Rex Ryan and Mike Pettine's defense has NY Jets playoff hopes alive, despite losing star CB Darrelle Revis to season ending injury
If Gang Green is going to complete the tough task of grabbing an AFC playoff spot, it will be the defense that will take them there.
By Manish Mehta / NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Published: Wednesday, December 12, 2012, 10:01 PM
Updated: Thursday, December 13, 2012, 12:56 AM.
New York Daily News
Bart Scott (l.) and David Harris show Cardinals QB Ryan Lindley that the Jets defense is still to be feared.
When Woody Johnson examines the good, bad and ugly from the 2012 season in a few weeks, he should know this: The Jets were still in the playoff conversation down the stretch, thanks to a defense that re-established itself as the team’s backbone.
Strip away all the Barnum & Bailey-style allusions from the past nine months and the reality is that Rex Ryan and defensive coordinator Mike Pettine positioned the Jets to have some hope during the final month of the season.
Ryan’s trust in Pettine has been one of the most critical — and overlooked — elements of the Jets’ resurgence after a midseason swoon threatened to banish them to irrelevance. The Jets (6-7) must win out and get some help to make the postseason, but they still have a heartbeat thanks, in large part, to a defense that has moved from 19th to eighth in the rankings in the past two weeks.
Those who try to marginalize the statistical leap by noting the inferior competition (Cardinals and Jaguars) in recent games conveniently ignore that the Jets had the toughest schedule in the NFL through the first 12 weeks. News flash: There are soft parts of every team’s schedule. The Jets just happened to have a front-loaded degree of difficulty.
“We can’t worry about who we play or what they have on offense or their personnel or anything like that,” safety Yeremiah Bell said. “We want to come out and dominate no matter who it is. And if people want to say they’re under par, then they’re under par, but as a group and as a defense we have to come out and take care of business so we can get momentum going into the next week.”
The most critical about-face has come on third down, which has made all the difference. The Jets allowed a head-scratching 45% third-down conversion rate through the first eight games. In the five games since the bye, opponents are converting just 30.7% on third down, including for two of the last 31 attempts.
Gang Green also has ramped up its pass rush since the bye, recording 10 sacks in the last five games after recording 22 in the first eight games.
The Jets, winners of three of their last four, have fed off their defensive energy much like they did during their back-to-back AFC Championship Game runs in 2009 and 2010. The defensive success in the past three wins has been eye-opening: Ryan and Pettine’s defense forced 18 three-and-outs in 39 drives — or 46% of the time. The Jets allowed 29 points (9.7 points per game) and forced six turnovers in those victories.
Although the resurgent running game has helped keep the offense afloat, the dearth of talent and depth at the skill positions has been the primary reason for the team’s struggles.
The best chance that the Jets have to run the table is to lean on a defense that Mike DeVito said has become “reminiscent of 2009 and 2010” when the Jets finished first and third in the rankings.
“Everything works on momentum,” said DeVito, a defensive end. “If you get momentum going and you get confidence going... it’s really encouraging because the ball gets rolling and now we’re out there playing with a swagger. I feel like going forward that we can put that defense on the field like we have the past two weeks. We’ve seen spurts all year that we can be extremely dominant.”
Pettine and Ryan have proven to be schematic wizards again, elevating a defense that had perennial All-Pro cornerback Darrelle Revis for a grand total of six quarters this season.
Thanks to innovative weekly designs, the Jets rank fourth in the NFL in pass defense despite losing arguably the best defensive player in the league. They haven’t allowed a 100-yard game by a wide receiver this season.
The defense has carried the Jets even without a dominant pass rusher or game changer. Mo Wilkerson, a rising star in the front seven, and LaRon Landry, the most valuable player in the secondary, have been standouts. Antonio Cromartie has proven that he’s clearly a No. 1 cornerback in the league.
There are no superstars, but it doesn’t seem to matter to Pettine and Ryan. If the Jets have any chance of pulling off a miracle and sneaking into the playoffs, it’ll be up to their defense to dominate and mask all of the deficiencies around it.
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