Monday, October 25, 2010 Updated: October 26, 9:10 PM ET
Jets' defense ready to return to top form
By Rich Cimini ESPNNewYork.com
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- It's the New York Jets' version of the three R's, the post-bye week edition: Rested, rejuvenated and redemption-minded.
On defense, anyway.
Coming off a season in which they led the NFL in several statistical categories, the Jets have slipped to 12th in total defense. It hasn't hurt the team, 5-1 for the first time since 2004, but the lower ranking tastes like sour milk to the defensive-minded Rex Ryan, who vowed a turnaround over the final 10 games.
"When it's all settled, I expect to have the best defense in the league -- like always," the brash coach said Monday after welcoming back his team from a six-day respite.
The prediction came with a small revelation: Second-year coordinator Mike Pettine is calling "a ton" of the defensive plays, according to Ryan. A year ago, Ryan leaned on his longtime sidekick, but when it came to calling the plays, it was his show. And Ryan did it very well, befuddling opponents with his fearless and creative blitz packages.
Bart Scott signed with the Jets for six years and $48 million in 2009.
Pettine's expanded role, coupled with the drop-off on defense, might fuel speculation of a possible connection. But Ryan claimed that isn't the case, adding that he's happy with Pettine's play calling and has no plans to change.
"It's not his fault," Ryan said. "He's been calling the ones that work. I've got to do a better job when I call them."
Funny, but the plays tend to work better when cornerback Darrelle Revis is healthy, but they've had a healthy Revis for only six quarters. That, no doubt, is a key reason for the significant decline in pass defense (22nd). That should change this week, with Revis claiming his pulled left hamstring is 100 percent after rehabbing it through the bye week.
Pass-rusher Calvin Pace also is close to 100 percent after missing the first four games with a broken foot. Now that everybody is back, save for nose tackle Kris Jenkins (season-ending knee surgery), the Jets "don't have any excuses," according to Ryan.
"Eventually," linebacker Bart Scott said, "the cream will rise to the top."
Defensively, the Jets are playing well in the fourth quarter, a bugaboo last season, but they lack their old killer instinct. For instance: They've been forcing opponents into third-and-long situations -- no team has done that more often -- but they haven't been able to finish the deal on what they like to call their "money" down.
Their third-down blitz has recorded only one sack in 49 pass plays, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Their overall third-down efficiency is pedestrian, with a conversion rate (42 percent) that ranks 24th in the league.
Players said opponents have adjusted to their blitzes by using seven-man protection schemes and quick throws. Now it's up to the Jets to formulate a counterattack. They showed improvement against the pass-happy Denver Broncos, and they will face a similar offensive style Sunday with the Green Bay Packers (4-3) coming to town.
"We obviously should be more dominant than we are, but teams have been changing up their game plans on us a little bit," said Pace, adding, "I do think we'll get back to where we were."
Meaning No. 1.
But it raises a question: If the operation worked so well last season, why would Ryan cede some of his play-calling duties? He has tremendous faith in Pettine, whom he believes will be a head coach one day.
"We've been together [nine years]," said Ryan, alluding to their years together in Baltimore. "It was time for him to step up and call more of it."
Ryan said Pettine was the primary playcaller in a recent game because he had a better feel for the opponent. Ryan wouldn't name the team, joking that it was the Buffalo Bills -- their only dominant defensive game.
"He's doing a great job," Ryan said. "The guys have complete confidence in him. I'm there, but I don't have to call every single play."
Rich Cimini covers the Jets for ESPNNewYork.com. Follow him on Twitter.More from ESPNNewYork.com »