets inside linebackers David Harris (58 tackles) and Demario Davis (56 tackles) fit the scheme to perfection. Harris is a thumper in the mold of Saints linebacker Curtis Lofton. Davis has similar athleticism to Saints backer David Hawthorne and can be a factor in pass coverage due to his superior speed.
Outside linebackers Antwan Barnes, Calvin Pace and Garrett McIntyre are all threats to rush the passer. Ryan has unveiled a new package that gets all these guys rushing the passer at once.
When the Saints do pass, they have to deal with a talented secondary in certain spots. Corner Antonio Cromartie is a top-10 athlete in the NFL. At 6'2", 210 pounds, running a 4.38 40-yard dash, according to NFL Draft Scout, Cromartie can match up with anyone put in front of him.
As a true No. 1 corner, Cromartie shadows the opposition's best receiving threat. Ryan might put him on Saints tight end Jimmy Graham and force the receivers to step up and carry the load. Rookie corner Dee Milliner was the ninth overall selection in this past draft, but he has failed to live up to expectations thus far. He's been benched twice and generally looks like he was overrated.
The Jets have another first-round bust in nickel corner Kyle Wilson, both Milliner and Wilson have trouble locating the ball and lose proper technique at the moment of truth. Fellow corner Darrin Walls looks like the best option to perform opposite of Cromartie at this point.
Safeties Dawan Landry and Antonio Allen have been a breath of fresh air for the Jets defense. Allen has corner-like skills and generally does a good job covering tight ends. It's feasible Allen starts out on Graham first. Landry is a veteran that was on Ryan's Baltimore Ravens unit prior to him procuring the Jets gig.
There are not too many defensive units that are more talented, or schemed better, than the Saints...the Jets happen to be one of the few.
As multiple as the Jets' defensive scheme is, the offense may be able to lay claim to being even more so. Coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, longtime Philadelphia Eagles coordinator, has rejuvenated a stagnant offense in his first season of duty.
The selection of former West Virginia University quarterback Geno Smith has been a mixed bag. Smith has been turnover prone (as most rookies are) but has been clutch at times as well. Mornhinweg has done a great job of utilizing the numerous amounts of playmakers New York has at its disposal.
The Jets are currently the ninth-ranked rushing attack in the NFL. They employ a two-headed attack led by backs Bilal Powell and Chris Ivory. Powell is a versatile back who's a threat in between the tackles as well as out on the edges. He'll often line up at QB and run the "Wildcat" formation—usually with a great deal of success.
Ivory is a former Saint who was the best back the Saints have had in recent memory. His physicality and explosiveness was unlike no other. Despite garnering limited playing time, usually due to a deep depth chart, Ivory was the tone-setter for many of the Saints' most memorable victories.
His inability to stay healthy, as well as the perceived depth, led to his departure via trade. A trade that has hampered the Saints' insipid run attack so far this season. Ivory will undoubtedly be fired up to face the team that first gave him a shot.
It's imperative that the Saints stop the run and force New York into a one-dimensional attack. When the Jets have the run game going they have enough talent at receiver to exploit one-on-one matchups...at times.
Receivers Stephen Hill, Jeremy Kerley and David Nelson all have had moments but are generally average at best. Hill, 6'4", 215 pounds, is one of the fastest players in the NFL but has stonemason hands to go along with his inconsistent route running.
Kerley is a great route-runner out of the slot position, while Nelson is a decent possession receiver. Recently acquired receiver Josh Cribbs is a threat in the return game and will also be seen at Wildcat QB.
The Jets have a potential player at the tight end position in Jeff Cumberland, but he's been ruled out due to a concussion. Rookie Zach Sudfeld will have to provide a spark in his absence.
The offensive line consists of prominent names but is short on production. Left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson is overrated, which leaves center Nick Mangold as the only true talent among a bunch of average players.
Buffalo Bills QB Thad Lewis was an appetizer the previous game for New Orleans. Smith will be the main course.
If the Saints can stop the run, which is a big if, everything should fall into place. Both teams possess tremendously talented defenses, the fundamental difference being the Saints will have one of the league's best offenses in tow.
It should be an exciting game, one the Saints can't afford to stub their toe in. The fun is truly just getting started.
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