One thing we can always count on is Rob Ryan being a “shoot from the hip” type of guy. He will say what he thinks and in his own way, is sort of convincing.
In the media conference call as prelude to the Raiders game at Cleveland this Sunday, Ryan was asked if an Al Davis-approved defensive scheme was part of the conditions he worked under during his tenure as Raiders Defensive Coordinator.
It’s not like it’s the first time the question has come up. In five seasons with the Raiders, there have been more than a few bad defensive performances where he was bombarded with similar questions.
At the least, we expected some sort of changes and adjustments to show Ryan was stepping up and fixing what needed to be fixed.
It never happened. Not only did we see the exact same defensive schemes and defensive lapses, it got to the point where the Raiders defense was considered the worst joke in the NFL.
Game announcers were of course clued in and even they knew what the problems were. Yet, Ryan stuck to his story. He’s the guy responsible, not Al Davis.
That’s loyalty for you.
The brotherhood of secrecy is the way Raiders HQ works. Even when people leave the organization, they usually keep a tight seal on trade secrets. So what is obvious to everyone on the outside is rarely confirmed.
How then, do we explain a handful of very good defensive performances by the Raiders defense this season under first-year coordinator John Marshall?
We can’t pin it all on more blitzing or the improved play of Michael Huff in the nickel package or shifting Thomas Howard to strong-side linebacker and inserting Trevor Scott as weak side LB.
There is better play at strong safety with Tyvon Branch as well, but these are all too easy explanations. Every season, the team has an opportunity to get better through coaching and preparation, building up depth through free agency and the draft.
The truth is, Ryan has had to deal with the personnel he is given by Davis just like Marshall has.
Yet, Marshall has done better than Ryan in just a single season as opposed to Ryan’s five.
This is not to say Marshall is the amazing answer for the Raiders defense. It just means Ryan is as much the company man as it can get, and he rarely, if ever, made any radical decisions to improve areas of the game planning he was mainly responsible for.
He just explains it away as, “Al’s the owner of the team. This is the defense he wants.”
Granted, the Browns are not loaded with quality personnel on defense for any new coordinator to make a big splash.
So in his new role, there have been few clues to be able to tell he can actually find solutions instead of following a script (though beating Pittsburgh has to rank as a highlight).
Even his boss, head coach Eric Mangini, points to Ryan’s jovial personality, deflecting the real issues at hand.
It does seem Ryan’s personality is the reason why he latches on to defensive coordinator positions. He’s loyal and he sticks to what he knows best, which seems to be at least factored in to why Al hired him.
Though unless Cleveland wins out the remaining two games, this could be his last free pass. Too many losses hang on his resume and there is not enough clear achievement as a difference-maker.
To that he says, ”I don't give a crap. I'm doing my best, and if it's not good enough, I'll coach somewhere else where it will be.”
Maybe it’s because of his regular-guy appeal that he is still likable by many of the Raider Nation. Even though he frustrated Raiders fans for five years with his refusal to change and the many horrifyingly bad defensive games followed up by weak excuses.
I still remember the 2008 opening night blowout to Denver in front of a national TV audience when the Jay Cutler-to-Eddie Royal connection carved up DeAngelo Hall all night. Afterward, Ryan pinned the reason on Royal being a “special talent.”
I haven’t checked, but has Royal had a comparable game since? That was his rookie year, too, and his very first NFL game.
The point here is Ryan took the blame in most cases but never solved the problem.