Rex Ryan, Plotting Against the Patriots: Passing Preview Part II

In Part One of this two-part series, we examined how the Jets’ head coach applies his novel coverage and pressure strategies to keep opposing offenses in disarray by taking away the quarterback’s preferred target. In this segment, we’ll explore how Rex Ryan has approached the Patriots, how his tactics worked, and what to expect from the two teams on Thursday night.

Going to the tape from 2013, we can see how he’s defended the Patriots most effective weapons: Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski. In the Week 2 slop fest in Gillette, New York played basic coverage most of the game. However in the Week 7 matchup at home, the Jets attacked both in creative and unorthodox ways.

On this 2nd down and 7 play, Edelman is in the slot to the left of the formation. The receiver will run a short crossing route and both the outside linebacker and the middle linebacker attempt to give him the old “Marshall Faulk” to try and knock him off his path:

At times the Jets also ran their middle linebacker right at Edelman to jam him immediately after the snap. The slot receiver is again lined up to the left of the formation:

The middle linebacker immediately identifies Edelman on his route and attacks the receiver rather than waiting for the offensive player to begin his pattern.

Finally, the Jets at times threw double coverage at Edelman. On this play the Jets have nickel personnel on the field and both the slot cornerback and middle linebacker bracket the Kent State product off the snap of the ball:

When the Jets were not focusing their attention on Edelman, the secondary and linebackers did their best to slow Gronkowski. On this play, Tom Brady is in the shotgun and the Patriots have 11 personnel on the field. The Jets have their nickel grouping at the ready and show Cover 1 in the secondary. The big tight end is in a wing alignment to the right of the formation:

Gronkowski tries to run a quick out pattern, but a linebacker and a safety shadow him, tightening the throwing lane and the pass falls incomplete.

When Josh McDaniels called for Gronkowski to be split wide in an attempt to get the big target in an isolation position, the Jets had an answer. On this play the tight end is split wide to the left and he runs a simple three-yard curl. Watch the outside linebacker to that side of the field:

The linebacker comes off the line of scrimmage and tries to cut under the route knowing he has another defender behind him in double coverage. Gronkowski is able to haul in Brady’s pass but, instead of being in a position to bowl over one smaller defender, he is hauled down by two defenders.

Given what the Jets have shown the Patriots in the past and what they have done this season, expect to see exotic schemes and double coverage on Thursday night.

A Matter of Influence

With everything the Jets design defensively, one may wonder how an offense can throw the ball with any success. Teams have hit on big plays against New York this season by influencing the safeties, either through play design or quarterback ability. If New England’s game play attacks the safeties in similar fashion, the Patriots should have a good night throwing the ball.

On this play from Week 2 the Packers nearly have themselves a touchdown thanks to the ability of Aaron Rodgers to influence a safety out of position. The Packers have 11 personnel on the field with the quarterback in the shotgun. Green Bay has trips to the left including the tight end on the end of the line. New York has nickel personnel on the field and they show Cover 4 in the secondary. On this play, two receivers run post routes, the slot receiver to the left and the outside receiver to the right. As the play develops watch Rodgers stare down the post route from his slot receiver and what that does to the safety to the other side of the field:

With this coverage, Calvin Pryor should not be worried about the post route from the slot receiver, as the other safety has it covered. But the rookie cannot help but cheat over to the trips side of the field and Rodgers is able to “move him with his eyes.” The quarterback double-checks (video) to the post route from the other side of the field and there is a big throwing window thanks to Pryor cheating.

Also from Week 2, watch how the post pattern from the slot receiver works to free up room for Jordy Nelson’s sideline route:

Pre-snap the defense dances around a bit to try and disguise the coverage, but as the play develops they run an aggressive Cover 3 concept. The free safety is frozen by the post route from the slot receiver and cannot break on the sideline route until the ball is released. This allows Rodgers the opportunity to find Nelson on the edge.

As you watch this play ask yourself: How does a free safety 20 yards off the ball get beaten on play action for an 80-yard touchdown?

The entire Jets defense bites on the run fake, no one worse than Pryor. He begins the play 20 yards away from the line of scrimmage, but as Rodgers fakes the handoff, he cheats in a few steps. When the quarterback pulls the ball out and looks to throw, the rookie free safety continues to stare down the offensive backfield:

Along the sideline, and unbeknownst to Pryor, Jordy Nelson has roasted Dee Milliner (who will miss the rest of the season with a torn Achilles tendon) on an out and up route. Rodgers is uncorking his pass while Pryor continues to wonder if Eddie Lacy has the ball or not. The rookie arrives late to the receiver and compounds the highlight reel by whiffing on the tackle.

Finally, we have a play from Week 5. San Diego faces a 3rd and 9 early in the game. Philip Rivers is in the shotgun and the Chargers have 11 personnel on the field. The Jets counter with six defensive backs and show two deep safeties. Dawan Landry is the safety toward the bottom of the screen and he backpedals into the deep middle zone as the defense morphs into Cover 3 at the snap. He maintains this deep middle alignment due to the post route from the slot receiver to his right. Meanwhile, along the sideline, Malcolm Floyd is running a simple go route:

Rivers hits Floyd downfield for a 49-yard gain. This could have gone the distance had the quarterback been able to throw deep.


Rex Ryan employs a number of unusual schemes to confuse and disrupt the passing game. They also have shown willingness to double and triple cover receivers to take away an adversary’s most potent offensive threats. However, this season the Jets have been beaten deep when opponents influence the movement of the safeties either through play design or the ability of the quarterback to move a defender with his eyes. If the Patriots offense uses these concepts efficiently, they can be victorious against Rex Ryan, Evil Defensive Genius.

Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkSchofield.

Mark Schofield has always loved football. He breaks down film, scouts prospects, and explains the passing game for Inside the Pylon.

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