Commentary

Replacing Revis? It's impossible

It simply can't be done, but Rex Ryan is going to try -- and here's how it will look

Updated: September 24, 2012, 3:56 PM ET
By Rich Cimini | ESPNNewYork.com

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Rex Ryan is about to embark on the most difficult challenge of his coaching career: Life without Darrelle Revis.

Welcome to Deserted Island.

Revis is the cleanup hitter in the New York Jets' defensive lineup. His mere presence forces the opposition to alter its approach. To use the baseball analogy, opponents have to pitch around Revis, allowing those around him to thrive.

[+] EnlargeDarrelle Revis
AP Photo/Lynne SladkyFor the Jets, it doesn't get worse than losing Darrelle Revis.

Ryan and his right-hand man, coordinator Mike Pettine, are creative defensive minds, but there's simply no way to replace a player of Revis' caliber. The Jets still can field a solid defense -- they won't go in the tank -- but they can't be special without him.

In Ryan's opinion, Revis and Hall of Famer Deion Sanders are the two greatest corners he's ever seen. Revis has rare man-to-man coverage skills, locking down one side of the field and allowing the Jets to play more aggressively with the other 10 players. Revis is so good that it's like playing with 12 men on defense.

Now he's done for the season, with a torn ACL in his left knee. It's the most significant injury for the Jets since quarterback Chad Pennington wrecked his shoulder for the second time, early in the 2005 season. Ryan calls himself the best defensive coach in the league; now he has a chance to prove it.

"Maybe we play some opponents differently," Ryan said Monday after announcing the season-ending surgery. "There are different ways to skin a cat. Obviously, we can't take away their best receiver with one guy, but we'll find a way."

Ryan was quick to remind everyone that his former team, the Baltimore Ravens, reached the 2008 AFC Championship Game despite a rash of injuries at cornerback. But here's the difference between those Ravens and these Jets:

The Ravens were a front-heavy defense, built around linebackers and linemen. They had Terrell Suggs and Haloti Ngata to apply heat on the quarterback, minimizing the stress on the corners. The Jets aren't built that way. They're built around the corners, Revis and Antonio Cromartie. It's a coverage-based defense: Neutralize the receivers and force the quarterback to hold the ball.

Ryan also threw out a reference to the celebrated '85 Chicago Bears, noting that his father, Buddy, the defensive guru, turned them into one of the greatest defenses in history despite an unheralded group of defensive backs.

But the '85 Bears terrorized quarterbacks with an awesome front seven. The Jets don't have the horses up front to flip on a switch and become a rush-oriented defense. Rookie Quinton Coples is off to a slow start and Aaron Maybin, their leading sacker last season, has been so invisible that soon his face will appear on milk cartons across the metropolitan area.

Ryan could try to blitz more than usual, but that would be risky because he doesn't have his security blanket, making sure the opponent's No. 1 receiver is lost on Revis Island.

Chances are, the Jets will take the approach they did in Week 2 against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Without Revis, who sat out with a concussion, they employed more zone coverage than usual, even using a split-safety look -- ordinarily not a staple in their defensive repertoire.

Former No. 1 pick Kyle Wilson replaces Revis in the starting lineup, which isn't the worst thing in the world, but there's a domino effect on the rest of the secondary. Ellis Lankster moves into the all-important nickel role, practically a starting job because of the growth of spread offenses.

The fourth-corner job goes to … well, that's a good question. Presumably, Isaiah Trufant is the next man up, but he's only 5-foot-8 -- making him the next half-man up. Look for GM Mike Tannenbaum to address the deficiency, perhaps trying to swing a trade for a veteran corner.

The loss of Revis affects "their pressure coverage and, above all, their pressure schemes because a lot of their third-down stuff is predicated on the ability to bring heat," said an opposing scout, speaking on the condition of anonymity. "They can match up on the outside and not have to help and double. [That gives them] the ability to trick it up."

The impact of Revis' absence was felt immediately in Sunday's overtime win over the Miami Dolphins. For 41 minutes, he held Davone Bess to one catch for 23 yards. As soon as Revis left the game, Bess started making plays. Over the final 26 minutes, he caught four balls for 63 yards. Funny how that happened.

And Bess isn't even an elite receiver. Imagine when the Jets have to face the likes of Andre Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald in the coming weeks.

The Jets are a different defensive team without Revis. In 111 plays without him, they've allowed a 62 percent completion rate, 7.6 yards per pass attempt and four touchdowns, making no interceptions, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

In 88 plays with Revis on the field, it's 54 percent, 5.4 per attempt and only one touchdown, with four interceptions.

See the difference? It's huge.

Revis' devastating injury brings to mind the memorable scene from HBO's "Hard Knocks," in the summer of 2010, when Revis staged a training-camp holdout. In his first team meeting, Ryan told the players:

"Hey, guys, we don't have Revis in this building right now. Does it matter that Revis is not here? God damn, he's pretty [expletive] good. He's pretty good, OK? But you know what guys? It isn't about one guy."

Ryan is hammering the same theme. Except this time, he knows Revis isn't going to make a dramatic entrance, walking in to save the day.

Rich Cimini

ESPN New York Jets reporter

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