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New York Jets: A More Passive Rex Ryan

Al Bello

One of the stories surrounding the Jets during the offseason was they were going to get more aggressive on defense. Mike Pettine was a guy who liked to play things more conservatively than Rex Ryan. As Pettine took over the defense more and more, the Jets blitzed less and less. Rex Ryan was taking charge again so the Jets were supposed to get back to attacking with all kinds of wild blitzes.

Has it panned out that way? That does not seem to be the case.

One significant stat that might tell the story is the number of times the Jets have sent defensive backs as blitzers.  Doing that is risky. The offensive line might not be expecting it so it can lead to a sack. If it fails, your defensive backsin coverage have one less person supporting them. It also can mean the blitz is a heavy one. This is a good indication of how aggressive the defense is because Rex Ryan loved to send defensive backs in pressure packages when he was more hands on with the defense early in his tenure.

Pro Football Focus keeps stats on this. In 2012, the "passive" Pettine defense blitzed a defensive back 170 times in 16 games, an average of 10.2 per game. So far in 2013, Rex's defense has blitzed a defensive back 35 times in 5 games, an average of 7. The Jets have been arguably even less aggressive with Rex in charge. What gives?

For starters, this isn't a bad thing. I never understood the idea that blitzing more was a good thing. It wasn't like Pettine playing more coverage held the Jets back. They still had a good defense. You can succeed in the NFL playing any number of styles.

Why has Rex chosen this path? I think the answer probably has to do with the talent he has. Early in his tenure, the strength of the defense was in its cornerback play. This team had the best cornerback of its generation but not much of a pass rush. The optimal use was to send extra players to help the pass rush since the cover guys at the back end could hold up one on one. Now the defense has gone the other way. The real strength is up front. Blitzing is less essential to generate pressure so the extra resources can go into coverage.

This is why I think Rex has a deserved reputation as a top notch defensive coach. A lot of coaches are stuck doing things their preferred way regardless of the talent they have. For example, one thing you hear a lot about Rex's father as a coach is that he seemed to prioritize blitzing and getting to the quarterback over winning the game at times. I think it speaks well of Rex that he can adapt what he does to optimize what he has.