Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Guest Post: Can Jets Defense Match '85 Bears?

I'll get back to more regular posting once we inch closer to training camp. But right now, we have a JetsDaily guest post from Scott Dahl. You may know him as WhiteShoeWillie on the message boards. Here are his thoughts on how Rex Ryan's 2010 Jets' defense compares to his father's 1985 Chicago Bears' defense.

In 1985 Buddy Ryan fielded what many consider the greatest defense of all time.  If not the best defense of all time, surely it’s towards the top of everyone’s list.  Buddy was a defensive visionary who saw what the leagues best offenses were doing and devised a scheme to smother them. 

The 46 was an innovative defense with a unique defensive front, designed to confuse the quarterback. The line was shifted dramatically to the weak side, with both guards and the center "covered" by the left defensive end and both defensive tackles. This front forced offenses to immediately account for the defenders lined up directly in front of them, making it considerably harder to execute blocking assignments such as pulling, trapping and pass protection in general. Moreover, the right defensive end would be aligned outside the left offensive tackle, leaving the tackle 'on an island' when trying to block the end.  The primary tactic is to rush between five and eight players on each play, either to get to the quarterback quickly or disrupt running plays. Another major key to the 46 is the ability of the CB's to play bump-and-run coverage. Bump-and-run can allow the defense to take away the quarterback's immediate decision making ability, by disrupting the timing of short routes needed to make a quick throw to beat the 46 defense.

In ’85, the defense smothered nearly every team in its path.  There only loss that season was against Dan Marino, the greatest QB of his time, who dropped a whopping 38 points on an otherwise dominant defense.  Marino’s huge arm, quick release, and perhaps most importantly outstanding offensive line attacked a defense that was known for attacking with precise, downfield passes.  Because the 46 defense had only one deep safety most of the time with it’s CB’s on an island it was key that the defensive front got to the QB quickly to disrupt his passes.  The Fins counter punch went largely unanswered that day.  If the Patriots had not upset the Fins in the AFC Championship game it would have been a great Superbowl rematch.

Buddy Ryan and the Bears had the last laugh that season though as they won the Superbowl in dominant fashion as the Fins watched from home.  The league took note of the Dolphins success against that defense though and before to long the 46 was a thing of the past.  Offenses spread the field out by putting more receivers wide than the 46 personnel could handle, then the rules began to change to favor the passing game by limiting the amount of contact with the receivers and quarterbacks.  The 46 as a base defense was somewhat of a flash in the pan in NFL history as is often the case with innovative schemes.

Nearly 25 years later Rex Ryan, Buddy’s son, took over as the head coach of the New York Jets.  In 2009, Rex Ryan took over the Jets with the same confident/cocky attitude his father was known for.  He also brought the same type of visionary defensive mind with him. 

As one might expect, the NFL landscape has morphed quite a bit in the quarter of a century since the Bears carried Buddy off the field after winning the Superbowl.  Bill Walsh’s west coast offense is now a staple in nearly every NFL offense.  Myriads of different personnel packages and substitutions are used across the league, as the game has become more of a strategic chess match between coordinators than ever before.  The rules are now heavily in favor of the passing game with almost zero contact allowed on receivers and quarterbacks. 

The Ryan family is still inventing unique schemes to combat the leagues offensive attacks though.  In 2009 Rex took one of the leagues worst rated defenses from 2008 and made them the best defense in the league.  Some still say that Rex ran the same defense he had success with the Ravens last season, but that is not the case.  Buddy taught him well. 

Rex recognized he had a cornerback capable of doing something special.  The ’85 Bears corners terrorized WR’s with a very physical style of defending that isn’t allowed today.  Darrelle Revis can do it within the present day rules.  Rex had the audacity to put his CB out there against the best WR’s in the world without giving him safety help.  Also like the old 46 defense, this allowed Rex to create pressure on opposing offensive lines and quarterbacks.  He didn’t accomplish this by simply sending an extra guy at the quarterback though.  He did do that, but he also confused QB’s by putting extra coverage in the areas not defended by Revis.  Also like the 46 defense this often took away the opposing quarterbacks quick decision-making ability.  QB’s were manipulated into throwing the ball at the best cornerback in the world without having much time to think about it.

Some of the same basic concepts of the 46 were used.  Take away the QB’s quick decision making ability with bump and run coverage on one side combined with overloads on the other, and send more guys than the offense can block.  The recipe worked quite well as season progressed and the players began to feel comfortable within the system.  The design was so good that once the Jets got into the playoffs they won two road games with a rookie QB at the helm. 

Unfortunately for Rex and the Jets, the greatest QB of the modern day wasn’t fazed by the Jets pressure scheme.  His laser, rocket arm, quick release, smarts, and outstanding offensive line attacked a defense that was used to doing the attacking.  Manning takes the chess match out of the headsets and brings it onto the field.  His pre-snap ability to recognize what a defense is likely to be doing, adjust blocking schemes and routes combined with his quick release, accuracy and huge arm allowed him the time to let routes develop and attack down field.  The Jets defense was shredded for 30 points, well above there season average.

As the saying goes, Rome wasn’t built in a day.  It took Buddy Ryan about 4 years to work out the kinks and acquire the right personnel for his innovative 46 scheme, and another 3 to really become dominant.  Rome didn’t have free agency and in 80’s trades weren’t nearly as common as they are today.  The Jets were able to acquire two very talented corner backs during the 2010 off-season, one of which has proven to be extremely capable in man coverage under today’s passing rules and the other who is supposed to have top notch man coverage skills. 

With the addition of Cromartie and Wilson, combined with the audacity and defensive prowess of Rex Ryan we could be on the verge of seeing a defense every bit as dominant as that ’85 Bears team was.  Rex will push the limits of this defense and attack today’s pass happy NFL offenses with zero coverage schemes with hidden booby traps in the form of defensive backs that put even more pressure on opposing QB’s. 

Whether or not the perfect storm is brewing is obviously still outside the range of the forecast, but there are warning signs a plenty and the sky is getting gray for NFL offenses.  It may be sooner rather than later that we see Kris Jenkins and Mark Sanchez doing the super bowl shuffle of this generation.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Revis, Jets face difficult situation

The Darrelle Revis-New York Jets contract negotiations took a turn for the ugly yesterday.

Revis skipped a few plays in practice, telling coach Rex Ryan he was lightheaded. Later, he mouthed off to the media about how he "sat out for a little bit just to let them know I can play or I can't play," making both himself and his coach look bad. He wants to be paid as much as any cornerback in the NFL, which means Nnamdi Asomugha's $15 million per year.

In one year's time, Darrelle Revis went from an up-and-coming cornerback in the NFL to the man, the myth, the legend known as Revis Island. Rex Ryan touted him as the best defensive player in football, and for good reason. He was that good.

Now, he wants to be paid like it. With three years left on his rookie deal, Revis wants to tear it up and get more money than any defensive back in the history of the NFL. Complicating matters is the fact that a few days after the season ended, Mike Tannenbaum promised Revis a new contract by next season. That's proving to be a statement he might like to take back now that he has heard his star cornerback's demands.

There's nothing wrong with wanting to be paid, and Revis's case is obvious. I'm the best, you've told me I'm the best, now pay me like the best. But it's not that simple. With his contract being in place for three more seasons, he wouldn't have a whole lot of leverage if it weren't for Tannenbaum's promise.

Asomugha's contract of 3 years, $45 million was by far the biggest all-time for a cornerback, surpassing Nate Clements's 8-year, $80 million contract. But both of those players were free agents: Asomugha coming off a year where he played with the franchise tag, and Clements being the best cornerback to come on the free agent market in a long time. Revis is under contract. The Jets want to give him more money, and they're happy to do so in a long-term deal, but a deal like Asomugha's makes no sense.

In fact, any deal three years or less makes no sense because the Jets get nothing in return. They have him under contract for three years, if they give Revis more money, they at least want to secure another year or two at the end to lockdown their star cornerback. Giving Revis more money without an extension sets a precedent for any player who out-performs his contract to ask for a raise.

And giving him $15 million dollars a year for at least four or five years is a risky proposition for any NFL player, especially once the salary cap is likely re-implemented. Asomugha's deal was considered extreme and an aberration, but it set the market. Now between Ryan's lofty praise and Tannenbaum's ill-advised promise of a new deal, Revis has all the reason in the world to expect a massive new deal.

But if Revis doesn't back down from his contract demands a little bit, Tannenbaum has little reason to tear up his current deal. He'd look like a liar, and it could hurt the team's chances of locking up Revis long-term, but if Revis backed up his elite year with another one, the Jets would likely be more inclined to break the bank.

It also doesn't help Revis's case that Nick Mangold, D'Brickashaw Ferguson, and David Harris will all need new contracts, not to mention Braylon Edwards, Santonio Holmes, and Antonio Cromartie. While Revis is the Jets' priority, there are too many other players they need to take care of to completely break the bank on their star cornerback.

That said, if Revis is correct that the Jets are offering him no guaranteed money, that's simply not right. While it's impossible to judge a contract without knowing all the details, clearly Revis was insulted enough to act like a prima donna at practice after building up three years of good will.

This is going to be a fascinating story to watch as the weeks go on. There's a wide gap between what the Jets are offering and what Revis wants, and that won't be closed by training camp barring a miracle. Expect this dispute to last deep into training camp, and with the HBO cameras in the building, everything Revis does will be magnified.