Rex Ryan may be a lot of things: A U.S. Soccer fan; a hot-tempered headset tosser; or a cross-dressing Browns fan. Great defensive mind must be at the top of that list. His deviously inventive coverage and pressure schemes frustrate offenses by confusing the quarterback’s reads. The Jets mix up their pre-snap looks to maximize confusion, and they shift and camouflage very well.
Look no further than these early plays from the Jets’ game against the Green Bay Packers for confirmation. These are the various looks Ryan threw at Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay offense on their first full series (discounting the aborted first series that Rodgers fumbled away on the handoff) to slow the Green Bay passing game.
1st and 10, 13:01 remaining 1st Quarter
Following a New York kickoff, Green Bay takes over on their own 20-yard line. Rodgers is under center and the Packers have 20 personnel on the field with the running backs in an offset i-formation. With their base 3-4 personnel on the field the Jets show a Cover 1 look pre-snap:
They roll this coverage into a hybrid Cover 3 at the snap. The change is designed to be confusing, yet the move is subtle as only the weak-side cornerback drops into a cushion right before the play begins:
The linebackers are grouped in the middle of the field illustrating the man coverage scheme underneath. Green Bay’s slot receiver runs an out pattern that moves the strong safety out of a throwing lane, and Rodgers is able to find Jordy Nelson on a post pattern for a 13-yard gain:
1st and 10, 12:36 remaining 1st Quarter
After the completion to Nelson the Packers go no-huddle, forcing the Jets to keep their base personnel on the field. What the defense does on the next play, however, is anything but basic. Rodgers is in the shotgun with Eddie Lacy next to him and the offense shows trips to the left that includes the in-line tight end. The Jets show a basic Cover 2 in the secondary and walk up the linebacker over the tight end:
Given the trips formation from the offense, you might expect the coverage to roll to that side of the field. It does not, as shown in the next still taken at the snap:
Rather than moving their coverage toward the concentration of receivers, the Jets actually walk the weak-side safety out over Nelson outside. As the play develops, the Jets play a Cover 2 concept, but with one of the safeties providing direct help to the cornerback on Nelson. The strong-side safety does not alter his alignment and plays straight Cover 2 on the other side:
2nd and 15, 11:53 remaining 1st Quarter
The Jets use their nickel defense on this play and show the quarterback another wrinkle in the secondary. Rodgers is in the shotgun with 11 personnel as tight end Jermichael Finley is lined up in the backfield with the quarterback. The Jets have five defensive backs on the field for this play, showing Cover 1 with nickelback Kyle Wilson in the slot. Notice just how deep the free safety is aligned:
Dawan Landry is over 20-yards away from the line of scrimmage. As the ball is snapped this still seems to be Cover 1 with a zone scheme underneath:
You probably notice that Randall Cobb is starting to gain some separation on his crossing route from the slot. What happens next on this play is fascinating:
Wilson peels off the crossing route from Cobb and settles into a zone near the middle of the field. Perhaps this is a blown assignment. Maybe the Jets actually do roll this into Cover 2 on the fly, as it looks in this image:
Whatever the coverage is, it fools Rodgers. Cobb is wide open, but the quarterback forces a throw on the outside to Jordy Nelson and the pass falls incomplete:
Other quarterbacks sometimes force throws to their favorite targets, too. Apparently.
3rd and 15, 11:47 remaining 1st Quarter
So far Green Bay has seen three different schemes on three different plays. Play four provides yet another look from the defense. The Packers have Rodgers in the shotgun and their 11 personnel is aligned in a slot formation to either side of the field. The Jets have their nickel grouping in the game and initially show a prevent Cover 3 in the secondary:
Just before the snap, Pryor backs away from the line, but both outside linebackers are now in a blitz posture on the edges. In the secondary, the defensive backs show Cover 2 but the cornerback over Nelson is giving him a decent cushion:
Now here is what unfolds:
Pryor blitzes through the A gap and both linebackers blitz on the outside. In the secondary the defensive backs roll into Cover 4/Quarters coverage. Rodgers is sacked for a 10-yard loss.
Four plays, four very different looks. This is the brilliance of Rex Ryan’s defensive mind. After the initial completion to Nelson on the first play, the next three plays were as follows: sack, incompletion, and sack. Green Bay punted on 4th down.
The Jets frequently utilize different looks that New England has not seen too often in their other matchups this season. First, the Jets obviously like to run Cover 4 in the secondary when bringing pressure. Here, Oakland has 10 personnel on the field for this 1st and 10 play against New York’s base defense. The defense shows Cover 2 in the secondary pre-snap and walks a linebacker onto the end of the defensive line in blitz posture:
At the snap, the linebacker blitzes, the cornerbacks drop back in coverage, and the secondary settles into their quarters coverage.
The change-up here is that the Jets will show both a blitz scheme up front and Cover 4 in the secondary before the snap, but then drop out of the blitz and roll into a different coverage as the play unfolds. In this clip, the Bears have Jay Cutler in the shotgun with 11 personnel and trips formation to the right. Defensively the Jets respond with their base personnel showing Cover 4 in the secondary. One linebacker is in the A gap showing blitz while Calvin Pace is on the line of scrimmage showing a blitz off the edge:
When the play begins, notice how the defense adjusts:
Pace races out to the flat, the strong safety races into the underneath zone, and the remaining defensive backs drop into deep thirds: This is a modified Cover 3 with Pace and the strong safety switching responsibilities. The Jets do not blitz and send only four rushers. Cutler reads this play properly and throws the weak-side out route.
New York also deploys Cover 6, a blend between Cover 2 and Cover 4 and more often seen in college football given the wider hashmarks on the field. Teams will play the Cover 2 look to the short side of the field and then play the Cover 4 look on the wider field on the backside. On this play the New York Jets throw Cover 6 at Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. Pre-snap the Jets’ base defense shows Green Bay a Cover 2 alignment:
Now watch how they adjust as the play begins:
The cornerback drops back while the strong safety rolls up, playing Cover 4 on their side of the field. To the other side of the field the cornerback remains in a press Cover 2 alignment while the safety stays in his Cover 2 position.
Ryan will also throw extra players at offensive threats. Returning to the second example above, the Jets show Cover 2 against Green Bay:
Yet before the snap, they move one of the safeties to the outside and he provides direct help to the cornerback lined up across from Jordy Nelson:
Ryan showed Matthew Stafford the same look against Calvin Johnson:
New York has six defensive backs on the field to counteract the Lions’ 11 personnel. Two of those defensive backs are right over Megatron; a cornerback is in press coverage while a safety is providing help down the field.
On the first play against Detroit in Week 4 the Jets gave the offensive coaches something to think about. Matthew Stafford is under center with 11 personnel on the field. Detroit has trips to the left with the tight end on the end of the line. Calvin Johnson is split wide to the right and is the only receiver on that side of the field. I cannot stress that point enough – Johnson is the only Lion at the top of this picture:
We imagine the play called in the defensive huddle was “Nickel Base Cover Megatron.”
Ryan and the Jets use unconventional tactics – sometimes in multiple layers on the same play – to deny offenses their preferred routes and targets. They use distinctive coverages, working hard to conceal them until the snap of the ball. New York dug deep into their bag of tricks in Week 4 against Calvin Johnson and frustrated Peyton Manning in Week 6. In Part 2, we will look at how Ryan has beguiled Tom Brady with unfamiliar looks against both Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman and how the Patriots may look to attack the Jets pass defense.
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