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Ryan made Brady work for this

By Greg A. Bedard
Globe Staff / October 12, 2011

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Jets coach Rex Ryan loves to talk up his matchup with Bill Belichick before the Patriots and Jets meet, but don’t let him fool you: It’s Ryan vs. Tom Brady each time, and it continues to be must-see theater.

You just have to wonder whether Ryan has run out of things to throw at Brady. There’s always the kitchen sink.

In the Jets’ upset win in the January playoff game, Ryan confounded Brady with 28 snaps with five defensive backs, and another 28 with six, seven, or eight. Ryan used dime packages (six defensive backs) on an amazing 18 snaps, which is unheard of.

The Jets played mostly zone defense in that game, and continually rolled coverages to one receiver and then another. Brady said last week it was the most looks he ever had seen in a game.

On Sunday, Ryan raised the ante.

The Jets played with five defensive backs just 11 times. But they played 56 snaps with six or seven defensive backs.

If 18 snaps was a lot to play dime last year, how about 32 this time around?

And, of course, Ryan had his wrinkles. The Jets mixed coverages but played a lot more man-to-man than last season.

And apparently Dick LeBeau stopped by Florham Park, N.J., at some point, because suddenly the Jets morphed into a zone exchange team.

Zone exchange is a quarterback-pressure concept where the defense sends the same number of rushers - four - but they come from unexpected positions.

For example, a linebacker or defensive back may rush the quarterback, but he is replaced in coverage by a player who was lined up on the line.

It becomes a zone blitz when you send a fifth rusher.

The Jets used a zone exchange seven times against the Patriots. That’s a lot.

Last year, the Patriots played the Steelers and Packers , whose defenses are coordinated by LeBeau and Dom Capers, respectively. They are credited for bringing the zone blitz to a different level when they were on the same staff with the Steelers in the 1990s. Both still feature it today.

They combined to send a total of one zone exchange at Brady in two games last year.

The Patriots had some trouble with the concept Sunday, as Brady was sacked twice and knocked down another time. But one of the sacks and the knockdown were wiped out by penalties.

Still, the appearance and frequency of the concept is just another tool for Ryan to throw at Brady, and no one makes him work harder. That’s probably part of the reason Brady seemed a little testy after the game.

That and the fact that the Patriots didn’t have a banner day offensively - if that’s possible with 446 total yards, including 321 by pass (net), and 152 rushing.

The Patriots got 306 yards on the 15 plays that went for 10 yards or more (12 pass, 3 rush).

Of the Patriots’ 81 plays (including penalties), 39 gained 4 yards or fewer. That’s called grinding out a victory, and that’s what Ryan and the Jets want Brady to do. And he did.

Against a better offensive team - one capable of catching passes and throwing an accurate slant - maybe the Patriots lose this game. But the Jets weren’t, and the Patriots didn’t.

Here are the positional ratings from Sunday’s game:

QUARTERBACK Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Of the 43 times Brady dropped back to pass (including penalties), he produced only three negative plays: 1.5 sacks and a high throw to Wes Welker on third and 3 early in the third quarter. And one of the sacks, when Brady held onto the ball for 4.28 seconds, was wiped out by a ticky-tack illegal contact penalty on Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis against Deion Branch. Later in that drive, Brady had perhaps his best throw of the game, from the opposite hash mark and off his back foot, getting rid of it before the six rushers got to him. Brady threw well before Branch had made his cut to the sideline but hit him in stride. In all, we counted seven exceptional throws from Brady and four alert plays, including three crucial pre-play adjustments. Brady wisely stayed away from Revis, throwing only three times for one catch for 4 yards by Welker.

RUNNING BACKS Rating: 4 out of 5

BenJarvus Green-Ellis had a career-high 136 yards on 27 carries and two touchdowns. His running was nearly flawless, especially when you consider that 73 of those yards (53.7 percent) came after first contact, as he broke or eluded eight tackles. He did choose the wrong hole once, and allowed a half-sack and a knockdown in pass protection. But considering Green-Ellis was in on a season-high 61 plays (previous high was 40 against Oakland), that’s a very good day. The direct snap to him on third and 4 from the Jets 46 on the final drive was a perfect call by offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien. The Jets had an undersized end (Jamaal Westerman) and four defensive backs lined up right of center. The Patriots crushed them on a huge play. Stevan Ridley may have been trying a little too hard to repeat his bust-out game against the Raiders because he didn’t exhibit quite the same patience and decision-making after he got the ball (seven carries, 13 yards).

RECEIVERS Rating: 3 out of 5

Tight end Aaron Hernandez gets points just for taking the field with a knee that probably wasn’t quite ready, and making the Jets have to defend him. Hernandez had one exceptional catch of a Brady laser in traffic, but he continued to have trouble run-blocking, which happens healthy or not. And twice Brady looked to Hernandez to break off his route against all-out blitzes but it didn’t happen. At least on one Hernandez drew a flag. Rob Gronkowski continued to be a bull in the run game (three plus blocks) despite being ill. That was some tough 33-yard catch by Welker in the first quarter, as safety Jim Leonhard, who was late, was charging hard. Welker did have two outstanding run-blocks on the final drive, which made up for two misses in the first half. Branch might not be a threat on a go route, but few are better inside of 12 yards. Ask Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie.

OFFENSIVE LINE Rating: 3.5 out of 5

There were a few lapses, which drew the ire of Brady, but for the most part, this unit fared well. Part of that had to do with the fact that the Jets played just six snaps of base defense outside of their 10-yard line or the Patriots’ final drive. When the Patriots did most of their successful running on the final drive, the Jets made the curious choice to play seven defensive backs when they knew the Patriots wanted to grind out the clock. Right guard Brian Waters was brought in for physical games like this, and he delivered with seven exceptional run blocks against two half run-stuffs. Left tackle Matt Light also stood out in the run and allowed only a half-sack. Logan Mankins had a long day against Mike DeVito. Both Mankins and Dan Connolly were asked to execute some very difficult reach blocks (getting in front of a defender that’s lined up away from you) against a Jets alignment that made it tough.

DEFENSIVE LINE Rating: 4 out of 5

The defense almost should be graded on a curve because of the Jets’ performance, but this unit did well. There weren’t many pressures to be had because quarterback Mark Sanchez played skittish and looked to be on orders to throw to his primary read. The player who stood out was end Andre Carter, who had his best game as a Patriot. He was a beast against the run with 3.5 stuffs, three other tremendous tackles shedding blockers, and 1.5 knockdowns. Mark Anderson had two half-sacks (Rob Ninkovich forced Sanchez into the final one) and a run stuff. His first sack was good hustle play getting back up after being blocked. Albert Haynesworth had a knockdown in 21 snaps. He shoved a few people around otherwise, but Kyle Love (who was handled by center Nick Mangold) does that, too.

LINEBACKERS Rating: 2.5 out of 5

Rob Ninkovich (two half-sacks, tipped pass) was charged with knocking tight end Dustin Keller silly most of the game, which he did very well. Keller was a nonfactor, and taking away Sanchez’s security blanket was huge. Brandon Spikes and Gary Guyton left a lot to be desired against the run. Spikes plays with suddenness and physicality, but he can hit the wrong hole. If he has to move laterally, which the Jets tried to get him to do, he’s in trouble. Guyton is very slow reading his run keys. On Shonn Greene’s 3-yard touchdown, it took Guyton about two beats to realize where the run was going, and by that time it was too late.

SECONDARY Rating: Incomplete

This was akin to arriving for a test but the teacher failed to show up. The Jets just didn’t compete in this area. Why it took them until 7:14 left in the game to throw deeper than 10 yards outside the numbers - as they did on the touchdown to Santonio Holmes (which safety James Ihedigbo failed to cover over the top) - we’ll never know. Sanchez played like a guy who had been beaten up in the previous game, which he was. He can’t complete a slant against zone coverage, there were three dropped passes, and he was staring down his receivers. The Patriots generated only eight total quarterback pressures, so on most plays he had time and soft zone coverage. The Jets just couldn’t execute their rudimentary game plan, although the Holmes touchdown, where Sanchez rolled out against an all-out blitz, was a terrific call by coordinator Brian Schottenheimer. Otherwise, the Jets offense is just trying to crawl before it can walk. The secondary missed only one tackle in this game. That was definitely an improvement.

SPECIAL TEAMS Rating: 2 out of 5

Not a great day for this unit outside of Stephen Gostkowski and Zoltan Mesko (two punts with hang times over five seconds). Welker should have let the first-quarter punt go once he was going to have to slide to catch it. That his fumble was recovered by the Patriots was a big break. Kick coverage struggled, giving up an average of 39.6 on five returns by Joe McKnight, including the 88-yarder. Have to tip the hat to Jets special teams coach Mike Westhoff for throwing in two two-man wedges on that one. The Patriots didn’t have an answer as both Jeff Tarpinian and Ross Ventrone failed to get inside and were taken out by fullback John Conner. Antwaun Molden and Tracy White each had two special teams tackles.

Greg A. Bedard can be reached at gbedard@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @gregabedard.

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