It's no secret that the Jets want to blitz teams. They mix up their personnel flagrantly and dare opponents to respond to their attack instead of attacking themselves. Pitching instead of catching, if Rex Ryan will permit me without cackling like a little kid. At times last night, they had but one defensive linemen in the game and blitzed with a variety of linebackers and defensive backs.
Baltimore won the game, but it was equal parts luck, circumstance, and skill. The refs were seemingly always in place to flag defensive holding and pass interference, and at times the Jets were willing to bail out the Ravens' offense. Kyle Wilson's defensive holding against a five yard waggle route (on 3rd-and-28!) comes to mind. Baltimore also had the resources at receiver to maroon one of their own on Revis Island and not lose their venom on offense. Revis could and did erase Derrick Mason all game, but Anquan Boldin picked up the slack and saved Baltimore on third down a few times.
For other teams though, they may not be afforded the same luxuries as Baltimore. Maybe the refs ease up and let the Jets play more physically in the defensive backfield. Or maybe they just don't have the firepower to survive on 3rd-and-long against New York. Baltimore is a Super Bowl fave and they won by a single point. If the Jets' offense had been something resembling competent it might have been a completely different ballgame.
So, how does Generic Team X beat someone like New York? Let's look at the Jets' objectives on defense:
STEP 1: STOP THE RUN
STEP 2: BLITZ
STEP 3: EAT PRETZEL M&Ms
Though Rex Ryan plays guru, that's his defense when you reduce it to its basest parts. All the Jets want to do is to stop a team from running the ball on first and second down, produce a third-and-long, and then blitz quarterbacks so they'll make a mistake. How they stop the run is by using their speed and unique match-ups to confuse blockers and penetrate into opposing backfields.
Quick stats: The Jets allowed only 3.8 yards per rushing attempt last season. Also, the Jets' third-down defense allowed teams to convert only 31.5 percent of their tries. When you can stop the run and you have players like Darrelle Revis roaming your secondary, you're free to get after teams on passing downs.
The best way to negate the Jets' advantages is to get positive yards on first and second down. Teams that did so against New York beat them. It sounds like a given, you want to be gaining yards on any down hopefully, but the difference between 3rd-and-10 and 3rd-and-5 against New York is monumental.
Take Baltimore's offenses most successful drive of the night: a 9 play, 85 yard march at the beginning of the third quarter which resulted in a field goal.*
The Ravens take over on their own 8-yard line at 11:37 in the third. On first downs they get 3, 4, and 5 yards. On second, they get zero, 27, and 3 yards. They finish the drive kicking a field goal that turns out to be the game winner.
While on first down they experienced some success, Flacco still had to be bailed out by Anquan Boldin on third-and-long (resulting in a 38-yard reception) once after throwing an incompletion to him on a second down. Still, the Ravens mananged to ease their workload on third down by shortening getting positive yards on first and second.
How does a team get those positive yards early though?
Any offensive coordinator worth his salt can take what the defense gives him and run with it. What the Jets give any offense though is a healthful spoonful of blitzes and excellent man-to-man coverage. And, again, to make it easier on oneself against the blitz, you need to shorten the time and distance it takes a quarterback to release the ball or for a running back to reach the first down marker.
The Jets blitz package is essential to stopping opponents' running games. And, using their "Creep" nickel packages and unorthodox personnel they work in linebackers and defensive backs to slow down teams. But what those players add in speed, they lack in size, strength, and in the DB's case, experience playing the run at the line of scrimmage. So instead of just pounding the ball inside and accepting the Jets' blitzes, why not get outside and take the initiative?
At times the Ravens used an unbalanced offensive line, lining up their backside tackle on the playside and trying to create mismatches. But what really worked were quick hitting outside runs (NOT zone stretch plays. When they tried to work inside-out the flow of the Jets' D smothered them) that got the offensive linemen out and on the defensive backs being used to blitz. An example (Note: I'm drawing this from memory):
It's just a little quick toss that now puts an offensive guard onto an unsuspecting New York safety. A double team by the tight end and playside tackle to the inside linebacker cuts off pursuit and the fullback is man on man with whatever linebacker attempts to fill. The Jets, even though they've brought eight into the box, don't have the match-up they want and maybe more importantly, you've taken the initiative against a defense that seeks to control it. If the linebacker and safety switch sides, a 300-pound guard still presents a considerable roadblock. I drew that up on what I think is the base Jets formation, the playside defensive end could become another stand-up linebacker, but that would still favor a strong double team at the point of attack.
Ray Rice's longest run of the day was seven yards, coming off tackle. His second longest was six yards, on a toss similar to this one. The Jets' blitzes try to root quarterbacks and offenses within the box, so that gang-tackling and mistakes can occur. But by sealing the edge and getting outside, which is admittedly much easier than it sounds, a team can give itself a fighting chance against a lethal New York defense.
Other tactics that Baltimore used were bringing in their running backs to block and then having them leak out as receivers. Flacco would dump the ball off to McClain, McGahee, or Rice and it would act as a run essentially. Mix in some quick posts and off-tackle runs and you've managed to assert yourself against a tough defense. In the end though, execution trumps anything a defense can throw at you.
How do you beat the Jets? By making it easy for yourself on third down. How do you do that? By using safe, efficient, and quick-hitting plays that exploit New York's penchant for using different sorts of personnel groupings. Until next week, I'm Professor Football.