Ryan's Defense Won't Bend, But Will Break the Opponents Offense

Michael EchanContributor IMay 28, 2009

MIAMI - SEPTEMBER 07:  Calvin Pace #97 of the New York Jets sacks Chad Pennington #10 of the Miami Dolphins at Dolphin Stadium on September 7, 2008 in Miami, Florida.  (Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images)

New Jets head coach Rex Ryan might probably be one of the few people in the state of New Jersey who might actually enjoy driving to work. Sounds strange, doesn't it?

Many days as Ryan leaves his home in Union County and travels north on Route 24, he will invariably encounter a myriad of obstacles. Ancient Buicks going too slow in the fast lane, behemoth tractor trailers plodding and swaying ahead and next to him and a multitude of other drivers doing something moronic on the road, all delaying his arrival at the Jets' headquarters in Florham Park.

In order to get to work quickly, Ryan will have to drive like he draws up plays on defense: attack whatever holes there are with speed and aggression, consequences be damned. (Note: this is NOT an endorsement of actually driving like a raging maniac!)

This attack-oriented mindset on defense will be the most striking difference between the 2009 Jets and the 2008 version under the departed Eric Mangini. While Mangini was content to abide by a "bend, don't break" philosophy and easing off the gas pedal, Ryan will stomp a hole through the car while flooring it.

Ryan's methods need little introduction. Having been the Baltimore Ravens' defensive coordinator for the past four years--and with the organization another six before that--Ryan helped make the Ravens one of the most dominant defensive squads for the last decade. While it helped to have talented players like Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Terrell Suggs and Haloti Ngata on the roster, Ryan's amorphous 3-4 schemes have consistently wrought havoc throughout the NFL. It is for that reason why the Jets wanted Ryan at the helm so much.

The Jets were a respectable, if unspectacular defensive team last year under Mangini, ranking both 17th in the league in points-allowed-per-game (22.2) and yards-allowed-per-game (329.4). They also finished seventh in sacks with 41 takedowns. Despite those numbers, the Jets often saw their opponents push them beyond their breaking point.

Opposing teams were able to score more than 24 points five times last year, including a crushing 34-17 loss to the Denver Broncos in Week 13 that began the downward spiral for Gang Green. The Broncos gashed the Jets's "D" for 484 total yards, with quarterback Jay Cutler passing for 357 yards and rookie running back Peyton Hillis rushing for 129 on 22 carries. Hillis' line was surprising in that not only was he a rookie, but the Jets came into the game with the league's third-ranked rushing defense and had yet to allow a 100-yard rusher.

Throughout that game, Cutler was able to make an average secondary and make it look well below sub-standard. Why? It's simple: no one was pounding him into the ground.

Jets players recorded a grand total of zero sacks against the Broncos' zone blocking scheme. In fact, Cutler barely even was scratched by a green jersey. Such an occurrence will be rare under Ryan's regime.

During his four-year tenure as the Ravens' defensive co-ordinator, Ryan operated out of a 3-4 scheme that resembled few others. It was practically a 3-4 in name only. The trademark of a Ryan defense is that it will adapt to whatever the situation calls for and will bring as much pressure possible.

There will be times when nine guys line up in the box and half of them try to shoot in through a tackle-guard gap. Other times, you could see the outside linebackers and ends bring pressure, but five yards down the field will be NT Kris Jenkins in coverage. The point is that a Ryan defense will constantly be bringing new looks and pressure packages in every game.

OLB/DE Calvin Pace collected seven sacks and forced five fumbles in 2008--both career-highs that could be broken with the new defensive game plan. Last year's first-round draft pick, Vernon Gholston, was a forgotten man on the squad who might play a more vital role under Ryan. Gholston's specialty while at Ohio State University was rushing the passer from multiple angles and positions, a skill that fits in perfectly with what Ryan will try to do.

No matter who is tasked with rushing the quarterback, Ryan will make sure that someone is up in the quarterback's face mask, forcing the QB to make poor decisions that could result in a sack or turnover.

So if you happen to be driving north-bound on Route 24 in New Jersey this fall and a burly, white-haired man zooms past your car out of nowhere, don't worry. You weren't necessarily in his way, but possibly helping him think of a new way to do his job.