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One Player Away from an Elite Defense

A number of observers have questioned how Rex Ryan's defense will function without Ray Lewis. It is fair. Lewis is one of the greatest linebackers to ever take the field. There is no question he made his teammates like Bart Scott better. However, the Jets have a pretty good middle linebacker of their own to pair with Scott. David Harris is in the discussion with Patrick Willis and Jerrod Mayo among the ranks of the top young 3-4 inside linebackers in the league. The Jets had one of the top rushing defenses in football in 2008 in no small part because of Harris' block shedding and tackling ability. The Jets, however, might have a tough time making their defense work because they lack a linebacker comparable to another in Baltimore, Terrell Suggs.

Rex Ryan runs a very aggressive defense. He blitzes frequently to get to opposing quarterbacks before their receivers have a chance to get open in man coverage. Suggs helped this system thrive. Blocking schemes are difficult enough with potential blitzers coming from all angles. With an elite pass rusher like Suggs, blocking assigments become a nightmare. The best pass rushers force the opponents to account for them on every single play. Even nonblitzes can result in pressure. The Jets have some quality defensive players but no sack artists.

The Jets had issues getting to the quarterback in 2008. Despite a high sack total, the front struggled to generate consistent pressure even when blitzing. Part of this was the design. Bob Sutton did not utilize the blitz enough, and when he did, they were poorly drawn up. Part of this was the talent, though. The Jets had guys who could get to the quarterback, but it was nobody's specialty. Calvin Pace set a career high in sacks, but he is not a dynamic pass rusher who can force consistent double teams. Bryan Thomas disappeared in the pass rush in the second half of the season, and Vernon Gholston never made any impact. The blitz is more dangerous when the defense can get pressure out of its base because offensive lines have to account for everything.

This is going to be a good defense. Aside from the weakside outside linebacker spot, the Jets will put out an average to above average player at every position. Good coaching is in place. However, this is not going to be an elite defense without a legitimate pass rushing threat. Maybe it will be Gholston. Maybe the team can pick up somebody else. Unless they do, this team will lack an integral player with a skill set similar to a current Ravens linebacker. That linebacker is not Ray Lewis. It is Suggs.