New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan knows defense. His dad, Buddy Ryan, coached some of the NFL's greatest all-time defenses, including the 1968 Jets and 1985 Chicago Bears. Rex himself has been a defensive coach in the NFL and college since 1994, and he's best known for running those recent wonderful defenses in Baltimore. It's safe to say he's seen a lot. But when he was asked on Wednesday about the season enjoyed by Jets star cornerback Darrelle Revis(notes), and whether he deserved to be the NFL's Defensive MVP, the coach didn't hesitate to give praise.
"If someone really went back and broke it down, this award wouldn't even be close. Would not even be close on who should win. I do know something about defense, and I have never seen a cornerback have this kind of year, with one exception -- maybe Deion (Sanders) when he was with San Francisco (in 1994)."
Well, now you're talking about all-time shutdown corners, a term that is overused and frequently mis-applied (except by this fine blog, of course!) A true shutdown corner, as Sanders was in the mid-1990s, will kill the production of every elite receiver he faces and erase about a third of the field for the opposing quarterback by locking down in man coverage. When that happens, other defenders can do other things. Safeties who aren't required to give help up top can shade coverage in other ways, blitz, or play the run. Linebackers don't have to commit to the short passing game on that end -- they can be more aggressive. It's why the Jets' run defense has actually improved since the loss of huge nose tackle Kris Jenkins(notes) in Week 6. It's not just that Revis has completely dominated every elite receiver he's faced this season (the per-game numbers are here; add Chad Ochocinco's(notes) four-target, no-catch performance in the regular-season finale and expect a re-run in the wild-card sequel this weekend), it's how that dominance has changed the Jets' fortunes. Rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez(notes) has struggled as most rookie quarterbacks do, which puts the pressure on New York's running game and defense. This is not a team that can afford to get into shootouts.
They never have to, because of Revis. And as impressive as the per-game numbers are, the cumulative totals are truly astonishing. According to Football Outsiders' final regular-season metrics, teams allowed an average of 8.07 yards per target to #1 receivers -- the Randy Mosses and Andre Johnsons of the world. The real elite guys. The Jets, on the other hand, allowed an unbelievable 4.08 yards per target to those same elite receivers! One guy, in mostly man coverage, putting up those numbers.
I understand that the overall Most Valuable Player award will go to a quarterback, or Chris Johnson of the Tennessee Titans; their candidacies are eloquently stated here. But if I had a vote, I'd cast it for Revis as not just the Defensive MVP, but the most valuable player in professional football. What he's done this year from a statistical perspective would be akin to Johnson rushing for 3,000 yards, or Peyton Manning(notes) throwing for 90 touchdowns. Not only is it groundbreaking stuff; it's one of the main reasons the Jets are in the playoffs. Revis means just as much to his team as any of those stars on offense. Shouldn't he be considered?