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Comparing NY Jets’ 2009 and 2024 defenses

Jeff Ulbrich, Rex Ryan, NY Jets Defense, 2009, 2024
Jeff Ulbrich, Rex Ryan, New York Jets, Getty Images, Jet X Graphic

How does the New York Jets’ 2024 defense compare to their famed 2009 crew?

Revis Island vs. Sauce Island. Sione Pouha + Shaun Ellis vs. Quinnen Williams. Bart Scott vs. Quincy Williams. David Harris vs. C.J. Mosley. Jermaine Johnson vs. Bryan Thomas. Haason Reddick vs. Calvin Pace.

The 2009 New York Jets defense was headlined and anchored by the breakout of third-year cornerback Darrelle Revis. It largely lacked star power other than the Hall of Famer, but Rex Ryan more than made up for it with his gutsy, almost harebrained defensive play-calling.

The 2024 iteration is very different. It has far more recognizable names and a two-year reputation to uphold. Sauce Gardner may be its most decorated player, but he’s not the anchor.

How does the 2024 Jets defense compare to its 2009 counterpart?

2009 vs. 2023 statistical comparison

  • Yards per play: 4.2 (1st) vs. 4.6 (T-1st)
  • Takeaways: 31 (T-8th) vs. 27 (T-8th)
  • 1st downs: 237 (1st) vs. 298 (2nd)
  • Net yards per attempt: 4.6 (1st) vs. 5.0 (4th)
  • Adjusted net yards per attempt: 3.5 (1st) vs. 4.3 (3rd)
  • Rush yards per attempt: 3.8 (4th) vs. 4.1 (14th)
  • Penalties: 87 (9th) vs. 93 (T-9th)
  • % drives ending in score: 20.3% (1st) vs. 31.8% (6th)
  • Passing TD%: 1.6% (1st) vs. 3.6% (10th)
  • Passes defensed: 86 (6th) vs. 90 (4th)
  • Yards per completion: 10.4 (2nd) vs. 10.2 (8th)
  • Pass yards per game: 153.7 (1st) vs. 168.3 (2nd)
  • Tackles for loss: 79 (15th) vs. 100 (3rd)
  • Sack %: 6% (16th) vs. 8.4% (6th)
  • Rush yards per game: 98.6 (8th) vs. 124.0 (25th)

4-3 vs. 3-4

The linchpin of Ryan’s daring defenses was the 3-4 scheme. It allowed him to blitz from anywhere at any time. That’s not to say that a 4-3 can’t promote heavy blitzing, but it’s generally more predictable. It’s easier to mask deficiencies with a 3-4 using creativity — which is exactly what Ryan often did. Robert Saleh and Jeff Ulbrich, on the other hand, do the exact opposite: they don’t disguise, blitz as little as anyone in the league, and prefer their players to do as little thinking on the field as possible.

Elite CB1

Sauce Gardner garnered comparisons to Darrelle Revis the day he was drafted. Through two seasons, he’s set a new standard for cornerbacks to come into the league and excel from Day 1. Revis was in his third year in 2009, coming off a Pro Bowl season in 2008 and setting the league on fire in ’09. Sauce walked in an All-Pro and kept it up in Year 2.

No one will match Revis’ ability to cover the opponent’s top receiver one-on-one the way he did in 2009. The list of Hall of Famers and All-Pros that he completely shut down that season is legendary. Revis traveled and Sauce doesn’t (despite his claim that he will do so in 2024, which has not been confirmed by Saleh or Ulbrich).

At 6-foot-3 with long arms and elite speed, Gardner plays a different style than Revis. The latter had to rely purely on technique to win, while the former can get away with outstanding make-up speed. Still, there are similarities in their physicality and smarts in man coverage. Both players pin receivers to the sideline when covering one-on-one. Both earn their reputations in press-man coverage.

Incredibly, Revis was targeted 111 times in 2009. He allowed just 41 receptions, a 36.9% rate, for 425 yards, 2 touchdowns, 6 interceptions, and 23 pass breakups. He gave up just a 32.3 targeted passer rating. Gardner’s rookie season was more similar, as he allowed 33 catches on 73 targets (45.2%) for 361 yards, 1 touchdown, 2 interceptions, and 14 pass breakups. He allowed 0.56 yards per route run and 4.95 yards per target; Revis allowed 0.75 per route run and 3.83 per target.

But 2024 has a much better CB room overall

It’s easy to forget that across from Revis, the Jets started Lito Sheppard in 2009. Sheppard allowed just 49.1% of his targets to be caught and gave up 6.56 yards per target, still a strong mark. The NFL wasn’t such an 11-personnel league in 2009, which means the Jets played far less nickel than they’ve done in the 2020s. Their slot corner in 2009 was split between Drew Coleman and Donald Strickland (remember him?).

Heading into 2024, the Jets’ other starting cornerbacks are D.J. Reed and Michael Carter II. Reed struggled against the Dolphins but still had a strong season overall, still ranking in the top 25 among corners in most categories. Carter II is regularly overlooked in favor of players like Trent McDuffie, Taron Johnson, and Kenny Moore, but he excelled in man coverage in 2023 and has played like a top-three slot corner in the NFL.

That being said, Gardner and Reed combined for 121 targets in 2023. Revis had 111 in 2009. In some ways, Revis was like a top-two cornerback tandem all in one.

Pass rush differences

For all everyone remembers about the Rex blitzes, they weren’t all that effective. The Jets tied for 18th in the league with just 32 sacks, but they also ranked 22nd with just 72 quarterback hits. Their 6% sack rate was somewhat better, ranking 15th. Still, it was an average-at-best pass rush.

Not a single starter up front exceeded a 10% pressure rate. Calvin Pace came the closest at just 9%; Shaun Ellis and Bryan Thomas were below 7%. (It’s possible that Pro Football Focus measured pressures differently in 2009 than they do now, but the numbers back up the eye test. That team struggled to gain pressure with their main pass rushers.)

In 2024, the Jets’ pass rush will once again be all about their front four. Having lost three of their top five pass rushers from 2023, it remains to be seen if they can replicate the fourth-rated pressure rate (26.5%) and seventh-most sacks (48) they posted despite the second-lowest blitz rate (16.3%).

Jermaine Johnson, Haason Reddick, and Quinnen Williams will lead the pass rush, with Will McDonald taking over in obvious pass rush situations. All of those players exceeded a 12% pressure rate in 2023.

Safety play

Kerry Rhodes and Jim Leonhard were underrated contributors in that 2009 unit. Leonhard allowed just 79 receiving yards on 30 targets. Rhodes was a jack of all trades, combining surehanded tackling (8.6% missed tackle rate) with 12 pressures on the blitz and a still-good 7.8 yards per target.

The Jets’ safety room in 2024 could be their biggest weakness. Tony Adams struggles with tackling (15.3% miss rate) but also makes impact plays in the run game (4.3% run stop rate, ranked 9th among qualified safeties). Chuck Clark has generally been surehanded and good in coverage from the box, but he’s coming off an ACL tear.

Run defense

It’s hard to compare the run defenses of both teams fairly because of the difference in offensive quality. Even though Mark Sanchez had 27 turnovers in 2009, the Jets’ ground-and-pound offense was able to score (sometimes). The 2023 Jets offense was one of the worst in NFL history by DVOA. Therefore, the difference in rush yards allowed per game is driven largely by game scenario. The actual difference in yards per rush attempt allowed is not all that great (3.8 vs. 4.1).

Still, the 2009 Jets run defense was better as a whole, particularly because it was stout up the middle. Sione Pouha and Mike Devito were iron men in the middle. Quinnen Williams serves that function in the current defense, but Leki Fotu may not be able to match up to either of those players.

Overall

It’s hard to compare any current Jets defense to the 2009 unit because of the differences in era and style. In particular, the 3-4/4-3 scheme difference means that roles at various positions can be quite diametrically opposed. The Sauce-Revis comparison goes only as far as elite top cornerbacks who play physical press-man coverage.

Still, the 2009 defense was hard to match statistically. The whole was greater than the sum of its parts. The 2023 defense was almost as good when adjusted for era but still not quite comparable.

Can they hit that next gear in 2024? It seems unlikely with the losses in their pass rush and run defense, but it’s possible.

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hh11212
hh11212
8 days ago

I don’t know where this myth has arisen that Revis was not an elite athlete. Stop it. He was a sub 4.4 guy (4.38) with an absurd 1.46 10 yd split. 38 inch vertical, great 3 cone and shirt shuttle numbers. I know he had some Injuries later that robbed him of his speed but don’t re-write history.

hh11212
hh11212
8 days ago
Reply to  Rivka Boord

You are lot younger then me so I feel your memory may be a little clouded by the later years. While no one can argue his technique was not stellar he was also a great athlete. And it actually did show up, that is my point, before he started to get the soft tissue injuries he was an excellent athlete and it showed. Go back and watch the film the proof is in the pudding…lol.

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