- Mike Triplett, ESPN Staff Writer
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A Ryan reversal? Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan knows this is his best chance yet to beat his brother Rex, the Jets’ head coach, after going 0-4 in previous head-to-head matchups in the NFL. To accomplish that goal, Rob will focus on making quarterback Geno Smith as uncomfortable as possible.
Smith has been up and down this year. He’s shown surprising poise in four fourth-quarter victories. But he also ranks second in the NFL with 16 turnovers (13 interceptions, three fumbles). One of Ryan’s specialties is mixing up schemes and formations and disguising blitzes and coverages to confuse opposing offenses. Expect a lot of that Sunday.
It will also help if the Saints can stop the Jets’ rushing attack to force Smith to throw on some third-and-longs.
“I think this is a real fine quarterback and a special talent,” Ryan said. “But obviously every week you’re going against some of these best quarterbacks in the world. So the more you can do to disguise things and give yourself an advantage, you try to do them.
“Much like last week (against the Buffalo Bills’ Thad Lewis), that was a good, young competitive quarterback, and this is the same type of guy. These are good young quarterbacks and they’ve earned the right to play.”
Rising stars: Sunday’s game will feature two of the best young defensive linemen in the NFL – Saints end Cameron Jordan and Jets end Muhammad Wilkerson, who are jockeying for position on All-Pro rosters right now. They both came from the same 2011 first-round draft class as the Houston Texans’ J.J. Watt – bringing in a wave of impact 3-4 ends into the league.
Jordan (6-4, 287) has been the Saints’ defensive MVP as a disruptive power rusher and solid run defender. He has six sacks and two forced fumbles. According to Pro Football Focus, he has five quarterback hits and 24 hurries.
Wilkerson (6-4, 215) has seven sacks, six hits and 14 hurries according to PFF. The entire Jets line has been outstanding this year, with rookie end Sheldon Richardson and tackle Damon Harrison playing extremely well against the run and the pass.
“It is a very good front,” Saints quarterback Drew Brees said. “They are right at the top of the league in rush defense and the top of the league at rushes and sacks. They are athletic. They are big. So they present a handful of challenges, especially when you deal with crowd noise and you are playing a front like that on the road.”
Pass vs. fail? The Jets will be counting on that defensive front to put some pressure on Brees, because New York’s defense has not held up well against the pass this year. They just allowed five touchdowns to Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton in a 49-9 loss last week. And according to PFF’s grading formula, rookie cornerback Dee Milliner and veteran Antonio Cromartie are ranked 106th and 108th, respectively, out of 109 qualifying cornerbacks in the NFL this year.
Brees has been playing at his usual elite level, with 2,290 passing yards, 19 touchdowns and five interceptions. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Brees leads the NFL with eight touchdowns of 20-plus yards this season. No one else has more than five.
5hJason Gibbs, Special to ESPN.com
6hJason Gibbs, Special to ESPN.com