Rob Ryan’s hiring as the Cowboys new defensive coordinator has raised a familiar theme among Cowboys fans. Here and elsewhere, the Jay Ratliff-to-defensive end meme has revived itself.
I pointed out in a story a few days ago that I don’t think this will happen, and cited a coaches clinic presentation then-Ravens linebacker coach Mike Pettine gave in 2005 on the Baltimore 3-4. ’05 was Rex Ryan’s first year as Ravens DC and Pettine now coordinates Rex’s Jets defense. The show outlined Ryan’s version of the 3-4, from the reasons why he prefers the 3-4 to the 4-3 and how his Ravens, and now his Jets will play it.
Very early on, while outlining the strengths of the scheme, Pettine and Ryan make this point:
Ryan’s game plan for this past Sunday’s upset of the top AFC seed Patriots shows how important this maxim is to Rex Ryan’s thinking, and most likely to his brother Rob’s as well. Rex did the opposite of what so many Cowboys fans advise — he moved his best rush DE inside, to increase his impact on the game.
The Jets are not a dominant pass rushing team, in spite of their press hype and Rex’s bluster. They sacked quarterbacks just 32 times in ’09 and 40 times this past year. They lack a dominant edge rusher in the Demacus Ware mold. Jason Taylor plays OLB, but his better days have long passed. The Jets sack leader was OLB Bryan Thomas, who bagged 6.0 QBs.
This weakness presented a schematic problem for Ryan. He did not want to blitz Tom Brady extensively, and expose his secondary to quick passes to New England’s talented young tight ends and slot WR Wes Welker. Ryan’s default in most situations is to rush four, but how could he get to Brady with his sub-par rush line?
Ryan used two tactics. First, he rotated a lot of fronts. He deployed four-man rush lines, three-man lines and two-man lines and rushed a variety of linebackers and defensive backs off the edge. From a personnel standpoint, Ryan took his best rush lineman, 11-year veteran DE Shaun Ellis, and moved him inside, over the center.
Ellis weighs only 285 or 290 lbs., depending on which source you consult, but Ryan counted on him to hold his ground on plays where the Patriots ran right at him. Ellis did move around; when the Jets went 4-3, Ellis sometimes lined up at his usual DE spot, but mostly lined up as a 3-techique DT. When they went 3-4, he sometimes lined up at his usual 5-technique spot over the tackles, but mostly, he lined up shaded on the center.
Regardless of where he started, Ellis finished inside; roughly 90% of the time, Ellis attacked Patriots C Dan Koppen or the one of the guards Logan Mankins and Dan Connelly. Even on 3-4 downs where Ellis started wide, he would loop inside and take the shortest route to Brady.
Ellis set the Jets defensive tone. He dominated any and all of New England’s interior linemen. Ellis sacked Brady twice in the first quarter, got a few more pressures later in the game, and was a 60-minute menace. The Jets rotated Ellis to keep him fresh but when the second half started, the Patriots were looking for Ellis every time he came onto the field.
Ellis’ consistent interior pressure meant Ryan and Pettine could blitz when they felt like it, and not out of desperation to harass Brady. They could mix their short coverages and keep safeties deep behind to prevent the deep throw. This tactic frustrated Brady when the Jets opened up a double-digit lead, because he could not lead quick drives in response.
“A dominant nose can control the game — increased pressure on the center…”
Ellis showed the power of this maxim. He controlled New England’s interior three, and helped Ryan’s guys control the game. Brother Rob now has Jay Ratliff at his disposal. Rat has 17.0 sacks the last three seasons. He’s arguably the best interior rusher in the NFL.
Rob more than likely wants his nose to control the game too, just the way transplant NT Shaun Ellis controlled the late playoff game on Sunday.
In other words, I don’t think Jay Ratliff is moving anywhere. Brother Rex and Shaun Ellis just showed us why.