Conor Orr: Jets' surging defense uses 'organized chaos' to show improvement
When defensive players get the sheet of available play calls at the beginning of the week, they are divided into columns labeled "coverage," "pressure" and "simulated pressure" ó the last of which is a hallmark of the Jets defense.
The phrase itself began in Baltimore with the Ravens and has evolved with head coach Rex Ryan and defensive coordinator Mike Pettine the past three years with the Jets.
Safeties roam the line of scrimmage. Inside and outside linebackers bunch together on one side of the line. No defensive lineman will put a hand on the playing surface and reveal the gap he is rushing. Possibly only one will be making a run at the quarterback.
The goal is to blitz without truly blitzing. By rushing a small mix of safeties, linebackers and defensive linemen, the endgame is to use one man to occupy, or at least confuse, multiple blockers. The benefit is still being able to sink seven players into coverage and not be short-handed if a pass gets off.
"Itís crazy," said safety Yeremiah Bell, who thought there was no way the blitzes could work when he first saw them on paper during the offseason.
"You might only rush four guys, but you have a free runner at the quarterback. They never know whoís dropping into coverage and whoís blitzing. So if you can occupy a lineman for a second, thatís giving someone else time."
Bell said there are close to 100 different combinations the Jets can use, more of which have been visible over the past four weeks, especially in the teamís victories over St. Louis, Arizona and Jacksonville.
They are most effective against younger QBs who find it difficult to decipher what the Jets call "organized chaos."
The Jets see second-year pro Jake Locker ó the quarterback for tomorrowís opponent, the Tennessee Titans ó as no different. In a game they must win or get bounced from the playoff race, the Jets know it is essential to disrupt his rhythm to turn the game in their favor.
"I could see us pressuring him, definitely," Bell said. "Heís a mobile quarterback, but thatís when you just put in the packages where guys cut off his escape routes."
According to Pro Football Focus, the Jets have pressured at a much heavier rate after the bye week in early November, and Ryan has admitted as much.
When taking both New England games out of the equation (they blitzed the Patriots a combined 13 times in two games), the Jets have been averaging nearly 20 designed pass blitzes per game. Last week against Jacksonville they blitzed Chad Henne 24 times, by far the most this season.
Before the bye, the most the Jets ran in one game was 15 against Colts rookie QB Andrew Luck (a 35-9 Jets victory).
But internally, the goal is to track the success of, and rely more heavily on, these much safer simulated pressures. Pettine estimates the Jets have run a true Cover-0 blitz (a more standard blitz design where there is no help from a safety over top) less than five times this year.
"Can we effect protection? Can we effect a quarterbackís reads without having to send everybody?" Pettine said. "For me, itís easy to say letís cover all five (eligible receivers) then send everybody else. Itís more the stuff where weíre only bringing four.
"We feel like we get the best of both worlds."
change of plans
When cornerback Darrelle Revis was lost for the season, the Jets would run their simulated pressures with four players and afford themselves the opportunity to drop seven others into coverage in case the pressure wasnít successful.
Strong performances from cornerbacks Antonio Cromartie and Kyle Wilson have helped ease that. Pettine said the perception surrounding the more frequent blitzes is likely because the Jets have mixed in an extra man in the simulated pressures more often.
Safety Antonio Allen was involved in 11 rush situations last Sunday, for example, according to Pro Football Focus. Safety Eric Smith was in on 12.
"Iíd say weíre doing a little more of it lately," Ryan said. "Each week you look at your opponent and you try and put your players in the best position."
Rookie Ryan Lindley, the Cardinals quarterback, saw it two weeks ago on the first play of the second quarter.
The Jets showed six players lunging toward the line, threatening to blitz, but only five went after the quarterback. Smith dropped back into zone coverage and Cromartie, who was covering intended receiver Michael Floyd, still had Bell over the top to help him in case the pass was completed.
Chad Henne, the Jaguars quarterback, saw it a week later on at least six of the 16 third-down situations he faced, according to an unofficial count. On one third-and-11, in the third quarter from the Jacksonville 10-yard line, the Jets showed an eight-man blitz ó stationing defenders side by side across the offensive line.
When the ball was snapped, only four of them ó Allen, linebacker Calvin Pace, defensive end Quinton Coples and linebacker Garrett McIntyre ó ended up in the backfield. Smith and linebacker David Harris backed off and played a zone look in the middle of the field while the rest fell back into pass coverage.
Henne was chased from the pocket and dragged down by Harris for a 2-yard loss. By then Henne had already lost a robotic sense of confidence, Bell said. His quick, efficient passes gave way to a longer read of the defense ó more time to get swallowed in the pocket.
"You could tell he was confused," Bell said. "When we settled in as a defense and we started running pressures, those throws he had (at the beginning of the game) werenít there. Then sometimes to not take a sack he would throw it away.
"Thatís how you know (itís working)."
Itís that moment where they feel like the Jets defense of old, the one thatís slowly climbing the rankings back to where they want to be. That old feeling of seeing a sack dance or hearing the sound of an offense trudging off the field for a fourth straight three-and-out, as the Jaguars did last week.
"Itís really who we are," Ryan said. "Sometimes itís more about us than it is the opponent."