It’s an emotional moment. This was the article I was hoping to get a chance to write, yet for a long time it looked like that might not happen. Other than potentially one day writing about the Jets winning a Superbowl, this is the most eagerly anticipated article of my TJB “career”… Darrelle Revis is back! They may not have given him the lifetime deal many of us were hoping for, but it’s definitely exciting to be able to add him back to the already formidable Jets defensive lineup.
Unfortunately, now the tables have been turned and we're faced with a situation where the Jets must prepare for life without him and where I have to write the last article I would ever have wanted to. In a similar situation back in 2010, I was forced to begrudgingly write about Jim Leonhard's injury that threatened to derail a promising campaign. I was reasonably optimistic in that article, temporarily making me look foolish when they were blown out that Monday by the Patriots, but in the end the Jets did manage to scheme around the loss and had a pretty successful run in the postseason.
After a few people remarked that they were upset to hear me suggest that the Jets' postseason chances were "bleak" in this week's BGA, I thought I would take a more optimistic approach. After the jump, I'll be looking into how the Jets defense could approach the rest of the season and looking into the past to try and assess their chances of being successful.
Replacing Darrelle Revis
Of course, there's a simple answer here and it's that you can't replace Darrelle Revis. He's the best cornerback in the NFL, so whoever you replace him with isn't going to be as good. However, football is a team sport and he would have been one of 11 Jets players on the field and 53 on the active roster.
In the ongoing discussions about Revis' value in terms of his next contract, it's been debated at length just how valuable the cornerback position is compared to other positions. Is losing the best cornerback in the league as much of a death sentence for a team's chances as losing an elite pass rusher would be? Or an elite receiver? Or a top running back? We're about to find out...and the outcome could have a significant impact on the negotiations for his next deal.
Looking back over the Rex Ryan era, he's managed to overcome some key losses in the past. I've already mentioned the Jim Leonhard injury, which they overcame mostly by transitioning to a quarters zone scheme and dropping a lot of defensive backs into coverage to make up for the fact that Leonhard was replaced by Eric Smith, who isn't as good in coverage. On a shorter term basis, they've had to deal without Calvin Pace (twice), Bryan Thomas and even Revis himself. There have also been some similar losses on offense, but we'll remain focused on the defense here.
The biggest loss Ryan's defense was able to overcome in his time as Jets head coach was that of Kris Jenkins in 2009. Few people gave them much hope of overcoming that, although I did say this at the time:
Actually sometimes Jenkins penetrates too far and creates a huge gap behind him for counter type plays. At least that won’t happen now! He’s too good for his own good sometimes ... I know I’m clutching at straws, but you gotta have faith, right?
Even though I was half-joking (and got royally mocked for making the comment anyway), there actually proved to be some truth to this. However, the real reason they were able to overcome it was the emergence of Sione Po'uha (then Pouha), who had - until that time - been considered something of a disappointment since being drafted in 2005. Clearly, the Jets can't rely on being saved by a role player suddenly emerging into an elite player (which Po'uha eventually did) in this situation, but at least that does speak positively to Ryan's ability to develop talent and at the same time presents an example of someone being thrown in at the deep end and responding with unexpected success.
Ryan's biggest achievement in terms of overcoming injuries is mentioned in an article about how the Jets can win without Revis, by our friend Melissa from iSports Times:
Ryan faced a similar situation in 2005, his first year as the Baltimore Ravens' defensive coordinator. That season, Ryan lost both linebacker Ray Lewis and safety Ed Reed for an extended period of time, but his team still finished fifth in the league in both yards per game allowed and points per game allowed.
Another example was discussed by Bassett earlier today:
[Given] a similar situation in 2007, he dropped his safeties into two-deep zone and it “killed him” to do it.
In that season, the Ravens finished with the sixth best defense in the NFL and were still second best against the run, even though they took a safety out of the box.
All of these examples hopefully show that Rex Ryan has a lot of experience in dealing with this type of situation and the flexibility of his system will hopefully give him several different options for how he will proceed without Revis in the lineup.
How about on a league-wide basis, though? Let's revisit (hidden Darrelle reference not intentional) a question I raised earlier about the value of elite players at different positions, but considering some teams who lost elite players in recent years:
- New England lost Tom Brady for the year in 2008 but still went 11-5.
- The Colts lost Peyton Manning for the year last season and ended up with the first pick in the draft.
- The Giants labored through most of last year with Osi Umenyiora out, but went on a run to the Superbowl when he returned to the lineup.
- Elvis Dumervil missed the entire 2010 season and Denver had the worst defense in the league, but returned in 2011 and by the end of the season, they had one of the best defenses.
- The Bears lost Brian Urlacher in Septemeber 2009 and ended up going 7-9.
- Andre Johnson and Mario Williams both missed multiple games last year, but the Texans kept winning until they were down to their third string quarterback.
- Jamaal Charles set records for average yards per carry in 2010, but missed most of the 2011 season and the Chiefs running game dropped to 15th in the league.
Not all of these players are as good as Revis and obviously there are other factors at play, but I think this illustrates that sometimes you can overcome a loss to a big player, whereas sometimes it can really take its toll.
Of course, none of these are cornerbacks...so are there any examples of elite cornerbacks getting injured and the effect it had on that team's season? Well, a 28-year old Deion Sanders missed seven games with groin and hamstring issues in 1995 - missing the pro bowl for the only time during his prime. Dallas survived without him and he returned to lead them to a Super Bowl win. In similar fashion, a 30-year old Champ Bailey also missed seven games in 2008, again missing the pro bowl for the only time during his prime years. This was a season ending injury and the Broncos just ended up 8-8. However, they were only 5-4 with him on the field, so it's not like it completely killed their season. There are also many examples of veteran cornerbacks being signed, sometimes off the street, and contributing on Super Bowl teams - like Hank Poteat, for example. However, none of these were replacing a player of Revis' caliber.
Sanders was always a put-you-over-the-hump guy rather than a player his teams were built around. He enjoyed success with some elite teams that were almost as successful without him. However, Revis has this reputation as a guy on whom the entire defense depends. Is that true, or is that part of an aura the Jets have deliberately created around him, in an effort to either scare teams off throwing his way or, in some cases, dare them to?
I think we need to consider how they've coped without Revis in the past.
Games Without Revis
These were the games where Revis missed the game or a significant part of it during the Rex Ryan era:
2010 - Week 2 v Pats
Revis missed the second half after suffering a hamstring injury at the end of the first half, but the Jets regrouped for a come-from-behind win. Revis had been covering Randy Moss, but in the second half, the Jets put Cromartie on Moss and he shut him down, also intercepting a pass. In the first half, Cromartie had been moving from player to player and had given up a few first downs, which is further evidence for one of my pet theories which is that Cromartie always seems to respond better when he remains on the same player, perhaps because it helps him to get in a rhythm. The Jets plan for the rest of the receivers had mostly been to bracket them at the line. They did put some slot receivers on Aaron Hernandez and he had a big day, but Rob Gronkowski was held to just one catch and Wes Welker's six catches netted just 38 yards.
2010 - Week 3 at Dolphins
In this game, the Jets managed to cling on for a 31-23 win. Cromartie covered Brandon Marshall most of the time and he caught 10 passes for 166 yards. However, a couple of those catches came against Jim Leonhard in zone coverage, including a 40-yarder, so Cromartie - who was thrown at 14 times - wasn't entirely responsible and at least he didn't get beaten deep. The longest play was a 30-yarder because he missed a tackle. Kyle Wilson gave up five catches for 72 yards on five targets and was eventually relegated to number three cornerback - initially for Dwight Lowery, but then Lowery was replaced by Drew Coleman. I actually wrote about their defensive strategy for BGA:
The gameplan coming in was obviously to give their corners plenty of safety support, but still send the occasional blitz. When it became apparent early on that perhaps the secondary was a little overmatched, the amount of pressure sent reduced and they also made some adjustments to personnel (Note: The personnel changes referred to relate to Wilson/Lowery/Coleman as mentioned above).2010 - Week 4 at Bills
To some extent the playcalling was reactive rather than trying to set the tone and affecting the other team’s gameplan, which seemed to be the philosophy last year. Miami left 50 backs/tight ends in to block in 53 dropbacks. Contrast this with 14 on 32 dropbacks by the Jets and you can see how Miami’s gameplan was to ensure Henne had time and that they trusted their receivers to get open, even if the Jets had dropped extra players into the secondary.
The Jets countered, not with extra defensive backs, as they did against New England, but by dropping linebackers into coverage and playing more zone. Against New England there were only 5 plays where fewer than 5 DBs were on the field for the Jets, but against Miami there were only 4 DBs in the game for 35 out of 74 plays (just under 50%). Despite the fact there were extra players in to block so often, the Jets weren’t tempted to send two many extra rushers, sending an average of 4.4 pass rushers per play. Against the Ravens, they sent 4.8 pass rushers per play. Obviously one major factor in that is Darrelle Revis.
The defensive playcalling finally paid dividends at the end, with the Jets deciding to rush just three players on the last two plays of the game and being able to prevent Miami from tying the score.
This was a comfortable win for the Jets, who dominated the trenches on both sides of the ball, although it was pretty close until just before half-time. At the time, Lee Evans was considered Buffalo's biggest threat and Cromartie stayed on him, holding him to one catch for six yards. Drew Coleman started at the other corner, but Kyle Wilson played most of the game anyway, mostly matched up with Stevie Johnson, who he held to two catches in five targets, although he did get beaten for a meaningless late score. With the Bills not representing much of a passing threat, the secondary held them to an inconsequential 128 yards.
It may also be worth noting that Revis played poorly (by his standards) in the next two games and the Jets won both, so again you can factor than into how often they managed to win without him providing his usual contributions.
2010 - Week 17 v Bills
Another blowout for the Jets and again over the Bills and their lack of a passing threat (as well as being in a meaningless game where the Bills players didn't seem to be particularly motivated and the Jets rested several starters, including Revis). However, this is noteworthy for two reasons. The first is that Kyle Wilson started at cornerback (as did Marquice Cole) and stuck to one side of the field. It's often been suggested that Wilson struggles in the slot because he doesn't have the sideline to give him that added protection like he did in college when he was working on the outside. It was therefore encouraging to see Wilson do well in this role. He gave up just one seven yard catch and held Johnson to no catches on three targets, including one pass breakup. I did note that he was particularly physical on a couple of those plays though and could easily have been flagged by a more fussy official. Cole actually had two interceptions - one for a touchdown - but did give up four catches.
The other interesting thing is that they used four man fronts to rush the passer on passing downs, a plan which they had success with against New England a couple of weeks later. This had a big impact, with the Jets racking up three sacks and nine QB hits. This is relevant because creating more pressure might be one way the Jets can make life easier for the secondary, by reducing how long they need to stay with their man for.
2012 - Week 2 at Steelers
Less than two weeks ago, the Jets suffered their first loss without Revis in the Rex Ryan era. In 2010, the Jets mostly matched up Cromartie with Mike Wallace and that was the case here too, which meant that Kyle Wilson and Ellis Lankster both had to cover Antonio Brown at times. As I had predicted, although Wilson was the starter, he moved into his customary slot role while the Jets were in their nickel package and Lankster played on the outside. The difference with those two games in 2010 was that the Jets ran more dime and seven DB packages and dropped a lot of guys into coverage, but in this one they played a more conventional system. It was discouraging to note that Cromartie and Wilson gave up ten catches in ten targets between them.
2012 - Week 3 at Dolphins
In last week's game, Revis missed almost exactly half of the defensive snaps following his injury. Once again the Jets were able to come from behind, although once again it was against a team that doesn't offer much of a passing threat. Cromartie was mostly matched up with Brian Hartline and Revis was matched up with the speedier Bess, who certainly had some success after Revis was hurt. Cromartie doesn't match up well with shifty and quick slot receiver types, so that made logical sense. He did get badly beaten by Hartline on one play, but overall played well.
While the Jets didn't really beat any strong teams other than the first game against the Patriots, at least this provides some evidence that they will be capable of winning games even without Revis. Looking at the schedule, there aren't too many elite passing attacks that they will face between now and the end of the season, so there is time for them to tighten up whatever system they decide to implement and for each player to become comfortable within their new role.
Just in case you don't trust my opinion, let's consider what some other analysts and experts have been saying:
- Ben Shpigel of the New York Times notes that Rex has indicated he might take a more aggressive approach- Bassett says the Jets must get penetration up front to allow ease the burden on the secondary.
- Florio predictably agrees with Ross Tucker that the Jets "could implode".
- James Walker says they won't survive.
- Mike Lupica fluctuates between being the voice of reason and throwing them a backhanded compliment that sets up the opportunity to bash the organization if they fail.
- Rex Ryan insists they can still be competitive without him.
- Finally, the First Take crew (plus Snoop Lion) couldn't resist turning the topic around to be about Tim Tebow. *Sigh*.
Also, it's worth recalling back in 2010, when the Football Scientist KC Joyner suggested that Revis is expendable...although we did of course mock him relentlessly for that opinion.
Losing a Star
One thing that always springs to mind in situation like this is Bill Simmons' "Ewing Theory". Whenever a star player goes down, Simmons' theory is that this can sometimes - but sadly not always - galvanize the team. When the media writes off a team because the star player is gone, the team is often forced to change its approach and sometimes that approach works better than the way the team was built to make the most of that player's talents.
Whether you buy into the theory (or one of Simmons' other go-to theories which could also apply - the "Nobody Believed In Us!" effect), there can still be longer term advantages from an injury like this. Po'uha is a good example of this. Would he ever have developed into the player he is today without the opportunity provided to him by Jenkins' injuries? Even if the Jets can't be successful this season, they're going to learn a few things about their team which will all come in useful when Revis is ready to return.
There have been games where Cromartie has given a Revis-type performance and the Jets have won plenty of games without Revis having much of an impact, so in theory they should still be competitive most weeks. However, when you focus on what they're losing, it's not just a guy who can shut down the elite receivers on a more consistent basis than a guy like Cromartie could ever hope to. As he showed in week one, Revis has a knack for the clutch play at exactly the time when the team needs it and I could see that being something that they will miss over the remainder of the season.
While I am hopeful that Cromartie can overcome some of his inconsistency to do pretty well as the number one cornerback, the biggest impact will probably come from the increased playing time that will have to be given to the inexperienced players further down the depth chart. As an example, Cromartie handled Brandon Lloyd pretty well in the Denver game in 2010, as Lloyd was in the form of his career. Him handling Lloyd when the Jets face New England would have freed up Revis to cover guys like Welker and Gronkowski, but now it will be guys like Landry and Wilson who are forced into those roles.
Also, I hate to even mention this possibility, but you also have to wonder where another cornerback injury would leave them.
One underrated aspect of Revis' greatness has been the leadership he has provided in the locker room. He has reportedly been an influential mentor for the likes of Wilson and Lankster over the last couple of seasons. That's one area where Revis could still contribute. Even though if the Jets are successful without him that might hurt Revis' bargaining position in terms of a new contract, I would hope that Revis would consider that doing this sort of thing gives them value for money and would be a show of good faith in terms of his commitment to the team.
The implications on Darrelle's current salary are pretty straightforward. His salary is fully guaranteed anyway and has already been accounted for on this year's cap. So, he will still receive it even if he goes onto injured reserve and it will all count against the cap. More of an issue is the implications for his contract extension, which is expected following the season.
Next year, Revis has a salary of $6m which is guaranteed for skill but not injury. As long as he doesn't hold out, he will become a free agent at the end of the 2013 season, so the Jets will be keen to extend him before that date - especially since a $9m dead money cap hit would apply at that point.
The injury could affect certain things in terms of the deal. For example, the Jets might be reluctant to fully guarantee money until they are certain he will be fully recovered. At the same time, some have suggested that Revis' bargaining position will improve if the Jets struggle without him. However, if the Jets' depth and talent level without Revis proves insufficient, then maybe that means that the Jets would be better served in spreading their resources wider rather than dedicating so much of their salary to the cornerback position. Also, if the Jets are successful without him, that could make it easier for them to let him go or trade him away without fear of a public backlash.
With next year's salary not fully guaranteed and the Jets also keen to get the deal done before next year is over, both sides have reason to make concessions in the short term. With Revis no longer on the field this year, maybe that could provide an opportunity to negotiate without any risk of a distraction - perhaps even behind closed doors - and it certainly puts the Jets in a situation where they can generate some goodwill by showing a commitment to Revis even though he's hurt.
It's difficult to predict what will happen over the remainder of the season. The Jets have not looked good over the last two games, but did show some promise in week one. Maybe it should be viewed as a different situation to the Jenkins and Leonhard injuries which were seen to have derailed promising seasons. I'm not sure as many people were sold on them as a potential contender prior to the Revis injury.
Revis is - of course - a tremendous talent, but he is just one player and the Jets do have some other talented players in the secondary, which may not have coalesced completely in the games with Revis missing so far. Somebody - or bodies - is (or are) going to have to step up for this team to still be successful. It's also a big test for Ryan's coaching acumen too.
Earlier this week, Mike DeVito said the Jets thrive on people doubting them. With that in mind, I'd like to categorically state that there is no hope of them contending without Revis in the line-up.
Now let's get behind our team.
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