When the New York Jets visit the Denver Broncos Thursday night, they will have a lot on their plate.
Not only are the Jets coming off a Sunday night game only to turn around and play again Thursday, but they’re also coming off a frustrating loss to their biggest rivals.
Of course, the Broncos played on Sunday, too. But Denver played in the afternoon rather than the evening, and they won’t be the ones having trouble adjusting to the mile-high air.
That, however, is the nature of home field advantage.
This Week 11 game will be as tough a road environment as the Jets have played in all season.
The players will be physically and mentally tested, and the coaches have their hands full as well, as they try to come up with the perfect game plan to slow down the Broncos’ unique offense led by Tim Tebow.
Many within the Jets organization are impressed with the way the Broncos have tailored their offense to play to the strengths of their quarterback, a run-heavy package that has been successful recently.
But not everyone was too optimistic about how long a relatively predictable, throwback offense like that can ultimately succeed in this era of pro football.
All-Pro cornerback Darrelle Revis suggested that the option offense might work under the right circumstances. Those circumstances being elite speed at the quarterback and running back position.
“If you have Michael Vick [at quarterback] and Chris Johnson at running back, yeah, it can work,” Revis said. “Those are probably the two fastest guys that can probably get out on the edge on you. Yeah, those two.”
The 240-pound Tebow doesn’t have the elite speed of your typical running quarterback, nor does he run in the same style of a typical option quarterback.
“You think of running quarterbacks, and most guys are a little more shifty and make you miss,” said safety Jim Leonhard. “But he’d rather run you over than run around you. He’s more like a fullback when he runs the football.”
When asked if a Tebow-led option offense could succeed long-term, Revis was direct.
“No, not for a whole season,” he said. “Because we know what they’re doing, and we feel comfortable in our game plan.”
When a defense prepares to face an unconventional offense, perhaps fighting fire with fire and using an unconventional defense could be the perfect remedy.
As many fans know, coaching defense is a Ryan family tradition.
Jets coach Rex Ryan and twin brother Rob, the current defensive coordinator of the Dallas Cowboys, are second-generation coaches who learned from one of the most renowned defensive coaches of all-time, father Buddy Ryan.
The elder Ryan was the architect of the famed 1985 Chicago Bears’ defense, and the inventor of the innovative “46” defense, an aggressive defensive formation that aims to get heavy pressure and dominate the line of scrimmage.
The 46 defense was one of the most prominent defenses to feature a stacked, eight-man front. Elements of that look are still used commonly around the NFL today.
In such a formation, the outside cornerbacks play one-on-one with only one safety back deep to cover the rest of the field. It is primarily a defense that aims to shut down the run and dare quarterbacks to throw.
The 46 defense specifically refers to a 4-3 base formation with the linemen shifted to the weak side, with both outside linebackers on the strong side.
The middle linebacker lines up close to the line of scrimmage, and the strong safety creeps up as well and acts as a de factor fourth linebacker. It is Bears safety Doug Plank, #46 who bares the namesake of the defense.
This can be a confusing formation for the offense, needless to say.
While it’s a staple of the Ryan family coaching tree, it’s not something that Rex Ryan uses very often simply out of practicality.
As more complex offenses developed, the 46 defense was exposed with well-timed, short passes that negated the heavy pressure on the quarterback that the 46 defense is famous for.
Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, for example, are two quarterbacks who excel under pressure in the pocket by getting rid of the football quickly and not allowing the pressure to blow up the play.
But against an offense that runs the ball as often as the Broncos too, the 46 defense might be just when the doctor ordered. As the Jets offense knows, it’s tough running against an eight-man front.
The Jets can likely afford to get away with it, because they have the right personnel to properly run it. Revis and Antonio Cromartie are capable of covering the outside one-on-one, with Jim Leonhard back deep.
In addition, the Jets have a perfect 46 safety in #33 Eric Smith. Smith, who struggles at times in pass coverage, is an excellent tackler and would excel in the position that gives the 46 defense its name.
While the Broncos will look to keep the Jets honest with the occasional pass, they’ve shown that most of their success is based on a run-heavy offense behind their stellar offensive line.
Is the 46 defense the answer? Maybe. Not the only answer, of course. But if there was ever a game that could see a revival of the formation that made the Ryan family famous, Thursday night against Denver may be that game.
Only one way to find out.