Despite losing to the Houston Texans on Monday night, the New York Jets looked a radically different team than the one that had taken the field in Weeks 2 through 4. They played an exciting game and nearly knocked off their undefeated counterparts.
The Jets lamented making several mental mistakes throughout the game, one of the primary causes of their eventual defeat. Despite those mistakes, they had a good opportunity to beat a team that is widely regarded as one of the league's best.
Nobody expected Gang Green to win Monday night. Yet because of Rex Ryan's aggressive coaching style, a style rarely before seen from the New York head coach, the Jets almost pulled off the upset.
Ryan, normally a relatively conservative coach, dialed up several calculated risks against Houston: going for it twice on fourth and short from his own territory and calling for an onside kick in the third quarter, among other decisions. The Jets opened up the playbook on offense, throwing the ball down the field and even targeting Antonio Cromartie on a fly pattern.
Almost all of Ryan's decisions were successful, with the main exception being the onside kick that only failed because the ball went through wide receiver Chaz Schilens' hands. More importantly, all of Ryan's decisions were smart ones based on likelihood of success and the flow of the game.
It is almost always the right decision to go for it on fourth and less than a yard, even in your own territory, and Ryan handled this situation correctly both times. The fake punt in the first instance was a bit excessive, but in both cases the Jets ran the ball up the middle and got the first down they were supposed to get.
The onside kick was a more subjective call, but it is hard to argue with a play that completely caught the Texans off guard. I have never seen an onside kick called following a kick return for a touchdown, and it is the perfect time to make the call as the other team is already shaken and several players on the kick return unit just conceded a touchdown as members of the coverage team. Just because a play didn't work out doesn't mean the call was incorrect.
These calls were all good decisions even without taking the full game context into account. After considering the Jets' status as the underdog, the fact that the Jets were trailing for much of the game, and Gang Green's difficulty stopping the run in the first half, these were great decisions.
Ryan's calls increased the Jets' chances of pulling off the upset while also keeping his team energized. When you see your coach doing everything he can to help the team win, it's hard not to be motivated to do the same.
Conventional football wisdom still rails against the sorts of calculated risks that Ryan employed against the Texans, and it's unclear why this is the case. For example, as mathematical analysis of football games improves, it becomes more and more obvious that going for it on fourth and short increases a team's expected point total.
Yet conventional wisdom remains outdated in these areas, with coaches and analysts alike instead motivated by ideas such as the old adage that "the players should decide the game."
The players always decide the game. It is the job of the coach to put his players in the best possible situation so that they can win the game. Punting the ball away to a team that is running the ball at will isn't doing that, nor is passing up an onside kick that is likely to work and instead sending a tired defense back out on the field.
The Jets lost and fell to 2-3 Monday, but it may have been a turning point in their season, nonetheless. They have an easy second-half schedule, they competed against a 5-0 team, and they came out with a tremendous amount of fire as their coach showed how much he believed in them.
If Rex Ryan continues to coach aggressively and show faith in his team, the Jets may be able to make a surprising second-half run.