The fickle fringe takes turns slapping labels on Brian Schottenheimer.
To them, the Jets offensive coordinator vacillates between competent and clueless, proficient and pinhead, Mensa and moron.
"If we win, he's a genius," running backs coach Anthony Lynn said with a laugh. "If we lose, he doesn't know what the hell he's talking about."
Schottenheimer, of course, is regarded by general managers around the league as one of the game's sharpest young offensive minds. He was the favorite to land the Bills head coaching job last offseason before he took himself out of the running.
"He's ready to lead a team," said one AFC executive. "He's as creative as they come."
The 37-year-old Schottenheimer has learned to absorb all the criticism in the past five seasons with the Jets. He was ripped for not taking enough shots downfield in the season-opening loss to the Ravens. He was questioned for throwing too much in the home shutout loss to the Packers last month.
"I call a lot of plays, quite honestly, that really are bad, but the players make it work," Schottenheimer admitted. "I call a lot of plays that are really good, but maybe we get the perfect defense and something bad happens."
He took plenty of heat heading into the bye week despite having the third-highest scoring offense in the league at the time (26.5 points per game). The Jets, who are 13th in scoring (23.1 ppg), have the fourth-best rushing attack in the NFL.
"One of the things I'm most proud of is that I've held pretty strong in a tough market," Schottenheimer said. "You're not going to please everybody. So, I just stay true to myself."
That's good enough for Rex Ryan, who knew, within the first five minutes of meeting Schottenheimer, that he was going to retain him on his staff.
"I know without any hesitation whatsoever that Brian's going to have our guys prepared," Ryan said. "That's why I can sleep at night."
The most difficult part of Schottenheimer's job is developing personnel groupings each week. The process begins Mondays around 2:30 p.m. when he analyzes the upcoming opponent, breaking down formations and blitz tendencies to formulate the most ideal personnel packages for that game.
The Jets' plethora of talent at the skill positions has complicated the process this season.
Schottenheimer's two-digit labeling system identifies the number of running backs and tight ends on each play. For example, "21" means two running backs and one tight end. Schottenheimer then adds a wide receiver's name, college or school mascot to the "tag" to indicate which wideouts will be in the play. Earlier this season, the "21 Pirate" package was used for Santonio Holmes, whose high school mascot was a Pirate. Schottenheimer adds 4-6 new tags to the base personnel every week.
"There's definitely more tags because of what these guys can do," Mark Sanchez said. "But it's a good problem to have. Any coordinator would beg for that."
Schottenheimer builds a gameplan that includes seven or eight different calls for Braylon Edwards, Santonio Holmes and Jerricho Cotchery as the primary option. Of course, all of those plays aren't necessarily used on gameday. And Sanchez doesn't always go to the first option, either.
"Sometimes there's that fear of a guy falling off if he's not touching the ball," Lynn said. "You want to make him feel like he's contributing."
Defensive coverage schemes sometimes dictate which players get the ball from week to week. A Cover-2 shell, for example, with two safeties splitting the field, will generally create opportunities for players like Dustin Keller or Cotchery, who usually work in the middle of the field. If teams show quarters coverage (Cover-4) or single-high safety (Cover-1), outside receivers like Braylon Edwards could be targeted more often.
Schottenheimer adds one or two new personnel groupings each week. He used a three tight-end formation for the first time this season that confused the Browns last week. He's been a master at limiting tendencies.
The Jets have a nearly 50-50 run-to-pass split through nine games. They've run it more four times, passed it more three times and had an equal split twice.
"We have so many parts and pieces," Schottenheimer said. "That's where the creativity comes into it."
Schottenheimer's flexibility is perhaps his strongest asset. He relies on feel and keeps in constant communication with the players on the sideline during games.
"I'm not a guy that thinks he has all the answers," Schottenheimer said. "If they're frustrated, if they feel like they can win on something, come talk to me. Don't let it fester. Don't get angry.…. In no way, shape or form am I going to do things that I don't want to do, but I'm definitely going to listen."
In Week 4 against the Bills, Schottenheimer made an adjustment that resulted in a 41-yard touchdown to Edwards, who had unsuccessfully tried an out-and-up against press coverage on the left side of the formation earlier in the game. Edwards noticed that Leodis McKelvin, the cornerback on the opposite side, was playing off coverage. So, Schottenheimer flipped Edwards to the right side of the formation and called the same play. The double move worked to perfection.
Last week, Holmes approached Schottenheimer in overtime and asked if he'd call a slant against off coverage. Schottenheimer listened and adjusted. Holmes, of course, scored the game-winning touchdown on that play.
"It's a bottom-line business," defensive coordinator Mike Pettine said. "All I know is that he's the play caller for the team with the best record in the NFL."