Inside the Game: How did Rex Vex Rivers?

Behind the Scenes, Edit Bay, Greg Smith, Inside the Game, New York Jets, San Diego Chargers

My assignment on Turning Point last week was to edit a segment on the Jets 27 – 21 comeback win over the Chargers, in which New York outscored San Diego 17 – 0 in the second half.

In eight minutes or less, I needed to tell the story of that half, and attempt to answer one big question:

Why did Philip Rivers struggle so badly against Rex Ryan’s defense?

The truth, as Norv Turner explained in his postgame press conference, is that most quarterbacks struggle against the Jets, because they have great defensive players and a good scheme.

Eric Maybin sacking Philip Rivers (AP)

“If you watch tape of this defense, a lot of quarterbacks look out of sync… (The Jets) are very disruptive… We knew there would be times we were going to struggle.”

But for the sake of good TV and out of sheer curiosity as a football fan, I couldn’t just accept the explanation, “Rivers struggled because the Jets are good”.

To get a more detailed answer, I did what Coach Turner suggested.  I watched tape.

What I saw on the Coaching Tape (All-22 angle) was New York playing mostly man-to-man coverage, with All-Pro cornerback Darrelle Revis matched on the Chargers best wide receiver, Vincent Jackson.

I saw Antonio Gates blanketed by underneath coverage – a combination of linebackers and safeties playing him as tight as the rules would allow.

I saw the Chargers, one of the best ball-control offenses in the NFL, unable to create space in the running game.  On one power run play, outside linebacker Calvin Pace absolutely crushed pulling guard Kris Dielman, clogging the hole.  San Diego’s inability to run consistently on early downs set up longer third downs, and must-pass situations for Philip Rivers.

Darrelle Revis reaching for the football with Vincent Jackson (AP)

All these factors helped lead to an out-of-sync offense, but in my opinion, the most significant was Revis shutting down Jackson.

Against any other team in the NFL, Rivers could see the types of man-to-man coverage the Jets were playing.  And in those situations he would feel perfectly comfortable going to his top receiver, because Vincent Jackson routinely beats single coverage.

But against the Jets, the kinds of single coverage that would normally dictate a throw to Jackson, is simply not as favorable.  Darrelle Revis is big enough, strong enough, quick enough, and tough enough to shut down any receiver.  Jackson couldn’t create the kind of separation he normally does, and Rivers looked more and more agitated as the game wore on.  In the second half, Rivers targeted Jackson six times, and came up empty every time.

I don’t suspect Rivers and Jackson will have this many problems moving forward.  Few teams blitz as creatively as New York, and no one covers better.  At 4-2, the Chargers are still front runners to win the AFC West.

Meanwhile, the Jets got back to Ground and Pound against San Diego, and played Rex Ryan caliber defense.  At 4-3, it seems they’ve found their identity and will likely be in contention for their third consecutive playoff berth.

Editor’s Note: Watch the video clip from “NFL Turning Point” above.

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