Ryan’s Focus on Defense is a Good Thing

The Jets defense will look vastly different in 2013, but the expectations on fielding one of the top defenses in the NFL are will be the same.

Shortly after the season ended and Mike Pettine walked away without a renewed contract to become the defensive coordinator in Buffalo, Head Coach Rex Ryan named longtime assistant Dennis Thurman as the Jets’ new coordinator but stated that Ryan would be the operational head of the group.

Rex RyanAccording to Newsday, those plans have not changed since January and Ryan confirmed it on Saturday during his press availability.  “I think we’re better served if I’m on the defensive side and making sure we’ve got the rules set the way I see it set,” the Jets coach told reporters on Saturday.

Ryan stated that he will be the one to install all of the defenses, operate all the squad’s walkthroughs and to make the in-game play calls.  It’s a return to what he did in 2009 and 2010 with the defense, but which he slowly loosened to Pettine, who ran first and second downs in 2012 while Ryan handled most of the team’s third downs.

Ryan wanted to make it clear that this was not a slight to Dennis Thurman the team’s former secondary coach, but a return to what worked when Ryan worked with his last first-time defensive coordinator Mike Pettine.  

“[The decision] has nothing to do with Dennis’ ability,” Ryan told reporters, “I mean, there’s a reason [that] for four straight years people wanted [Thurman] to be their coordinator … it has nothing to do with Dennis’ ability.”

Ryan went on to say that the major overhaul of the defense and the coaching staff factored into his decision. “I’m going to go back to doing what I do, and that’s teach and coach primarily on defense. We hired a great offensive coach [in Marty Morhinweg]. Will I be involved there? Of course. But I do my best down there on defense.”

Ryan has often mentioned his cursory involvement in the offense during his time as head coach, but under his watch the team has never thrived offensively.  The group’s best season came in 2010, when the team ranked 16th overall according to Football Outsiders.

Ryan went as far to say last year at the outset of training camp to say that he believed this was “finally” the coaching staff that he had wanted.  Ryan made clear that he would be more involved with the Sparano offense, but while he never said it outright, the sense going into 2012 was that Sparano’s competence on offense would allow him to focus on other things.  It didn’t turn out that way for the Jets, the offense finished 30th in the NFL and Sparano was fired shortly after the season ended, famously fleeing reporters out of the press room.

It’s a good thing that Ryan focus on defense.  He’s good at it and will likely post good results, even with a vastly different unit in 2013.  He might not have Darrelle Revis, Bart Scott and Sione Pouha, but he will have a fresh injection of talent with guys like Demario Davis, Dee Milliner and Sheldon Richardson.  That coupled with his ability to get the most of the guys he does have will be a good thing.  For another matter, for all the talk about the ax looming over Ryan’s head, demonstrating his ability to be a team’s de facto coordinator would set him up well come next year.  I love Rex Ryan as the team’s head of the defense and his refusal to play “bend don’t break” and make it work, is inspiring.  Of course, there are a lot of concerns that should take up a head coach’s time beyond the defensive meeting room … the hope here is that he can juggle those responsibilities too … he struggled with that in his first two years with the team.

One of the biggest other time-sucks would be the offense.  The good news is that Ryan will likely be able to focus on defense, because of Marty Morhinweg.

The difference between Sparano and Morhinweg is as simple as competence and proven execution.  Sparano never proved his skill-set as a coordinator in the NFL other than running the ground game portion of the offense alongside Sean Payton in Dallas (who was the better talent there?) for one season and it was David Lee (now the QB coach for the Jets) who came up with the Wildcat in Miami, not Sparano … Sparano just allowed it.

Meanwhile, Morhinweg worked under Mooch in the last gasp days in San Francisco and after a stint as the head coach of the hapless Lions, put together year after year of productive offenses in under Andy Reid in Philadelphia.  Both Ryan and Morhinweg are going to have their work cut out for them in running their respective units (oh and don’t forget the team’s first year special teams coordinator) but for the first time in over a decade, I’m excited to see that both the offense and defense are in competent, resourceful, inventive coordinators hands who have a proven track record.