FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- This is how a team copes with a devastating injury:
On the plane ride home from South Florida, New York Jets defensive coordinator Mike Pettine sat with some of the coaches and started brainstorming, formulating a plan on how to play without Darrelle Revis. They knew his knee was in bad shape, and they had to confront the grim likelihood their best player was done for the season. There was no time to savor the victory over the Miami Dolphins.
"The celebration was certainly muted," Pettine said.
On Wednesday morning, Rex Ryan stood in the team meeting and went into rally mode. No single player can replace Revis, he bellowed in the big auditorium. It will take every player -- offense and defense -- raising their performance. He randomly called out individual players, about six or seven: Brandon Moore, Nick Mangold, Aaron Maybin, et al, hammering home his point.
The Jets have said and done all the right things in the aftermath of Revis' wrecked knee, which was confirmed Monday with an MRI. (In the coaching world, MRI means Must Regroup Immediately.) Starting Sunday against the formidable San Francisco 49ers, we'll find out two things about the Jets:
We'll see if Ryan really is the best defensive coach in football, as he says. We'll learn if general manager Mike Tannenbaum supplied him with enough talent to survive the worst non-quarterback injury imaginable.
The once-vaunted defense began to show cracks before the Revis injury, slipping to 21st in total defense and 28th against the run. Let's be brutally honest: The way they're playing, the Jets don't scare anybody with their defense.
Ryan sounded a bit envious this week as he discussed the 49ers' defense, noting they have seven blue-chip players, based on evaluations by the Jets' personnel department. He said he has never seen that many "blues" (All Pro-caliber players) on one defense.
What about the Jets? An opposing personnel executive was asked to name Gang Green's "blues," and he replied, "Revis, and then you draw a line."
The Jets have more former first-round picks on defense than the 49ers -- eight to five, not counting Revis -- but there's little doubt which unit is superior. For now, Ryan and Pettine have to figure out a way to bring back some of the nasty, sans the best cornerback in football.
"I think a lot of people take the knee-jerk reaction of, 'Well, the sky is falling and they lost their best player,'" Pettine said. "We have some really good players in that room, and some really prideful guys as well."
Analyzing the situation at 30,000 feet over Florida, Pettine tried to simplify the problem by asking himself two questions: What do we do well? How can we get the best 11 on the field? From there, the coaching staff got into some serious X's and O's, mapping out a game plan. They're a cornerback-based defense that just lost the best cornerback in football.
"There's nobody that can just step in and replace Darrelle Revis," Pettine said. "We're not foolish enough to think we can just do what we've been doing."
Kyle Wilson, a former first-round pick, steps in for Revis. He's a physical corner, capable of playing press coverage, but he's a short strider with questionable catch-up speed. Against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 2, with Revis sitting out with a concussion, Wilson surrendered a catch every time he was thrown at.
Unlike Revis, Wilson needs safety help. They wouldn't dare put him on an island, leaving him in single coverage against the No. 1 receiver, a la Revis. That puts more stress on Antonio Cromartie, who will inherit the responsibilities of a No. 1 corner. The Jets won't become a Tampa-2 team, using a twin-safety look to protect both corners. That's not how they roll.
"I think the differences will be subtle," Pettine said.
The key question is whether the Jets will dial back their pressure schemes now that their security blanket on the back end -- Revis -- is gone. Conventional wisdom suggests that a team with secondary concerns would play more conservatively, but Ryan isn't about to turn vanilla. Not his style. He will reach deep into his defensive archive and dust off some vintage stuff.
Look for him to trick it up with a lot of pre-snap movement, making the quarterback expect one thing and get another. Ryan calls it simulated pressure -- i.e. show a six-man rush, but only send three. And maybe those three are overloaded to one side.
The objective is to make the quarterback hurry his throw or get off his spot. It won't be easy because the Jets' pass rush has been a few degrees below lukewarm, as the defensive line has produced only one sack.
It was laughable when Ryan mentioned the '85 Chicago Bears as an example of a defense that thrived with ordinary talent in the secondary. Talk about a reach. The Bears terrorized quarterbacks, the Jets make them feel comfortable. They might as well roll out a La-Z-Boy recliner.
They're still one of the most aggressive defenses in the league, but Ryan's pressure schemes have been defanged. When the Jets send more than four rushers, they're allowing a 65 percent completion rate, with three touchdowns and no interceptions, according to ESPN Stats & Information. 49ers quarterback Alex Smith is a proven blitz beater, with his quick throws.
Ryan loves to use the safety blitz, but that isn't working, either. When they rush one or more defensive backs, they've allowed an 84 percent completion rate (16-for-19), with five touchdowns and no interceptions.
It's no wonder they're dead last in third-down defense. This has to kill Ryan, whose entire defensive philosophy is built around stopping the run and throwing the kitchen sink at them on third down.
"Those two areas in particular have to improve for us," Ryan said.
They have to fix the run defense, especially against the 49ers, who can break an opponent's will with Frank Gore and their power-running scheme. The Jets are allowing 149 yards per game, which is embarrassing.
"It keeps me up at night," defensive tackle Mike DeVito said. "That's our deal, that's our staple, that's our foundation, stopping the run. We've let it slip."
Pettine said he attributed the slippage to an "outlaw" mentality, players creating creases by getting caught out of position. Look for them to think big against the Niners, using more 4-3 fronts than usual. This is part of the "best 11" theory. Look for Kenrick Ellis and No. 1 pick Quinton Coples to get more playing time, replacing a linebacker.
"This team poses a challenge for us, but I think we match up well," linebacker Calvin Pace said. "I'm pretty confident we'll come out and play well."
Great teams can overcome a killer injury because they have the right blend of talent and coaching. Average teams collapse. We're about to find out about the Jets.