Rex Ryan Is Not to Blame for New York Jets' Struggles

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Rex Ryan Is Not to Blame for New York Jets' Struggles
Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

In a matter of three short weeks, everything that could have gone wrong for Rex Ryan’s New York Jets has gone wrong.

Less than a month after his team’s signature win over the New Orleans Saints, the Jets have gone from playoff favorites to goats of the town. Quarterback Geno Smith has regressed to the point where he is an unrecognizable player, while his defense has not had the same bite to counter the lack of offensive productivity.

Rex Ryan has made some mistakes along the way to get his team to this point, but he is not entirely to blame for what the Jets have shown since their bye week.

The Jets are not losing because they are being poorly coached; they are losing because they are showing that they are exactly the team everyone thought they would be before the season even started.

During the summer, the narrative for the Jets was already written: a bright (if flawed) head coach in Rex Ryan would be laid out to dry because of a bad roster that is run by a new general manager who is more interested in rebuilding from the ground up than making his head coach look good.

While a head coach is accountable for everything that happens on the field, no man can turn water into wine.

The fact that the Jets even got to a 5-4 record is astonishing in itself—but when taking a closer look at how they got to that point, their style of winning was about as reliable on a week-to-week basis as a Jenga tower.

Finally, someone took out one of the bottom pegs to make it all crumble.

Ryan may have been getting Coach of the Year votes by early November, but he was just as close to getting canned before the season ended had a few bounces not gone his way. Had it not been for Lavonte David’s late hit, a new special teams rule addition or a near-perfect season from his kicker, Nick Folk, the Jets would have never had a season to ruin in the first place.

Ryan was doing the impossible, taking a team that is built to win just a handful of games into playoff contention in the middle of the season. Not only was he getting the most out of a second-round rookie quarterback—he was also playing tremendous defense with seven new starters to work in.

 

“Win Now” Mentality in a “Win Later” Environment

Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports
Rex Ryan and John Idzik have two different goals for this season.

Ryan has made his share of mistakes to get the Jets to where they are today, but to sustain that kind of winning with such an average cast of players was an impossible task to begin with.

Ryan was always set up for failure; winning five of the first nine games does not change that.

When owner Woody Johnson decided to part ways with former general manager Mike Tannenbaum after last season, he knew that making a change at such a powerful position would set the Jets back a bit in the short term for the sake of long-term growth.

For new general manager John Idzik, 2013 was always about setting his team up for the future, even if that came at the price of the on-field product this year. Teams in rebuilding mode make personnel decisions that may raise eyebrows, but it is all for the betterment of the organization in the long term.

For example, the Jets have continued to force rookie cornerback Dee Milliner, their top draft pick, into the starting lineup despite his continual struggles. He was benched for the third time this season this past week after allowing this ugly touchdown to Mike Wallace.

Bleacher Report

Milliner has managed to stay in the starting lineup all season long despite having played poorly. It is not even as if Milliner is the only option—his backup, the formerly undrafted Darrin Walls, has outplayed him in every category.

Dee Milliner vs. Darrin Walls
Player Snaps Completion % QB Rating PFF Rank (out of 112)
Dee Milliner 492 52.3 113.5 108
Darrin Walls 291 51.6 92.7 65

Pro Football Focus

Ryan is no idiot; he is considered as one of the best defensive minds in the game for a reason. He knows that Milliner is costing his team precious points on a weekly basis, which is exactly why he has benched him so many times in the middle of the game.

The only way Milliner keeps finding himself back in the starting lineup sooner rather than later is because someone in the front office is forcing Milliner into the starting lineup in an effort to get him valuable repetitions so he can develop.

Meanwhile, despite having a proven veteran on the roster in David Garrard, the Jets will turn to Geno Smith next week as their starter following a four-completion performance that got him benched at halftime.

David Garrard may give the Jets a better chance to win a few games before the end of the season, but the Jets know that starting Garrard yields them no positives beyond this season. To the organization as a whole, losing with Geno Smith is more valuable than winning with David Garrard, as the Jets are guaranteed to at least get invaluable intel on their young quarterback no matter how poorly he plays over the next month.

Organizations that are in the business of winning a Super Bowl in the immediate future do not make these types of decisions. Rebuilding teams, such as the Jets, make such decisions.

This is not to say that the front office is wrong for their forward-thinking ways. After all, it is their job to ensure that the team is built to sustain winning over the long term; however, such a strategy is not conducive to Rex Ryan’s motives, which is winning enough games to force Idzik to keep him on as head coach.

 

Not His Roster

Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

Not only is Rex Ryan dealing with a young roster that is in no position to win—he was not even able to pick the young players he was forced to play so early, and for good reason.

Rex Ryan has a lot of great qualities as a coach, but he is a horrendous roster-builder. As he gained more control of personnel decisions in the Tannenbaum era, the Jets roster deteriorated with each passing season to prompt an organizational restructure after the 2012 season.

Rex Ryan was not even involved in the hiring of John Idzik; he certainly was not as involved in the shaping of this current roster.

Rich Schultz/Getty Images
Rex Ryan would have loved to keep Darrelle Revis.

After all, if Rex Ryan were in charge of picking the players, would he have traded Darrelle Revis, his best player, for a pair of draft picks?

Ryan may have been in the war room when the Jets drafted Dee Milliner and Geno Smith, but selecting those players certainly was not by his design.

This roster has been shoved down Ryan’s throat, and he has been forced to swallow it whole.

The only modification to the roster that has had Ryan’s handprints on it is the acquisition of Ed Reed. Reed, who is at least partly responsible for two touchdowns this season, is just one more example why Ryan has no business in the personnel side of things.

Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports
Ed Reed is the only evidence of Rex Ryan's influence on the roster.

Rex Ryan may not be in the most comfortable of positions with his team staring playoff elimination in the face, but to count out Ryan would be a mistake. Time and time again, Ryan has risen to the challenge of overcoming bad circumstances to emerge triumphant in more dire situations than the one he is in now.

If the Jets to continue to collapse and the Ryan era comes to an end by next month, Ryan’s sacrifice will have been in vain. The direction the Jets have gone in is certainly not by his design, and he should not pay the price for the mistakes or impatience of others.

 

Advanced statistics provided by ProFootballFocus.com (subscription required).

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