Analysis  

 

Rex Ryan wants Jets' defense to perform more like 49ers' unit

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Rex Ryan's press conferences almost always begin with an opening statement that can take many twists and turns as the New York Jets coach searches for focus before fielding questions.

As part of a 10-minute, 1,003-word monologue this week, Ryan offered 17 compliments about the defense. He singled out the inside linebackers as "tremendous athletes, run-hit guys" and a tackle as "about as good as there is at D-line."

Later, when asked to characterize the challenge presented by such a unit, Ryan said simply, "Yikes."

Does this sound familiar? Rex boasting? A familiar refrain from a coach who doesn't shy away from self-congratulation?

Well, it shouldn't. 'Cause he's not talking about the Jets.

"Going against San Francisco," Ryan said, " you almost have to be perfect."

So there.

Ryan is in the rare week, for him, where he has little choice but to admit without qualification that the opposing defense is, simply, good. And stout. Able to impose its will.

And though Ryan would never admit it, the truth is that San Francisco's defense -- led by inside linebackers Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman, defensive tackle Justin Smith, outside linebacker Aldon Smith, cornerback Carlos Rogers and strong safety Donte Whitner -- would compare more favorably to Ryan's vintage Baltimore Ravens units than would his current Jets.

"The style of play," Ryan said, "it's hard not to respect."

The Jets play the 49ers on Sunday in an intriguing game that should tilt on the physical battle. And it's fair to ask if the Jets are ready for it.

Especially with the 49ers coming off a surprising loss to the Minnesota Vikings and having spent the week holed up in a Boardman, Ohio, hotel and practicing at Youngstown State in order to avoid long travel days in consecutive weeks.

Defensive tackle Ray McDonald might be honest in saying coach Jim Harbaugh "isn't mad at us," but there is little doubt Harbaugh has his players' focus razor sharp. The 49ers just allowed the most rushing yards (146) in Harbaugh's two years as head coach and, for only the second time, did not record a sack.

"I think when you come off a loss, you want to get back to work," Harbaugh said, "and make darn sure it doesn't happen again."

Oh, boy.

"I'm glad we're playing at home, because I think we're going to need our fans," Ryan said, completely unprompted. "Hopefully, that will be a big edge for us, to have home-field advantage, get our fans behind us."

Hmm. Playing the 12th-man card might seem a peculiar approach in Week 4 -- last we checked, this isn't college football -- but it's been an interesting week for Ryan, who's usually bent on telling us of the strengths within.

But Darrelle Revis is gone for the season with a torn ACL. And the Jets' defense, even while playing six of 12 full quarters this season with Revis, has been anemic against the run and abysmal on third down.

The Miami Dolphins, for example, rushed for 185 yards against the Jets, with 124 from players not named Reggie Bush. The Jets rank 28th in the NFL against the run.

And Miami, with a rookie quarterback, was 10-for-19 on third down, exploiting another Jets weakness. Their opponents have converted 56 percent on third down, which ranks last in the league.

And now Alex Smith, Frank Gore and Vernon Davis are coming to town.

"I don't think I've ever gone through a stage like this, where we're struggling to stop the run and struggling to get off the field on third down," Ryan said. "Those are two areas that are generally a strength, and right now, we haven't done a good enough job of that."

Jets defensive tackle Mike DeVito said the players know they have to play better; the numbers show it and so does their head coach's résumé. Defense, DeVito said, "is Rex's pride and joy."

It certainly is. Remember, Ryan told reporters in late July that he was the best defensive coach in football. In mid-August, he wasn't willing to characterize his defense as the NFL's finest, but he said being top five "is a given."

Make no mistake, this is personal for Rex Ryan. Sunday would be as good a time as any for the Jets' defense to show what it truly is.

Unless, of course, we already know.

Follow Kimberly Jones on Twitter @KimJonesSports.

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