Rex outsmarts Payton: The game was billed as Ryan vs. Ryan, but it never was going to be Rex against Rob, the Saints' defensive coordinator. It was really a chess match between Rex and Saints coach Sean Payton, one of the brightest offensive minds in the game. The outcome: Checkmate, Ryan.
Drew Brees put up his fantasy numbers, throwing for 382 yards (the most against the Jets in the Ryan era), but he was rattled at key moments in the game. He was confused by the Jets' different looks, forcing him into rare mistakes -- taking two delay penalties and burning three timeouts in the first quarter. On the first timeout, he was befuddled by a 2-4-5 alignment. When he came out of the timeout, it was a 3-3-5 look by the Jets -- and a delay of game penalty.
This wasn't a blitz-heavy game plan by Ryan. In fact, the Jets sent five or more rushers on only 19 percent of Brees' 53 dropbacks, slightly below their average. They didn't have to blitz because Muhammad Wilkerson and Quinton Coples overmatched the Saints offensive line.
After watching the tape, I noticed a clever wrinkle: On some passing plays, the Jets used a defensive lineman in a spy-type role. Instead of rushing, a lineman peeled back and hovered around the line of scrimmage, reading Brees' eyes. Coples said afterward that the game plan was to obstruct the B gaps, meaning the guard-tackle gaps. In their scouting report, they noted how Brees -- listed generously at 6-foot -- liked to throw through the B gaps instead of the middle. I think the Jets used a defensive lineman as a roving shot blocker, hoping to deflect the ball or at least block his vision. This was a big point of emphasis in practice, as the coaches were constantly on the pass-rushers to get their arms up against the "5-foot-10 quarterback," as they referred to him.
On Brees' first of two interceptions, Coples was the rover, lurking behind a three-man rush. At the last second, he rushed, getting one of his long arms in Brees' face as he released the ball, which was intercepted by Demario Davis after an on-ball deflection by S Dawan Landry -- a great play all around. Other times, I saw NT Kenrick Ellis and DT Sheldon Richardson peeling back instead of rushing.
Two impressive sequences jumped out. In the third quarter, they sacked Brees on back-to-back plays. How often does that happen? Wilkerson split a double-team for the first sack. On the second, Brees tried a quick count, but he outsmarted himself because TE Jimmy Graham was isolated on LB Calvin Pace. Graham is a great receiver, but he doesn't do blocking. Pace beat him cleanly for a sack.
The second impressive sequence occurred at the end of the game. Brees had the ball at his 19, with 1:58 on the clock. He has made a career of game-winning drives. Not this time. He threw four straight incompletions, one uglier than the next. On first down, the Jets had one down lineman and five others standing at the line. It looked like a blitz, but it was a ruse because they rushed two and dropped nine, including Coples, who lurked in the spy role. CB Antonio Cromartie was a safety on this play, another wrinkle.
Overall, it was a brilliant game plan by Ryan.
The art of deception: Obviously, the Jets were committed to running the ball, hoping to exploit a defense that had allowed a league-high 4.8 yard per carry. Here is an amazing stat: QB Geno Smith passed for only one yard in the first quarter and none in the fourth.
Coordinator Marty Mornhinweg did a fantastic job of using the read-option to exploit the Saints' aggressive front seven, which tends to over-pursue. On Chris Ivory's 27-yard run in the first quarter, they used the read option out of the Pistol formation. OLB Parys Haralson, influenced by the option, over-ran the play, leaving a gaping hole for Ivory.
On Josh Cribbs' 25-yard pass in the second quarter, the Jets ran a triple-option type play out of the Wildcat. Cribbs took the direct snap, faked to Bilal Powell and sprinted right with a run-pass option. He threw a dart to TE Zach Sudfeld, the Jets' best pass of the day.
I loved the two touchdown runs at the end of the second quarter. It was a great set-up by Mornhinweg, who used virtual mirror-image plays to outfox the Saints. On Ivory's three-yard scoring run, they were in shotgun, with Ivory to Smith's left -- the strong side, along with the tight end (Sudfeld) and two receivers (Stephen Hill and David Nelson). They ran a weakside play, with Ivory blasting off right tackle, behind key blocks by RG Willie Colon and RT Austin Howard.
After Cromartie's interception, the Jets got the ball back in almost an identical situation -- ball at the 3. They used the same personnel package, except they flipped the formation. Ivory went to the right of Smith, along with two receivers (Nelson and Greg Salas). The Saints probably were thinking it was a run to the left. It sure looked like as they ran Ivory to the left on a play-action. LBs David Hawthorne and Curtis Lofton bit hard on the fake. Smith used the read-option. He pulled the ball out of Ivory's belly and kept it himself, putting a nice, open-field move on DE Cameron Jordan for the touchdown. Actually, Jordan read it well, but he was faked by Smith and had no back up because Hawthorne and Lofton were out of position.
The Jets finished with 198 rushing yards. Ivory got the headlines, but the coaches did a nice job of exploiting the weaknesses in the Saints' run defense.
Geno's signature moment: The play that had people buzzing at One Jets Drive was a 6-yard scramble by Smith at the start of the third quarter. It wasn't enough for a first down -- it was a third-and-10 play -- but it got them into field goal range, as Smith avoided a big loss.
DE Tom Johnson blew past LG Brian Winters and had a clean shot at Smith, who eluded him with a nifty step-back move. Smith took off and gained six valuable yards, allowing the Jets to take a 23-14 lead after the field goal.
Odds and ends: Winters made a key block in the second quarter, pulling to the right on Ivory's 52-yard yard. Winters got a piece of Lofton, who ended up missing the tackle in the hole. Sudfeld, not known for his blocking, delivered a key block as well. Hill, invisible in the passing game, made a nice downfield block. ... There was confusion on Graham's 51-yard TD reception. S Jaiquawn Jarrett raised both arms before the snap, as if to say, "What do I do?" He ended up getting torched on a double move. ... I have no idea what Ryan was thinking on the Jets' final possession. They got the ball on downs at the Saints' 9, with 1:21 to play. The Saints had one timeout left. Three kneel-downs and it was over, but the Jets ran two plays and called a timeout before having Smith take a knee. What was the point of risking a fumble? Made no sense.