Why Rex Ryan's 3-4 Defense Is Different Than Mangini's

Ethan StanislawskiCorrespondent IMay 29, 2009

NEW YORK - APRIL 20:  (EDITORS NOTE: IMAGES HAVE BEEN DIGITALLY MANIPULATED) Bart Scott of the New York Jets poses for a portrait on April 20, 2009 in New York, New York.  (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

Under Eric Mangini, the Jets had a 3-4 defense. Awesome because the Jets have a 3-4 defense under Rex Ryan, too!

The question is what do we need to change? 

Well, Ryan brings major changes to his defensive scheme. And those changes are mostly for the better.

While the 3-4 defense is, in fact, coming back in vogue in the NFL, the nuances of each system determines whether a 3-4 defense with talent is Super Bowl bound or just another 9-7 team on the brink of a playoff birth.

In the case of the Jets, they are certainly better off in a 3-4 system with Kris Jenkins, Calvin Pace, and yes, even Vernon Gholston.

Just imagine: the Jets actually made it to the playoffs with Dewayne Robertson as a nose tackle in a 3-4 defense. That alone may be where the nickname “Mangenius” came from. 

So we’ve got Rex Ryan, another 3-4 evangelist, at the helm now. He has brought in “his guys,” including Bart Scott, Lito Sheppard, Jim Leonhard, and Marques Douglas, who signed with the Ravens on three non-consecutive occasions in the Rex Ryan era (take that, Grover Cleveland!).

How is Ryan’s 3-4 different from any other 3-4?

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Mainly that he will mix and match the use of base, over, and under defenses in his schemes. This is the kind of multi-dimensional defense that any D-coordinator would kill to create.

They key, as always, is right kind of talent. 

You probably know Over and Under defenses from Madden—they’re the last variable that comes up after you’ve already called the formation and play.

In a 4-3 defense, a base defense has the linebackers are distributed evenly behind the linemen. Over means the linebackers are shifted more to the strong side, while under shifts closer to the weak side. The point of an over/under shift is to move to an offense's point of attack.

When Shaun Alexander led the Seahawks to the Super Bowl in 2006, he did so by running almost exclusively to the left, where Walter Jones and Steve Hutchinson were his blockers. If you were to shift Terrell Suggs, Bart Scott, and Ray Lewis closer to the right side of the defense in that formation, you’d understand how an over/under defense could be effective. 

The main benefit of the 3-4 over the 4-3, of course, is deception; in a 4-3 defense, you can usually expect the defensive line to be the primary rushers. In a 3-4, you have no idea who is rushing, which makes things exceptionally confusing to blockers when making their first move.

Normally, leaning linebackers over or under would be a good indication of where they are heading—that is why over/under formations are usually used more heavily in the 4-3. In Rex Ryan’s schemes, however, he will add the same kind of deception to who is rushing to who is covering what side of the field. Players between those strong enough to penetrate the O-line, fast enough to run from end to end, and those who can do a little of both.

This kind of defense proved to be the best especially useful in countering Peyton Manning.

The definitive Rex Ryan player is probably Adalius Thomas, who could play at all three levels of the defense in a way that would have been impossible to imagine 30 years ago. He wasn’t as superhuman as Shawne Merriman, but that he could move as fast despite weighing 270 pounds meant he always had a role to fill in Ryan’s defense. 

The aggressiveness needed for an over-under 3-4 scheme results in a higher chance for disaster if the front seven doesn’t do everything right. To offset that risk, a strong secondary is a must. With two world-class corners in Darrell Revis and Lito Sheppard, and an incredibly athletic safety in Jim Leonhard across from All-Pro Kerry Rhodes, the Jets secondary is one of the strongest the team has had in my lifetime. Bart Scott, a Pro Bowler, is a machine and one of the most intimidating, versatile linebackers in the NFL. It’s hard to play second fiddle to Ray Lewis, but despite his unsportsmanlike penalties helping cost the Ravens the game in their legendary 2007 Monday Night Football matchup against the Patriots, it ultimately proved to be a coming out party for him. His ridiculous intensity on the field went overboard there, but he did so against a team everyone hated and wanted to beat just as badly that year. Rex Ryan would be smart to remind Scott that we are not is not in 2007 before the Jets' two games against the Pats this year. 

Make no mistake, the Jets were a playoff team last year. If not for Brett Favre’s disastrous December, the team would have made it through at least one round of the playoffs. Kris Jenkins playing through pain caused most of last year’s defensive problems toward season’s end. After he had carried the team through the first 11 games, the D still adjusted reasonably well to his decreased effectiveness, just not well enough. With a healthy Jenkins, the defense should be not be the main issue for the Jets. This defense is stacked, so much so that they can overcome an injury to just about any other defensive player.

The offense is really what will make or break the Jets in 2009.

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