“They played well,” Cincinnati receiver (and ace David Letterman guest) Chad Ochocinco told the Washington Post after the Jets 38-0 season-ending win over his team on Sunday, January 3. “My fear coming into today’s game was not the individuals I had to play against. It was Rex. He’s a defensive guru.” That was before the Jets’ 24-14 win over the Bengals yesterday
That’s the reputation that Rex Ryan has achieved after just 17 games as head coach of the New York Jets. Some say he is on the verge of surpassing the reputation of his dad, Buddy Ryan, as a defensive mastermind. (Ryan, Sr. called the shots for what many believed to be the best defensive in NFL history, that of the 1985 Bears.)
We’ll see. For the time being, suffice it to say that the Jets’ defense is for real.
They led the NFL in virtually every significant defensive category this regular season: fewest yards allowed, fewest yards allowed per game, fewest passing yards allowed, and fewest points allowed. And make no mistake, the Jets win with coverage. They’re only 22nd in the league in sacks, but they’re 4th in interceptions. Cornerbacks Darrelle Revis — not merely al-Pro worthy but, some are saying, a serious candidate for NFL defensive player of the year — and Dwight Lowery, two of the best one-on-one cornerbacks in the league, had nine of those interceptions with safety Kerry Rhodes adding three more.
The turnaround of the Jets’ defense in one season is amazing: from 16th in 2008 in yards allowed (5270) to 1st this year (4037). From 29th in yards allowed passing (234.5 a game) to 1st this season (153.7), and 18th in points allowed (23.2 pts/game) in 2008 to 1st his year (14.8).
What’s all the more remarkable is that the Jets’ defense has done it with so little help from the offense. Unfortunately, Ryan’s 2009 Jets have regressed on offense. In 2008 they were 9th in points per game at 25.3, while this season they backslid to 17th at 21.8. They also averaged 10.7 fewer yards per game.
So now you know why everyone in the local sports media is cheering for Mark Sanchez’s fine performance on Sunday –12 of 15 for 182 yards, one TD and zero ints. And, yes, if Sanchez plays at this level against San Diego and then in the AFC championship game, the Jets will almost certainly be going to their first Super Bowl in 41 seasons. Watch this space for a Jets-Chargers breakdown later in the week.