What happens when a stoppable force meets a moveable object? We're about to find out when the New York Jets try to hold off the offensive "force" that will now be led by Derek Carr.
At first glance, the idea of a rookie quarterback, in his regular-season debut, giving a Rex Ryan defense a hard time seems laughable. Based on Ryan's track record, logic dictates that his dominance of rookies will continue this Sunday against Carr and the Oakland Raiders.
Despite what the numbers may say, Carr will prove to be much more difficult to manage than the typical rookie QB who lines up against a Ryan defense.
For one, Carr's action in the preseason was limited but nonetheless impressive. Filling in for an injured Matt Schaub in the preseason finale, Carr tore apart the first-team defense for the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks, completing 11 of 13 passes (including three touchdowns) for a 152.1 rating.
Meanwhile, Ryan is about to field a defense that is as lacking in the secondary as any team in the NFL. Both of the Jets' projected starters, Dee Milliner and Dimitri Patterson, are out of the season opener (Milliner is injured, and Patterson was released). Reserve cornerback Darrin Walls and converted safety Antonio Allen are projected to lock down these two key positions.
The safety position is far from a certainty as well. First-round pick Calvin Pryor will be making his debut. The only stable presence the Jets have on the back end will be veteran Dawan Landry.
Carr is a far cry from what the Jets will face the following week in Aaron Rodgers, but they still need to attack the Raiders offense with caution to avoid being on the wrong side of one of the biggest Week 1 upsets.
Blitz, Blitz...and Blitz Some More
What's the best way to cover up a bad secondary? Ensure that they don't have to spend a whole lot of time actually covering.
Coach Ryan is a master craftsman when it comes to designing blitzes—a skill that will certainly come in handy against Carr, a player who was preparing for Cal Poly's defense at this time last year.
While it is generally true that blitz-happy teams tend to put extra stress on their secondary, sending extra rushers would make sense in this particular case, primarily because Carr always struggled in the face of pressure while at Fresno State.
On this play from the Bulldogs 2013 matchup against Nevada, Carr throws the ball far too early, as he appears to react at even the mere possibility of pressure. Nevada shows blitz before the snap, but back out and wind up only rushing four.
Carr has plenty of time to go through his reads, but he appears rattled in the pocket and makes a hurried throw. This play also came around the midway point of the game, right about at the time when the hits and pressure started to take a toll on Carr.
The weakest part of Carr's game could be his grasp of the offense and his focus, which is exactly where Ryan should attack. One of the most effective ways to do this is by "mirroring" pre-snap alignments.
Lining up an equal numbers of players on both sides of the defensive formation makes it difficult for a quarterback to identify the blitzes—especially in Week 1 when less may be known about an opponent's tendencies.
The quicker the Jets can get Carr off his game, the "faster" Carr's mind will speed up, forcing him into game-changing mistakes.
Have Faith in Walls and Allen
The Jets cornerbacks may be largely unproven, but that does not necessarily mean they're incompetent.
When given a chance, Walls has played well with the first team. He had another tremendous preseason, with Pro Football Focus rating him as the second-best corner in 2014. (He was No. 1 during the 2012 preseason.)
In truth, it is somewhat baffling that it has taken Walls this long to finally earn a spot in the starting lineup. He was far and away superior in 2013 to the rookie Milliner, whom he often replaced because of injury or performance.
Allen has even less starting experience at cornerback, with just one game under his belt at the position. However, despite being left on an island with A.J. Green in New York's second preseason game against Cincinnati, Allen held his own. He gave up just one catch, and that came on a play in which Green could have easily been called for offensive pass interference.
This is not to say that Ryan should run Cover 0 all afternoon as if Darrelle Revis was still wearing green and white, but he does not have to sit back in a prevent defense either. Walls and Allen deserve their newfound starting roles.
After all, if the Jets are going to find out whether or not this combination can last in the long term, a "warmup" game against Derek Carr and the Raiders could be a low-risk way to find out.
Focus on the Run
It is assumed that the Raiders are going to have a tough time running on the third-ranked run defense from last season, but the Jets need to pay particular attention to stopping Oakland's rushing attack before it has a chance to get going.
Maurice Jones-Drew is no longer a spring chicken, but he looks healthier and has a little more "jump" to his step, averaging 6.1 yards per carry this preseason, including 5.7 after contact according to Pro Football Focus.
As good as the Jets' defensive line is against the run, having Calvin Pryor and Antonio Allen creep into the box will assure that the only way the Raiders move the ball is by Carr's right arm.
As tempting as it may seem to keep the Jets safeties in the back end to support the cornerbacks, the Jets will be better served to play things a bit more aggressive, particularly in the first few series of the game. Taking away the running game early will put the game in Carr's hands.
And if the Jets jump out to an early lead, they can come at Carr with a plethora of blitzes deployed at Ryan's pleasure. Once the Jets build a bit of a cushion, they can afford to move back the safeties to prevent any big plays.
It would be easy for the Jets to sit back and wait for an unproven Carr to prove his worth against an NFL defense in a game that matters, but the Jets would be falling into a dangerous trap. As much as Ryan's defense is looking forward to the prospect of playing against a rookie this week, Carr is equally as excited to make his NFL debut against a secondary that is just as unproven.
Right now, Carr is a self-assured player who is throwing the football like a seasoned veteran. Ryan's task will be to knock him out of this confident mindset as quickly as possible.
Advanced statistics provided by ProFootballFocus.com (subscription required).