While we all know Rex Ryan is a defensive guru, this is the first time in his coaching career that he has a defensive unit that is young with a few second year players who have never been tested. In his early days with the Ravens and his last few years with Jets, Rex has enjoyed a solid veteran core. With another top 10 defense this season, this will cement Rex as one of the best defensive coaches in the game. John Idzik, the Jets GM virtually gutted most of the defense of the older veterans and infused youth and speed, with a dedicated focus on the defensive line which should absorb most of the growing pains of this inexperienced bunch. The Jets will also have possibly two rookies on the defenses starting this season, albeit top rookies, but will still come with a learning curve.
The Jets have definitely headed in the right direction on defense with a younger faster unit, but there will be growing pains. The chemistry had been solid the last few years with the Jets veteran players but their aging and slowing down became evident. For the Jets to remain a top defensive unit, purging the defense was a must and mission accomplished but that is just the first phase. Now, Rex must mesh the pieces into a well-coordinated unit that plays cohesive as a unit.
The Rex philosophy has always been mix and match on defense so players can line up in various positions, but ironically, Rex has several players who are one dimensional and are either solid against the run, but can’t generate a pass rush, or the opposite scenario. In today’s fast paced offense, and hurry up schemes, this could be a problem with defensive substitutions. I still believe versatile players and a balanced defense are the most effective ways to counter the growing trend of the hurry up offense. If you can keep your base defense on the field and they are versatile, that is the key, but do the Jets have that multi talent? To expand on the above from a personnel stand point, Demario Davis is a fast covering LBers, but not a proven run stuffer. Coples, can generate pressure but graded out poorly by PFF in his run defense. Calvin Pace can stop the run and set the edge, but can’t cover and his pass rushing skills have greatly diminished. Antwan Barnes is a solid situational pass rusher but a poor run defender. David Harris is stout against the run but slow in coverage. Dawan Landry is solid against the run but is a poor cover safety. The rookie Richardson is known for his explosiveness to get to the passer and his speed for a big man in open space is rare, but his play in the trenches and run defense has been questioned. As you can see, the jets have few versatile players. The only proven multi-dimensional player is Wilkerson who can do it all on the Dline. Rex will have to continue his mix and matching predicated on what the offense is doing and can have much success, but certain situations without versatility, will pose some challenges.
Let’s now discuss balance on the defense. While with the Jets, Rex has always had a top 10 defense, but it has declined every year and while the stats looked good, the defense has always had a proclivity to give up big plays, and could not make the stops when needed when the games were on the line. A major reason for this is holes at key positions. Once teams caught on to Rex’s schemes, it became more difficult to surprise offenses. The key holes on the Rex defense and still right to this day are a premiere rush LBer, and a true covering safety. While Rex has compensated for this, these pieces are critical to separating from a good Defense, to a very good defense.
While the jets have addressed the Dline and generating pressure without exotic blitzing, which will cover up some deficiencies, holes still remain at safety and LBer. Coverage in the intermediate zone due to fast spread offenses is a must and you need covering safety’s and fast LBers, which is a huge question on the Jets defense at this point. The Jets are solid up front and on the back end, but can be exploited at the mid-level.
In conclusion the Jets defense is moving in the right direction with younger players and more speed, but might take a step back as time will be needed to Gel. While there are some questions with some of the second year players and the Jets will have to wait on the rookies, overall the unit has potential and the talent in the trenches up front should facilitate and have a trickle down effect on the entire unit, but until the defense gels and a couple of key holes are filled, the Jets will not truly have that shutdown defense. It all can’t be accomplished in one season but I see the Jets moving in the right direction.
I think some fans are jumping the gun this season on the defense, believing that this will be one of the best units on the Jets in the Ryan era. The talent is there, but again, it will time to mesh and a few key spots will have to be addressed.