When Rex Ryan took charge of the New York Jets this past January, he made his intentions perfectly clear. He spoke very simply, very convincingly, and very encouragingly about what kind of defense fans of the Jets could expect in the upcoming 2009 NFL season.
"We want to be known as the most physical football team in the NFL. We're going to turn the heat up, we're going to let the fur fly, and lets see what happens. This is a good football team. It's built to play the kind of of style were going to play."
Which is in stark contrast to the style employed by Eric Mangini during his time here. Where he advised a read and react type system, Rex employs an aggressive pressure type system.
In other words, Eric Mangini said let's see what they give us and then react to that, where as Rex Ryan is saying, let's not wait to see what they want to give us, let's go after them and make them play the we want them to play, because we have play-makers on this football team.
The one problem with Mangini's system was that he didn't have the personnel to develop and execute it. His conservative approach put a lot of pressure on the cornerbacks, and while Revis was exceptional, the opposite corner slot was a revolving door the majority of the season.
Given enough time, the opposition is going to realise that their QB can sit back and avoid Revis. It was widely said among people who covered the Jets last year that Mangini was unable to make adjustments from the sideline, that he was stubborn in his ways, and believed too much that his system was the superior one and that it was going to eventually come out on top.
A view that was further enhanced during the offseason when Darrelle Revis made the following comments:
"He needed to sit us down, correct the mistakes and get more in-depth with what we needed to do. What we needed to accomplish as a team. He'll say one thing on the board but then relating to the player, he had a tough time sometimes."
Mike Westhoff made several comments after the season that seemed to be enhancing the same idea that Revis was trying to get across. He is a film man, a board guy, he is not a personnel guy, and relating information to his players was difficult.
This is of course in complete contrast with Rex Ryan who is known as the ultimate personnel type. He can relate to the players, he treats them like adults, and he runs a K.I.L.L system—keep it likable and learn-able.
Rex is not about the system; he is about putting his players in the best possible situation for them to succeed which is exactly what he has done with Revis and the rest of this impressive emerging defence
"It's not about driving the square peg into a round hole" Ryan said. "To me, it's the players over the system. I've been around enough things and, along with my coaching staff, we've creative ways to use players."
So what does this all mean for Revis and the rest of the defence?
Well, Ryan runs from the basic 3-4 defence, the same as Eric Mangini did. However, it comes back to the very basic principle that I highlighted earlier: conservatism vs. aggressiveness.
Rex brings an innovative and original blitz package to a team that was lacking in both departments last season. Anyone on the defense can blitz at any time, from the safeties to the corners to the outside linebackers to the inside linebackers, and that kind of thinking is what kept Tom Brady below the 50 percent completion mark last season.
When you get pressure on the QB like a Ryan defence does it doesn't allow the QB to settle into any kind of rhythm. He is forced to release the ball earlier than he wants to, he doesn't have time to survey the field, pump fake, or glance off a safety.
However, for this to work you have to have certain types of players willing to believe in the system. Corners have to be tough off the line, have quick closing speed, good instincts, and be able to wrap up the receiver. Revis is the ideal corner for this kind of system, because he possesses all those characteristics.
Bringing pressure takes players, which means that more of the field is open, but with so little time to analyse the coverage, the QB doesn't have the time to always find the best matchup, the ideal pass.
"We had to get pressure on him," Ryan said. "If you can bring three to get there, great. Four, five, six, seven, eight, whatever it takes, we thought we had to do that. You can't let Tom Brady be comfortable back there."
This type of aggressive style is what New York has been craving. It also means that you have to be able to rely on your corners. The cornerbacks in a Rex Ryan system are not going to be given much help, mainly because one of the safeties is often up at the line, showing on an overload blitz.
Corners are left for man-to-man coverage. This suits Revis just fine. Ever since coming out of college in 2007, he has played against some of the best, ran step for step with some of the elite, and shut down nearly all with which he has come into contact. Randy Moss and Andre Johnson are the 2009 victims, with more to come.
One of the only knocks on Revis coming out of Pittsburgh was his toughness. Scout.com said that his toughness was a negative; football futures said that he needed to be more physical. Well after maturing, and now being given the chance to show his toughness, I think that Randy Moss and Andre Johnson can confirm that it is no weakness anymore.
It's no mystery that Revis has developed and is getting nationwide attention this year. He is being asked to do more, being put in situations that he loves to be in, and challenges that he relishes, and the confidence that Rex has in Revis is plain for everyone to see.
Finally to finish, here are some stats comparing the defence of 2008 with the one of 2009, and while it is still early the signs are encouraging:
Total Defence: 16th, 329.4 yards average per game
Pass Defence: 29th, 234.5 yards average per game
Rush Defence: seventh, 94.9 yards average per game
Total Defence: third, 256.0 yards average per game
Pass Defence: fifth, 173.3 yards average per game
Rush Defence: ninth, 82.7 yards average per game
Revis was made for Ryan's system and the system was made for Revis.