By Joe Giglio
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New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan has been called many colorful words since becoming Woody Johnson’s face of the franchise prior to the 2009 season. Throughout all the bombastic press conferences, upset victories, disappointments and strange in-game decisions, his one undeniable trait has become an afterthought during discussions about Gang Green: Defensive genius.
Ryan, despite results that almost always point to excellence on the defensive side of the football, isn’t referred to using the “G” word in coaching circles the way Chip Kelly or Andy Reid or college coaches like Kevin Sumlin are on the offensive side of the football. Instead, Ryan’s accolades on defense are always bantered about with caveats such as “he’s supposed to be a head coach, not a defensive coordinator!”
While becoming a more well-rounded head coach is certainly on Ryan’s to-do list if he’s going to become a great leader in the future, denying his prowess as a mastermind, or not giving him the due he deserves, is a disservice to the biggest reason the Jets have been competitive since Ryan arrived in Florham Park five seasons ago.
As many outlets reminded New York this week, the Giants and Jets shared an identical regular-season record (36-31) and have an equal number of postseason victories (four) since the start of the 2009 season. Of course, all four of those victories came in one magical run for Big Blue. Meanwhile, the Jets morphed into what was affectionately called a circus following their last postseason appearance in the AFC Title Game loss at Pittsburgh.
While statistics and perspective were supposed to bring light to the inconsistency and struggles with Tom Coughlin’s team, it actually highlighted a positive Jets fact. Since Ryan arrived, the team has been pretty good. In four-plus years, Jets fans have watched one losing season, but two trips deep into January.
All 36 of those Jets victories — 40, if we include the postseason — have been due to the strength that every Gang Green fan knows the franchise will have as long as Ryan is the head coach: A strong defense.
With the team surprising early in 2013, the narratives understandably have been about Geno Smith, Marty Mornhinweg and a Jets offense with the ability to throw the football down the field for the first time in years. Offensive changes and improvements will help the Jets sustain success, but the foundation of Ryan’s defense is the reason that Jets-Titans is a compelling game on Sunday.
Despite losing the best defensive player in the sport and veterans along the front seven, Ryan’s defense is excelling. Young players like Demario Davis and Sheldon Richardson — along with the best defensive lineman in New York, Mo Wilkerson — have set the tone for a young, dominant defense.
Yet, through the early stage of this season and dating back to 2012, rarely does the Jets’ defense get talked about with the Seattle’s, Houston’s and Pittsburgh’s of the football world. When looking at the numbers, they clearly should.
Since the start of the 2012 season, which included having Revis for only a little over two games, New York’s defense is ranked fourth in total yards, right behind the trio of Pittsburgh, Seattle and Houston. Despite incorporating young players and adapting looks up front to accentuate the strengths of players signed or drafted by general manager John Idzik, the team has stifled opponents on a weekly basis.
When offenses led by “gurus” move the football despite personnel losses or changes, we call those coaches geniuses. When Ryan’s defense stops opponents on a weekly basis, we take it for granted and point to the aspects of coaching that he doesn’t excel at.
Some coaches are motivators. Some are tacticians. Some are more prepared than others. Few are truly gifted on one side of the ball, giving their team an edge there on a weekly basis.
Ryan is one of those rare coaches. It doesn’t mean he’s headed for Canton, or the 2013 Jets are heading for a winning season, but it is the reason why the Jets have been competitive since he’s arrived.
Eventually, New York will start focusing on what Ryan’s mind does bring to the table instead of focusing on the headlines and issues everywhere else.
Joe Giglio was the winner of Fantasy Phenom III in 2012. Twitter? He’s on it @JoeGiglioSports.
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