The Rex Effect Is Taking Hold in BuffaloSeptember 18, 2015
This is what happens when Rex Ryan is around—the Rex Effect: Talk...and more talk...and then some more talk on top of that.
The Rex Effect is embodied in Buffalo Bills defensive back Stephon Gilmore, who says he wants to guard Rob Gronkowski when the Bills and New England Patriots play Sunday. No one wants to guard Gronkowski. That's like saying you want to fight Godzilla.
"I hope I get Gronk to be honest with you," Gilmore told reporters. "We'll see what the coaching staff says."
Most coaching staffs would say, "Shut the hell up." But this is Rex. It's the Rex Effect in action. Not only does Ryan not care, he loves it. He encourages the big talk. Because he's the biggest talker of all.
This is what playing for Ryan does. It makes you chatty. It takes away your self-awareness. The mouth speaks before the brain engages.
"I hate New England," Bills safety Aaron Williams told reporters. "It's definitely personal for me."
See what I mean? Many teams hate the Patriots. They just don't say it publicly. Ryan teams are oversharers.
Bills defensive tackle Marcell Dareus said that "nobody likes the Patriots. Let's just be honest about it now. Put it out there."
Consider it put out there.
The Rex Effect is so powerful, it distorts reality. Patriots head coach Bill Belichick was asked this week by a member of the Bills media why Ryan has been so good against Tom Brady. Belichick was clearly irritated. "I think our record against him has been OK," Belichick said, according to a transcript provided by the team. "We'll take it."
It's fair to say that Ryan's defenses have given Brady some problems, but Ryan is 4-9 against Brady.
But the Rex Effect always makes things seem bigger than they are.
When I texted with a Patriots player to ask if the Patriots locker room was aware of what the Bills players were saying, the text I got back was, "Yeah we're aware."
That was it. It was a highly Patriots response. The Belichick Effect is the opposite of the Rex Effect. The Patriots say little and do a lot. Ryan, truthfully, over the past five years, has said a lot and done little.
The Rex Effect is Ryan making his, like, 17th postseason guarantee of some kind. The Rex Effect is, for the first time in franchise history, the team selling more than 60,000 season tickets. The Rex Effect is optimism. It is cockiness. It is Ryan, in his impressive win against Indianapolis, being the first Bills coach to win his opening game.
The most interesting aspect of the Rex Effect is that Ryan seems to be inoculated from criticism for failed guarantees and lack of winning. It really is one of the most interesting phenomenons in all of sports. Ryan hasn't finished above .500 since 2010. He lives off the fumes of two consecutive title game appearances from years ago.
It's incredibly rare for a coach who hasn't won in nearly five years, failed to develop a quarterback, signed a bully and a thug in Richie Incognito and made numerous failed guarantees to still be so popular in the sport. But that's what has happened with Ryan.
It's also hard to argue that Ryan isn't anything but good for the NFL. Actually, he's vital. He's needed. Ryan is one of the only coaches in football who speaks honestly and bluntly. He doesn't care about NFL political correctness.
He doesn't lie to the media or the players. As far as I can tell, he doesn't cheat. His players love him. The media does, too. So does the league office.
Can Ryan be totally full of it on occasion? Yes. Yes, he can. But there's almost a tongue-in-cheek nature to what he says. Like when he told reporters this week he didn't know who Patriots running back Dion Lewis was.
"It's the kid that's playing quarterback. That'll make it a lot easier to be a running back," Ryan said, according to a transcript. "So what, are you gonna play them in eight-man spacing? I don't think so. So that's what makes them—I don't care, put anybody back there. You can do good there. All right?
"Nah, I mean they're decent backs in their own right. But I don't think we're gonna focus on that kid," he continued. "I can't even tell you that kid's name. But you're gonna focus on the guy throwing the ball, I'll tell you that much."
And in typical Ryan form, when asked about facing Brady, he said, "I'd much rather face Steve Grogan. That's just my personal thing."
There is also some strategic brilliance to what Ryan does. The media focuses on Ryan and his words instead of the players. He gets their back all the time.
There's also how Ryan's arrogance filters down to his players and they believe what he believes, that they can beat anyone, including Brady.
Ryan is fearless, and his words reflect that lack of fear.
It's also true—and I've heard this from general managers on more than a few occasions—that Ryan's genius as a defensive force (and that's the right word to use) is often overshadowed by his mouth and his presentation. One general manager told me recently that if Ryan looked like Jack Del Rio "instead of looking like a guy who works the Ferris wheel in Atlantic City," the NFL, and the media, would spend more time talking about his brilliance as a leader.
The reason Ryan's teams have historically slowed Brady (slowed, not stopped) isn't solely because of the players. It's because of Ryan's schemes. His defenses have continually kept Brady guessing in ways that no other defense outside of the New York Giants in the Super Bowl has.
NFL Films captured a typical Rex Effect moment with its cameras in the Bills locker room after their win against the Colts. In other games last week, coaches that were new to their teams got game balls for their wins.
Not in Buffalo. Ryan gave the game ball to owner Terry Pegula. Why?
"Because he had the guts to hire me," Ryan said.
Yeah, this guy is a keeper. Now he has to do something besides talk. He has to win.
Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report.