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Remembering New York's Defensive Playoff Scheme: Up Front

With the game against New England coming up Sunday, this is as good of a time as any to look back at what the Jets did so successfully in last season's Divisional Playoffs, flustering Tom Brady and the Patriots. I am going to describe what I saw on three major parts of the field. The first is in the trenches.

I am not sure the Patriots are a great rushing team in their own right. They do tend to have a lot of success on the ground, though. I think a lot of it has to do with the greatness of Tom Brady and New England's passing attack. Defenses have to play the pass. Even when a handoff is evident, linebacker and and safeties have to be careful about coming up too far because biting on a play action fake could mean a touchdown.

We know about the job Shaun Ellis did in the Divisional round, but I am not sure Sione Pouha and Mike Devito got enough credit for their critical dirty work. They controlled the line of scrimmage, largely slowing down the New England ground attack. Guys at the second level usually had easy clean up work on runs while playing pass first and the adjusting to the run. That is difficult to do unless the defensive line controls the point of attack and makes the job of the linebackers against the run easier and clean from blockers. Because of the work of the defensive linemen, the Jets could drop their defenders into coverage.

The line also did a great job rushing the passer. This is where we get to Shaun Ellis. It is easy to write off what he did as racking up coverage sacks. The Jets were trying to do just that, though. They did not attack Brady. They dropped a ton of guys into coverage. By not being aggressive blitzing, they were giving the Pats an initial advantage up front. When you play coverage, the idea is you want the coverage to hold initially. Then it is up to the players up front to fight through traffic, split double teams, and get to the passer because even the best coverage usually cannot hold forever. Ellis did an incredible job that day working through the muck.

Early returns so far from Muhammad Wilkerson are good. If the Jets attack the Patriots with a similar scheme Sunday, he might need to have as big of a day as Ellis had in January.