Three Reasons Rex Ryan Should Be Applauded for a Job Well-Done

Craig RondinoneCorrespondent IJanuary 29, 2010

SAN DIEGO - JANUARY 17:  Head coach Rex Ryan of the New York Jets stands on the field prior to the AFC Divisional Playoff Game against the San Diego Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium on January 17, 2010 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images)
Donald Miralle/Getty Images

New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan is a blowhard, looks like he is pregnant, and hardly has the prediction skills of Joe Namath. But the first-year leader proved that not only can he coordinate a defense, he can coach the whole team.

Not many football fans or experts had the Jets making the playoffs when the team was 4-6 and finding innovative ways to lose games to inferior teams week after week. Even fewer people had the team reaching the postseason when they choked a late lead at home to a banged-up Atlanta Falcons squad that had nothing to play for, which dropped the Jets to 7-7.

But the football gods smiled down on the Jets, and only they know why. Everything worked out perfectly, like it has been written by J.K. Rowling. All the teams the Jets needed to lose lost, and the teams the Jets needed to defeat rested their star players in the second halves against them in the last two games of the season.

But you cannot just look at the New York Jets and call them lucky for making the playoffs and making it all the way to the AFC Championship game. The truth is that Ryan made some shrewd coaching moves when the Jets were on their last legs, and a great argument could be made that he, not Cincinnati’s Marvin Lewis, should have been voted Coach of the Year.

Here are three reasons Ryan should be congratulated for his coaching efforts this season:

Ryan turned Mark Sanchez’s season around

Sanchez was neck and neck with Oakland’s JaMarcus Russell for the Worst Quarterback in the NFL title when the Jets were 4-6 and looking like a lost cause for the postseason. Sanchez had single-handedly lost his team two games—one against Buffalo, one against New Orleans—and arguably helped cost the Jets two others against New England and Atlanta.

Ball security was as high on Sanchez’s list as gun safety was on Gilbert Arenas’. When he wasn’t throwing ill-advised passes for interceptions, he was fumbling. And offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer exacerbated matters with curious first-quarter game plans that had Sanchez throwing deep downfield right from the get-go instead of establish the run or having the rookie QB start off with short-to-immediate throws.

So Ryan stepped in and became as hands-on with the offense as he is in his kitchen. The turnaround was immediate. A system where plays were color-coated to help Sanchez with his decision-making helped cut down his turnovers. He did not lose any fumbles in his last eight games (five regular, three playoff) and his six-to-six touchdown-to-interception ratio during that span was much improved over what it was up to that juncture.

Instead of trying to balance the run and the pass, Schottenheimer had the offense running early and often in games, sprinkling in safe passes like quick outs, slants, and screens to boost Sanchez’s shaky confidence.

The results: the Jets led the NFL in rushing, helped their defense finish ranked No. 1 as well by keeping them off the field and fresh, and Sanchez was not asked or forced to win games with his erratic arm.


Ryan willed the Jets into the playoffs without two of his best players

NFL analysts had the Jets defense dead and buried when defensive tackle/ three-bedroom house Kris Jenkins was knocked out for the remainder of the season with a torn ACL. The Jenkins injury left a void on the defensive line wider than Chad Ochocinco’s mouth.

The defensive tackle rotation then consisted of Mike DeVito, Howard Green, and Sione Pouha, none of whom registered a sack before OR AFTER Jenkins went down.

But the Jets run defense did not fold, bend or break. The Jets defense ended up eighth in the league against the run and only allowed two 100-yard rushers over its last nine contests, not to mention the unit finished first overall versus the pass and overall. So calling Ryan a defensive genius sounds spot on.

Same story for Leon Washington. When New York’s do-it-all back brutally broke his leg against the Oakland Raiders, it was as if the Jets had lost four players because Washington was their change-of-pace back, third-down back, kickoff returner and punt returner. He was arguably their most dangerous and most versatile weapon.

With Jerricho Cotchery and Brad Smith returning kicks and rookie runner Shonn Greene carrying the ball more in the backfield, Washington’s absence never turned out to be the season-destroyer for the Jets it looked like it would be. Ryan, Schottenheimer, and special teams coach Mike Westoff deserve praise for overcoming such a humongous loss.


Ryan changed the culture of the Jets in one year

Under the guidance of former head coach Eric Mangini, the Jets liked shooting off their mouths as much as the state of Tennessee likes Lane Kiffin. During and even before Mangini’s three-year reign the team was filled with a bunch of soft-spoken choir boys that never ruffled anyone’s feathers, including opponents.

The Jets played the same way on the field as they behaved off of it. They were known for their short, finesse passing attack when Chad Pennington was at the helm, and the defense was more of a read-and-react group that rarely blitzed and was more than happy to sit back in various zone coverages.

The way the Jets played football changed with Ryan’s arrival. Instead of trying to fool teams on offense with intricate pass routes, the Jets decided to shove the ball down opponents’ throats behind their Pro Bowl-laden offensive line.

And instead of trying to outsmart you on defense, the Jets constantly blitzed linebackers, cornerbacks, safeties, and waterboys from every direction and played man-to-man coverage behind it. The results: No. 1 rushing offense, No. 1 defense, one game away from the Super Bowl.

The Jets also just played like a more confident bunch with their brash, cocky coach leading the way. They made it be known that they were not going to kiss New England’s Super Bowl rings, they were not going to be second-class citizens to the fellow hometown New York Giants, and that they believed they should be the favorites in the playoffs.

Their trash talk made Ryan and his guys look as foolish as Martha Coakley at times, but you could see how differently the "new" Jets played than the "old" Jets, and the end results proved the swagger instilled by Ryan was more of a positive than a negative.

Ryan made some other coaching decisions throughout the season that paid off handsomely for the team, such as benching star safety Kerry Rhodes when the overpaid playmaker was not creating any turnovers and playing like he was disinterested. Rhodes played his best football at the end of the season when he was reinserted into the starting lineup.

Helping cornerback Darrelle Revis go from Pro Bowler to runner-up for Defensive Player of the Year was something else Ryan should receive credit for. Revis definitely took his game to another ungodly level under Ryan’s tutelage.

The New York Jets should be a Super Bowl contender heading into the 2010 campaign with Sanchez, Greene, Revis, the best offensive line and best defense in the NFL making up the nucleus. And with Ryan running the show, the show should be entertaining and in good hands.