Rex Ryan might be the most blitz-oriented coach in the NFL. He believes in pressuring the quarterback. But with the game and perhaps the season on the line Sunday night in Pittsburgh, the New York Jets' coach called off the pressure.
The Jets rushed only three players on the Pittsburgh Steelers' final five passing plays, dropping eight into coverage. In the end, the unconventional strategy worked, as the Jets held on for a 22-17 victory -- barely.
"Your heart is telling you to send everybody, but your head is telling you to do something else," Ryan said. "It was the right call."
The Steelers got the ball at their 8 with 2:08 remaining, and they marched upfield against what looked like a prevent defense. "Prevent" isn't in Ryan's vocabulary, but that's what it looked like. Then it came down to this:
Against a three-man rush, Ben Roethlisberger fired an 18-yard completion to Mike Wallace to the Jets' 26. After an intentional spike, Big Ben overthrew Emmanuel Sanders, who had a step on S Dwight Lowery. The Jets caught a break because it appeared that Lowery grabbed Sanders' shirt. This, too, was against a three-man rush.
On the next play, Big Ben hit Antonio Brown for 16 yards, putting the ball on the Jets' 10. Roethlisberger spiked it and had nine seconds to run two plays. The Jets called a timeout and decided to stick with the same defensive strategy -- eight men in a zone. Part of the reason, they said, was because they wanted to keep eight sets of eyes on Roethlisberger, making sure he didn't break out of the pocket.
His next pass was incomplete in the back of the end zone, with TE Matt Spaeth crossing in front of Sanders. That may have distracted Sanders for a split-second; that's all it took to ruin the play. On the final play, Roethlisberger threw incomplete to Spaeth in the end zone, with coverage by CB Marquice Cole. Cole got a hand on the ball.
Before the final play, Ryan called a timeout and gathered the defense around him.
"He asked us what we wanted to call," Lowery said.
They opted for the soft coverage, very unRyan-like.
"You want to put as many bodies in the throwing lanes as you can," LB Bart Scott said. "You have to do that sometimes and fight your instincts. You have to understand situational football. If somebody slips in man-to-man coverage ... that could've been heartbreaking. But if you put eight people in the passing lanes, and if a guy gets beat, somebody can come off their man and tip the ball."