Keys to the Game: New York

Posted Nov 16, 2012

1. In Disguise

A Rex Ryan defense is known for many intangible things: toughness, athleticism and a little bit of an edge. But in preparation for one of Ryan’s defenses, there is much more to consider beyond the intangibles.

Ryan, much like his father Buddy and his brother Rob, is one of the kings of disguise. Be it a blitz, a coverage or just an alignment, Ryan is notorious for running bluffs with his personnel and then coming with something out of the ordinary.

At its base, the Jets run a 3-4 defense with the likes of Muhammad Wilkerson and Sione Pouha leading the front three and hammers like middle linebackers David Harris and Bart Scott anchoring the linebacker group.

But Ryan wants to create chaos and confusion. His defense thrives off of that and will do anything it can to make like hell for an opposing quarterback.

For Rams quarterback Sam Bradford, that means he has to be on point in his pre-snap reads and react accordingly along with center Rob Turner when it comes to protection calls.

The Jets only have 16 sacks on the season, 22nd in the league but that won’t stop them from trying to dial up something to throw Bradford and Co. off.

Without stud corner Darrelle Revis available on the back end, there is opportunity to make big plays in the passing game but much of that will depend heavily on the Rams ability to recognize what the Jets are doing and adjust accordingly.

“They’re multiple in the looks that they’re going to give us,” Bradford said. “They do a lot of different things. We’re going to have to be prepared for the different looks that we could get from them. I think that’s going to be one of our biggest challenges this week, is just making sure that we’re very well-prepared so nothing they do on Sunday throws us off.”

2. The Money Down

Along with the varied looks the Jets like to use, they also like to do things a little bit outside the box.

Take it from Turner, who spent the first part of his career with the Jets. He said the defensively philosophy is simple even if the way the Jets get to it is not.

“They use a whole bunch of exotic stuff,” Turner said. “Unless Rex’s philosophy has changed and I don’t believe it has, his key has always been to get ‘em to third down. That’s what it was the three years I was with him because that’s when they bring all their exotic stuff. Whether it’s four guys lined up on an overload on one side and bring two small guys off the back edge or any multiple personnel grouping they can have from sub packages. His philosophy was to build a bully and get ‘em to third down. I’m pretty sure that’s what you can expect.”

Third down has been a bit of a thorn in the side of the Rams this season though when the offense has handled it well and converted to keep drives alive, it’s no coincidence that the offense has put together some of its finest performances.

With receiver Danny Amendola, the go-to guy to move the chains, back in the lineup last week against the Niners, the Rams were seven of 16, a solid 44 percent, on third down conversions.

For the Rams to get a win on Sunday, it will be imperative to stay in manageable third down situations to keep the Jets from dialing up those exotic schemes. That starts on first and second down.

3. Ground and Pound

Ground and pound became the popular vernacular for the Jets approach to offense under Ryan as he regularly repeated the mantra during his first few years in New York. And it was successful then as the Jets ranked among the league’s best in rushing.

But the numbers have dipped a bit in recent seasons and the Jets have been solid if unspectacular this season, ranking 16th in the league with an average of 106.9 yards per game.

There have been signs of life, though, as lead back Shonn Greene has posted some solid performances in recent weeks. For the season, Green leads the team with 567 rushing yards and five touchdowns though he’s averaging just 3.7 yards per carry.

Still, as is always the case, the Rams must be on point against a bruising runner because it all starts with the run for the Jets.

Also, the Jets always have the threat of using quarterback Tim Tebow in special packages to get the run game going. Assistant head coach Dave McGinnis said that’s something his team has to plan for every week.

“In fact, we always do because it’s becoming en vogue in this league,” McGinnis said. “The uniqueness of it, I think, has worn off. Everybody has incorporated some sort of the ‘wild cat’ or the zone read into this. So, we always have something ready for that no matter who we play.”

Limiting Greene, any potential Tebow packages and forcing New York to be one-dimensional would go a long way toward a victory.

4. Sacking Sanchez

You’d be hard pressed to find a more scrutinized quarterback in the league than the Jets Mark Sanchez. Operating in the largest media market around, every move Sanchez makes is analyzed.

So far this season, it’s been especially tough for Sanchez as he’s had some ups and downs while Tim Tebow waits on the sideline. For the season, Sanchez has thrown for 1,860 yards with 10 touchdowns and nine interceptions while completing 52 percent of his passes. He’s also coughed up eight fumbles.

Sanchez has also been sacked 22 times on the season, tied for 21st in the league in that category.

Defensively, the Rams have been looking to create some turnovers in recent weeks after being shut out again in that category last week.

The chance to do that could come with a steady pass rush. The Rams are fourth in the league in sacks per pass play, averaging one every 8.33 plays. If they can get to Sanchez, they should be able to not only pick up some sacks but also force Sanchez into some mistakes and get the turnover train back on the tracks.

Nobody knows Sanchez better than Rams offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, who coached him in New York for three years. He believes Sanchez is still a dangerous player.

“I think Mark’s a terrific player,” Schottenheimer said. “I still do. Obviously, he needs to be more consistent, but he’s still a young player and I’m pulling for him. Nobody works harder than him. He wants to be great, he’s going to work at being great and I wish him nothing but the best of luck after this week.”

5. On the Run

Last week, the Rams went out and punched the Niners in the mouth with a powerful rushing attack led by veteran starter Steven Jackson. Rookie Daryl Richardson worked into the mix and hit some big runs but Jackson carried the bulk of the load as the Rams rushed for 159 yards on 4.3 yards per attempt against San Francisco’s vaunted run defense.

That performance should only boost the Rams moving forward as they continue to establish themselves as a physical, run-first offense that can push people around.

This week, the chance to build on that effort seems abundant as the Jets enter the game with the league’s 30th ranked run defense, giving up 145 yards per game on the ground.

While it’s the Jets that like to use the phrase ground and pounds, the Rams would like nothing more than to give them a dose of their own medicine with a fresh and energized Jackson leading the way.

“I’ve definitely trained myself mentally and physically to be prepared for whatever the workload will be for me each and every Sunday,” Jackson said. “If it is that the rest of the year, I’m prepared for it, and if not, I’ll continue to do what I have all season.”