It's Jets week! We begin our game-one countdown with a look at Rex Ryan's blitzes, and why they present a match-up problem for the kids on the Cowboys O-line.
Rex Ryan does not have a top-tier pass rusher. Calvin Pace led the '09 Jets with 8.0 sacks and Bryan Thomas the '10 Jets with 6.5 sacks. Shaun Ellis, the Jets' top-rushing lineman, now plays for the Patriots.
Ryan nonetheless has built an effective rush, doing it with muscle and scheme. The '10 Jets bagged 40 quarterbacks, ranking eight in the league. Ryan uses an extreme amount of secondary blitzes and zone blitzes. Eleven of those 40 sacks were notched by Jets' safeties and cornerbacks. Ryan uses zone blitzes. He uses overloads. He works through his list of options looking for a type of blitz that works. Then, he calls it until an opponent stops it.
Three years ago, Ryan's Ravens faced the Cowboys in Texas Stadium. Mid-way through the game, Ryan called a delayed inside linebacker blitz at the Cowboys right side, where his nose tackle and a defensive end ran a twist, with Ray Lewis rushing though the guard's gap behind them. The first time called, Lewis ran past a confused Leonard Davis and smacked Tony Romo. So Ryan called it again, and again, Lewis ran untouched through the B-gap.
That half, Ryan ran that delayed blitz six times and it beat Leonard Davis each time. The Cowboys offense scored some late points behind Romo and Jason Witten, but Romo took an immense beating.
Those inside blitzes are a big part of Ryan's Jets scheme, and with Bill Nagy and Phil Costa expected as starters, Ryan will no doubt test them early, to see if he can get some early shots on Romo.
Here's are two effective interior blitzes from the Jets-Giants game two weeks ago which show the pressure Ryan can put on an opponents running backs and interior line to protect their quarterback.
On the Giants' first drive the Jets line up in an "eagle' front. This is a variation on daddy Buddy Ryan's old 46 look. The three linemen are over the center and guards. Weakside rusher Thomas is outside RT Kareem McKenzie and two linebackers, Pace and Bart Scott, are lined up on each side of the tight end. At the snap, the three linemen rush, locking up the center and guards. The tight end releases and both Pace and Scott rush from that edge. Pace engages the LT and Scott loops inside to the A-gap:
Ryan has overloaded the left side. He's rushing five, but four from the center to the left side. RT McKenzie has nobody to block. Ryan has brought four rushers at three linemen, so fullback Brandon Jacobs has to handle Scott to keep Eli Manning upright. Jacobs actually out-weighs Scott by fifteen pounds or so, but makes a tepid block, pushing Scott towards his QB:
Manning had to hurry his throw and the pass was incomplete. The Jets are going to put similar pressure on Dallas' smaller stable of backs to stand up, or cut blitzers like Scott. Felix Jones has been effective and rookie DeMarco Murray got high marks in college for his blocking, but they will have to handle their man on a dozen or two plays, to give Romo time.
This is a good time to have John Phillips and Jason Witten flexing into the backfield to help protect, but they will split the tight end duties this week with Martellus Bennett out. I doubt we'll see waiver claim Tony Fiammetta get much protection responsibility. He's only been a Cowboy for a couple of days. Jones, Murray and Tashard Choice will have to throw their bodies into their work.
Here's an inside linebacker blitz similar to the one that flummoxed Davis so much in '08:
The Giants have spread the field with a three wideout set. The Jets have stayed in a base 3-4 (they run a base 3-4 package a lot more than the Cowboys do) with the OLBs wide. Note one of them is at the bottom of the frame in the right slot. The action is in the middle of the field. The nose tacke is a one-technique, on the center's right shoulder. DRE Wilkerson is a 3-technique, over the LG's outside shoulder.
As the rush begins, the NT and the RE slide across their men and attack the gap one slot over. Wilkerson is in the B-gap, the guard-tackle gap on his side of the line, but he attacks the A-gap, between the left guard and the center. The nose tackle, attacks the A-gap on his side, between the center and RG Chris Snee:
The blocking requires the interior linemen to switch. The LG Dave Diehl hands off Wilkerson to the C and takes on the ILB, while the C passes the nose tackle to the RG. That's not what happened. Snee did come off his double team block on on the LE and pick off the NT. The C took on Wilkerson. However, Diehl stayed with Wilkerson too long, creating a clean lane for ILB David Harris to charge through:
Manning again has to rush his throw. This one is high and gets intercepted. Stopping the three-man stunt requires a lot of communication between the interior linemen. If one man is late on an assignment, or blows it outright, the quarterback gets smacked:
Hudson Houck and Skip Peete will earn this money this week. They have to prepare inexperienced linemen and backs to recognize and react to Rex Ryan's and DC Mike Pettine's tricks. Because those tricks are coming.