OWINGS MILLS – Cornerbacks and safeties barreling toward the line of scrimmage while bulky defensive linemen backpedal into coverage and chase wide receivers and running backs, a strange reversal of traditional defensive roles.
The New York Jets’ creative brand of organized chaos is built on the precepts of Buddy Ryan, the father of Rex Ryan.
The Ryan family never met a blitz they didn’t like, or couldn’t draw up in the dirt. The only limit on their defensive prowess is their imagination.
“They’re very innovative,” Baltimore Ravens six-time Pro Bowl center Matt Birk said. “They do things that nobody else does, nobody else has seen before, nobody else has ever thought of. And they do a great job of, not just their coaches, but their players understand it. They understand what they need to do, what gap they need to be in, how they need to rush.
“That’s why they’ve been so good for so long. The players have a great understanding of what’s going on as well. We’ll just study the best we can and go out and do the best we can. They’re the masters at creating confusion.”
Since 2009, the Jets have stymied opposing quarterbacks to the tune of a 51.8 completion percentage and a 67.9 passer rating.
Last season, 14 different Jets combined for 40 sacks to rank eight behind the NFL leaders, the Pittsburgh Steelers.
To block the aggressive Jets’ defenders, the mandate is to expect the unexpected.
“They will bring every guy and they will drop every guy,” offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said. “There’s only a few teams in the league that you really can say that, looking at your chart. Every defensive lineman eventually drops into coverage. Every defensive back, for the most part, either has blitzed this year, or last year, or the year before.
“There are 11 guys over there, you account for all 11. You try to make sure that doesn’t put you in a mindset of hesitancy, because you still want to be physical. You better have everybody on the same page, everybody communicating what they are seeing.”
So far this season, the Jets have seven sacks with six different players recording at least one sack.
That includes two sacks from former Ravens inside linebacker Bart Scott and one sack apiece from cornerback Kyle Wilson, safety Eric Smith, inside linebacker David Harris, outside linebacker Calvin Pace and rookie defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson.
"It’s all over the place,” Birk said. “Sometimes, the number the guy wears is irrelevant. You have a safety lined up at defensive end. You have a defensive lineman lined up at linebacker.”
Since Ryan became the defensive coordinator in Baltimore in 2005 and extending through his tenure with the Jets, his defenses rank first in total defense, passing defense and third-down defense.
“We’ve seen them blitz a lot,” offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie said. “They’re creative.”
To counteract the Jets’ off-the-wall schemes engineered by Ryan and defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, it’s paramount that the Ravens communicate effectively.
That means line calls from Birk to the offensive linemen and quarterback Joe Flacco being ready to change protections and play calls on the fly.
“It can be pretty stressful, and you know they’re going to show you stuff and do stuff that they haven’t done yet,” Birk said. “You can only prepare so much, but you study hard. The important thing is that we communicate and get everybody on the same page. If everybody knows where everybody is going, then Joe can do what he needs to do.
“You obviously want to be successful and move the ball and get points and all that, but part of that is avoiding the catastrophic play, and that’s something they’re pretty good at. They’re good at making plays. They’ve got a lot of playmakers on their defense, so I guess you just do the best you can.”
The Jets’ defense is coming off one of its worst games in the Ryan era.
They allowed 234 rushing yards in a 34-24 loss to the Oakland Raiders, a setback where Pettine questioned the Jets’ effort.
There were no interceptions. Their only sack occurred when quarterback Jason Campbell tripped over his own feet.
“We tell our guys, just because you have the decal on, there’s nothing magical about it," Pettine told New York reporters. “It’s how we practice and the mentality we take, and the disappointing thing is for all the time we put into this, we only get a set number of opportunities to go out there and compete. So much time, so much preparation is put into one game, and to waste a game defensively like that and not play to our standards is obviously disappointing.”
Nonetheless, the Ravens are preparing full-bore for the Jets defense that made New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady look ordinary during the playoffs last season.
“They come from everywhere,” offensive tackle Michael Oher said. “It gets hectic.”