Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez is hoping to be doing his version of the “Super Bowl Shuffle” at the end of this season.
Yesterday morning after practice, Sanchez compared the Jets defense he faces every day in practice with the vaunted Bears unit from their 1985 Super Bowl team. That defense was put together by defensive mastermind Buddy Ryan, the father of current Jets head coach Rex Ryan. It was a defense that was all offense for the Bears with Buddy Ryan’s 46 scheme blitzing through any number of gaps and willing to take risks to get to the quarterback.
The 1985 Bears finished with the top ranked defense in the league that year, ending the year with an emphatic 46-10 win over New England in the Super Bowl.
Now after two seasons under Rex Ryan, the Jets see big things from this defense as well.
“It’s the third year that we’ve been in this system so I think the bugs have already been played out. Guys know each other and I expect big things,” Ryan said. “Albeit we’re bringing in a couple new guys, but I expect big things out of this unit.”
“Big things” were expected last year from the Jets defense, but more often than not the unit was rather plebian against the top offenses in the league. The Jets finished third in the league in yards conceded from scrimmage and were sixth best in points allowed. But they struggled to get to the quarterback and with two of the best cornerbacks in the league were a lowly 25th in interceptions.
Ryan rolls his eyes at such criticism of his defense, but there is no doubt that the unit was more hype than hits. This year, the Jets return the vast majority of their starters and have beefed up their pass rush in an effort to attack and be aggressive.
It is beginning to look and feel like Ryan’s father’s defense did over a quarter of a century ago.
“We are starting to really get to know each other. We have been in the same system and whenever you have that, you can take leaps and bounds,” linebacker Bart Scott said. “It doesn’t take too long to really get back in the groove of it.”
There’s a pretty big reason for the optimism coming out of Florham Park these days and it is a pretty big person who is making the coaching staff think this defense can take the next step forward. First-round pick Muhammad Wilkerson is living up to his strong combine showing. Wilkerson has been penciled in as a starter along the three-man defensive line next to nose tackle Sione Pouha and end Mike DeVito.
Along with third-round pick Kenrick Ellis — a nose tackle out of Hampton — the Jets have gotten younger and deeper along the line as they look to push the point of attack. Last year the front three was talented, but had no depth.
“We had to get more depth. We had to add more depth to that group,” Ryan said. “And the fact they’re younger and things like that, that’s great. We want to be a physical football team — the most physical team.”
Two years ago in their AFC Championship Game loss to Indianapolis, Colts quarterback Peyton Manning dissected the Jets’ secondary in the second half. The Jets responded to the loss by stockpiling cornerbacks — a plan that worked in their playoff win against New England when the Jets clamped down on the Patriots’ passing attack.
This past January, the Steelers out-muscled the Jets in a grind ’em out offensive plan in another AFC Championship Game loss for New York. During the offseason, the Jets sought out defensive line help.
“Pittsburgh was more physical than we were. Especially in that first half, they kind of pushed us around a little bit. Again, just like the year before, we identified specific things that we thought we had to improve on to beat Indianapolis, to have a chance to beat New England and all that—and that was the secondary,” Ryan said. “This year, we thought we had to do something to the defensive line to give us more depth, and that’s why we added those guys.”
Follow Kristian Dyer on Twitter @KristianRDyer for live updates and photos from Jets training camp everyday. And follow sports editor Mark Osborne @MetroNYSports for updates on everything going on in the Metro sports section.