In his first season as Jets head coach in 2009, the Jets were the NFL‘s top-ranked defense, and it carried them all the way to the AFC Championship game.
In 2010, though the defense slipped to 3rd overall, they were still a dominant unit, and with the offense taking a step forward, the Jets were able to make a return trip to the AFC Championship game.
However, in 2011, the Jets stumbled and were unable to play up to their standards.
They failed to make the playoffs, the offense imploded, and with defensive coordinator Mike Pettine taking more control over the defensive playcalling, they failed to finish strong, ending up with the 5th-ranked defense.
Though the defense was certainly not the problem last season, Ryan is never one to be satisfied by anything less than the best, and he is committed to doing everything he can to get back to being the best defense in football.
One of the biggest changes on defense this season is the addition of new defensive line coach Karl Dunbar, a D-line guru who specializes in 4-3 defensive sets, something the Jets plan to use more of this season.
The Jets drafted two versatile linemen in the first round the past two seasons in Muhammad Wilkerson and Quinton Coples, who will play 4-3 defense end positions while also moving around in 3-4 sets.
Additionally, Ryan and Pettine have been going through their defensive playbook with their players, trying to eliminate some of the overly complex plays that had players hesitating too much last season.
“Last year, we were a victim of thinking too much,” said linebacker Bart Scott. “Taking the gray out has allowed us to play fast. Everything we do is going to be moving fast, just like we did our first year.”
The Jets want their defense to be one step faster, both physically and mentally, which is why many players have gotten leaner this offseason, and why the coaches are trying to fine-tune the playbook to maximize production.
The coaching staff studied film, went through the playbook page-by-page, asking every player what they were comfortable with, what they were less comfortable with, what plays caused them to hesitate, etc.
The results are a defensive scheme full of plays that make offenses have to guess, but don’t require the Jets defense to have to react to the opposing offense before executing their schemes.
“Make the offense adjust to us,” Scott said. “Last year maybe we were reacting to the offense, and I think this year, we took it out. Let’s just go back to do what we do, let’s play fast and physical.”
“Let’s just go!” as linebacker Calvin Pace said. That’s not just a motto, but a philosophy. With the versatility the Jets have this season, they plan on making opposing teams react to them, and not the other way around.
That’s what a Rex Ryan defense is all about.