New Orleans Saints vs. New York Jets: Breaking Down New York's Game Plan
The Saints are synonymous with explosive, high-scoring offense with a unit that is engineered by head coach Sean Payton and conducted by quarterback Drew Brees.
However, the Saints are more than just a team that can put up points at will. Under new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan (Rex Ryan's twin brother), the Saints are playing defense on a level they have not seen since they won a Super Bowl back in 2009.
This could be the toughest opponent the Jets have faced all season, and they will need a superb game plan to even give themselves a chance to win. Let's take a look at what the Jets should do to get ready for Sunday's matchup against New Orleans.
Lighten the Box
As the Jets have shown last week, they do not have the cover men in the secondary to win a lot of one-on-one battles.
How on earth can you expect a unit that allowed five touchdown passes from Andy Dalton to shut down Drew Brees? By not allowing Brees to pass the ball when he wants to. After all, whenever the ball is taken out of Drew Brees' hands, it counts as a "win" for the Jets defense. Stopping Pierre Thomas or Darren Sproles is not easy, but it sure is less daunting than stopping Drew Brees.
How can the Jets dictate how the Saints call offensive plays?
A typical NFL offense calls two plays into the huddle on every play (at least)—one run and one pass. Based on the defensive look, or more specifically, the number of players "in the box," the quarterback has an option of changing a pass into a run or vice versa.
Typically, seven or fewer players in the box dictates a run, while eight or more dictate a pass—although more talented quarterbacks, such as Brees, are more than capable of throwing against defenses better suited to play the pass.
The Jets can dictate what types of plays the Saints run by putting an unusually small number of players in the box (five or six), which almost forces the Brees to call a run play against such favorable situations.
The Jets used this same tactic against Peyton Manning in the 2010 Wild Card Game against the Indianapolis Colts. The Jets felt better about their best four or five run defenders to stop the run on their own than trusting their secondary against Manning.
Notice how there are only five run defenders in the box. The sixth man is a defensive back who drops into coverage when the ball is snapped:
Despite giving up a few big runs during the game, they were able to contain Manning and win the game.
Fast-forward to 2013 and you can bet the Jets feel a lot better about their new-and-improved defensive line than their beleaguered secondary. While the Saints' running game is stronger than that of the 2010 Colts, the Jets' defensive line is as good as it has been in years.
As a result, the Jets need to put their money on their defensive line winning a numbers game that is stacked against them than their secondary holding up against one of the best quarterbacks in the game.
Antonio Allen vs. Jimmy Graham
One of the few bright spots coming out of the Jets' secondary is the play of second-year safety Antonio Allen. Over the past two weeks, the Jets have been deploying Allen in one-on-one coverage against a team's top tight end, including Rob Gronkowski, yielding success.
Things don't get easier this week against Jimmy Graham. Despite being a game-time decision because of a foot injury, via ESPN, Graham was still able to score two touchdowns in the win.
It remains to be seen whether or not Graham will continue to be used in a limited capacity or in his full-time role. Either way, the Jets should approach this matchup as if Graham was his normal, healthy self.
Allen was so successful against Rob Gronkowski because he was willing (and able to) be physical with Gronkowski at the line of scrimmage. Notice how Allen is able to pin Gronkowski to the sideline because he got his hands on him right off the line:
Allen must repeat the same strategy against Graham if he wants to disrupt his route and the timing of the Saints offense, especially in the red zone. If Allen can take care of business against Graham, the Jets will be able to allot more resources to stopping the other weapons on the Saints offense.
Attack Jabari Greer
The Saints defense is one of the most improved units in the league, but it still has its share of glaring weaknesses.
One particular target in the secondary is veteran cornerback Jabari Greer. According to Pro Football Focus, Greer is the team's worst player in coverage as the 86th-best corner in the league, allowing a 95.3 quarterback rating against him.
Geno Smith will not have his full assortment of weapons at his disposal (especially if Santonio Holmes is out for another week), but he will have the speedy Stephen Hill at his side. The Jets need to find a way to get Hill lined up against the slowing Greer to try to generate a few big plays that they relied on for most of their wins.
Hill has not been productive since his performance against the Buffalo Bills, but he will get a chance to generate big plays against a defense that loves to gamble under Rob Ryan.
Of course, the Jets will need to hold up in pass protection against a blitz-happy defense that has improved in rushing the passer. One of the best ways to counter such an aggressive defense is with play action, which involves the next piece of the offensive puzzle for the Jets.
Feed Chris Ivory
Every player loves to put up a great game against their former team, especially when they traded you off because they deemed you unworthy for playing time. You can bet that former Saint Chris Ivory has had this game circled on his calendar ever since the Jets traded for him in the middle of April's draft.
The last time the Jets fed a hungry Chris Ivory a healthy amount of carries was two weeks ago against the New England Patriots, in which he went over 100 yards on the day.
Not only will Ivory be charged up for this game, it also makes plenty of sense to run the ball as much as possible against the Saints defense.
For one, the Saints have been a mediocre run defense through the first half of the season, ranked 20th in run defense while allowing 4.8 yards per carry.
However, there are more benefits to running the ball than just being able to gain yards.
What the Saints have improved on this year more than anything else is their pass rush. Cameron Jordan already has six sacks and a staggering 24 quarterback hurries to his name in just eight weeks. Running the ball consistently (and effectively) will slow Jordan down.
Another benefit of running the ball is that is keeps Drew Brees (and the Jets defense) off the field because it eats up more game clock. The game plan for the Jets must be to keep the game as short as possible to allow them to pull off the upset at the end of the game.
Frankly, this opponent does not match up well against the Jets. After giving up 49 points to the Cincinnati Bengals last week, the last opponent the Jets want to see is the high-flying New Orleans Saints. The only positive the Jets can take away from their situation is that they get to play at home, where Geno Smith has fared much better.
The Jets can craft the perfect game plan, but unless their players execute exponentially better than last week (particularly in the secondary), whatever they do to get ready for this week will not even matter.
Advanced statistics provided by Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
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