Great Read: Mangini's Jets D vs Ryan's (plus Sanchez stuff) *merged*
Let's just say it, because we know you're all thinking it: Jets coach Rex Ryan is one odd duck.
He predicted a Super Bowl victory about 10 minutes after he took the gig. He declared his club's season over when it wasn't. He comes from the Dick Vermeil school of unapologetically weeping in public. He called his hot-dog-munching rookie quarterback a knucklehead, like they were two-thirds of a comedy trio. Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk! His press conferences drift with varying degrees of success into stand-up routines.
Rex Ryan even comes from a long line of odd ducks. His twin brother, Rob, is a rare species of mullet-haired odd duck And his old man, Buddy Ryan, was an odd duck long before it became trendy.
Buddy issued bounties for the heads of opposing players, battled with his bosses, ran up the score on his rivals whenever possible and, in his serene golden years, tried to punch out one of his fellow assistants on national television.
Oh, Buddy also went to Super Bowls as a defensive assistant with three teams (1968 Jets, 1976 Vikings and 1985 Bears) and created perhaps the most intimidating defensive force in modern NFL annals. A quarter-century later, the phrase "1985 Bears" still rings with an air of howling, bone-chilling defensive ferocity that causes Hall of Famer John Hannah to curl into the fetal position and cry for his mama.
Like his odd duck old man, Rex has delivered the goods. He promised Jets fans an ass-kicking defense. And, in his first year with the team, he's delivered an ass-kicking defense.
Oh, sure, the Jets are a borderline playoff team at 9-7. And, yes, they backed into the playoffs, like a little-old lady who unknowingly shifted the car into reverse at a red light. Hey, look, we're in somebody's front porch!
But we fault no team or no man for taking advantage of the opportunities presented to them. The Jets simply took advantage of these opportunities, and they did it almost exclusively on the strength of Rex Ryan's defense. That unit is almost singularly responsible for lifting a team with a dysfunctional rookie quarterback and an odd duck rookie head coach into the playoffs.
Here's a look at how the Jets stacked up in several key defensive indicators last year under Eric Mangini and this year under the Odd Duck (a more complete side-by-side comparison of the two defenses is found here):
• The 2008 Jets ranked 22nd in Defensive Passer Rating (88.1). The 2009 Jets are No. 1 (58.8). That's a stunning improvement of nearly 30 points in this critical indicator of defensive success. That's borderline unprecedented.
• The 2008 Jets ranked 23rd in touchdown passes allowed (23). The 2009 Jets are No. 1 (8). In other words, the Jets were torched for three touchdowns passes every two games last year. This year? Just one TD pass every two games.
• The 2008 Jets ranked 16th in total defense (329.4 YPG). The 2009 Jets are No. 1 (252.3). If Chris Farley were interviewing Rex Ryan right now, he'd drool breathlessly, "That ... was ... awesome!"
• The 2008 Jets ranked 18th in scoring defense (22.2 PPG). The 2009 Jets are No. 1 (14.8 PG). We're not math majors, but that looks like a decline of 33 percent in scoring against the Jets this year. Not impressed? Just remember the acidic bile that ate away at your stomach lining when your retirement fund lost 33 percent in the fall and winter of 2008-09.
• The 2008 Jets ranked 13th in points allowed vs. Quality Opponents (22.7). The 2009 Jets are No. 1 in points allowed vs. Quality Opponents (13.7). In other words, the Odd Duck's defense has improved even more dramatically against good teams than it has against your ordinary, average, run-of-the-mill teams.
• The 2008 Jets ranked 29th in pass defense (234.9 YPG). The 2009 Jets are No. 1 (153.7). Yup, another big turnaround. It's like two different teams out there. And, yes, the NFL's shutdown cornerback du jour, Darrelle Revis, started all 16 games for both teams.
• The 2008 Jets ranked 18th in passing yards per attempt allowed (7.0 YPA). The 2009 Jets are No. 1 (5.4 YPA). Wow, 5.4 YPA passing the ball against the Jets. There were a handful of players this year who averaged more than 5.4 YPA running the ball: Jamaal Charles (5.9 YPA), Felix Jones (5.9) and Chris Johnson (5.6), to name three notables from the 2009 season.
• The 2008 Jets ranked 15th in third-down defense (61.4%) The 2009 Jets are No. 1 (68.5%). Call us brilliant, but forcing opponents to punt sure seems like one good way to keep them out of the end zone.
We don't care how odd your coach is, that's called delivering the goods.
The Sanchize Issue
The most impressive aspect of New York's run to the playoffs is that the team had to overcome one of the most incompetent passing attacks in football to get there -- their own.
Loyal Cold, Hard Football Facts readers know that passing the ball well on offense and stopping the pass on defense are the magic yin & yang that lead to success in the NFL.
Yet the Jets this year failed miserably in one end of the equation. Like most rookies throughout history, Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez has made one mistake after another and found NFL defenses tougher to decipher than the Enigma code. New York ranks near the bottom of the NFL in most key passing indicators:
• 21st in Passing Yards Per Attempt (5.64)
• 28th in interceptions (21)
• 28th in Offensive Passer Rating (62.2)
• 29th in touchdown passes (12)
• 30th in interception percentage (5.34) -- interestingly, teams with rookie QBs rounded out the bottom three in INT percentage: Tampa, Detroit, N.Y. Jets
Those numbers typically add up to a long, lousy season, as they did for all the other teams with equally inept passing games this year: the Rams, Raiders, Buccaneers, Lions and Browns. The Jets are easily the worst passing team in the playoffs.
Sure, pigskin pundits tied to tired old theories of success in football are raving about New York's top-ranked rushing attack (172.2). But as CHFF readers know, a top-ranked rushing attack and $10 will get you five chalupas on the Taco Bell Diet and not much else.
Great running teams rarely go far in the NFL, while great passing teams typically win Super Bowls. Besides the Jets this year, the great running teams are the Titans (with 2,000-yard rusher Chris Johnson), the Panthers (with the first tandem of 1,100-yard backs in NFL history) and the Dolphins (with the trend-setting "wildcat" offense).
None of those teams have great a quarterback or a great defense. So none of those teams are in the playoffs, despite their great rushing attacks.
The reputed great running teams that have gone far in NFL history, meanwhile, were almost always accompanied by incredibly effective passing attacks led by Hall of Fame quarterbacks -- the 1960s Packers, the 1970s Steelers, the 1990s Cowboys and 1990s Broncos some notable examples. So great running teams with great defenses rarely do much without a great quarterback. The 2009 Jets are a rare exception.
In fact, only two teams since the merger that led the league in rushing yards have gone on to win a Super Bowl. The first was the undefeated 1972 Dolphins, who led the league in everything, including scoring defense. The last was the mighty 1985 Bears, whose top-ranked defense was masterminded by, that's right, Buddy Ryan -- the odd duck of an old man.