Before those pesky Harbaughs stole their thunder, Rex and Rob Ryan were the most recognizable set of coaching brothers in the National Football League.
Rex is entering his fourth season as head coach of the New York Jets, while this is Rob's second year coordinating the Dallas Cowboys' defense. The Jets and Cowboys both failed to earn a playoff berth last season and Buddy Ryan's sons will be facing an incredible amount of pressure to help their respective teams avoid that same fate in 2012.
Rex Ryan vs. Rob Ryan
Year Rex Ryan (overall defense ranking) Rob Ryan (overall defense ranking)
2011 Jets HC (5th) Cowboys DC (14th)
2010 Jets HC (3rd) Browns DC (22nd)
2009 Jets HC (1st) Browns DC (31st)
2008 Ravens DC (2nd) Raiders DC (27th)
2007 Ravens DC (6th) Raiders DC (22nd)
2006 Ravens DC (1st) Raiders DC (3rd)
2005 Ravens DC (5th) Raiders DC (27th)
2004 (not coordinator) Raiders DC (30th)
*Average ranking of Rex Ryan defense is 3.29; average ranking of Rob Ryan defense is 22.0
One interesting subplot: Rob Ryan has never led a defense that has bested his twin's unit over the past eights seasons, as the table on the right shows.
I reached out to 15 different NFL executives or scouts to get their opinion on which brother would be orchestrating the better defense in 2012. Here is what each of them had to say:
1. AFC Executive: "[Morris] Claiborne will be a big help. Sean Lee is a stud and everyone knows how good [DeMarcus] Ware is. The Jets are getting old and they don't have the young talent to replace those guys." Pick: Cowboys
2. NFC Executive: "I love (the Cowboys') offseason additions in both free agency and the draft." Pick: Cowboys
3. NFC Executive: "Rex is a better coach than his brother. The Jets play in a division without an explosive offense. Even New England isn't explosive. They use a short, intermediate-style passing game. The Jets' ball-control offense will shorten games and limit the amount of points and yards their defense allows." Pick: Jets
4. AFC Scout: "(The Cowboys) have always had the front seven and now they've finally shored up their holes in the secondary." Pick: Cowboys
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5. NFC Scout: "Aside from [Darrelle] Revis, the Cowboys' secondary is much better and deeper than the Jets'. Also, the Cowboys have that one special rusher (Ware) that the Jets lack." Pick: Cowboys
6. NFC Executive: "The Cowboys have a better combination of coverage and edge pass rushers. Claiborne will be a huge addition. The Jets' pass rush doesn't scare me and that kid they picked from North Carolina (Quinton Coples) isn't the answer." Pick: Cowboys
7. NFC Executive: "I love DeMarcus Ware, and this rookie class will help them immediately." Pick: Cowboys
8. NFC Scout: "The Cowboys are much improved at cornerback, and I don't see how the Jets are going to generate a consistent pass rush. The Cowboys have more difference makers in their front seven." Pick: Cowboys
9. AFC Scout: "The front seven and secondary of each team is pretty equal, but the Cowboys are much better at linebacker." Pick: Cowboys
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10. NFC Scout: "Dallas should be much better in the second year of Rob Ryan's scheme. They can get to the quarterback much better than the Jets." Pick: Cowboys
11. AFC Executive: "I'll take Rex and (defensive coordinator) Mike Pettine over Rob Ryan, even though DeMarcus Ware is the best player on either defense." Pick: Jets
12. NFC Scout: "Dallas has more defensive players that scare you as an opponent. Their linebackers are much better." Pick: Cowboys
13. NFC Scout: "The Cowboys have a better pass rush and they upgraded their secondary." Pick: Cowboys
14. AFC Scout: "The Jets have a better coaching staff and they are more physical than the Cowboys." Pick: Jets
15. AFC Scout: "The Cowboys have better personnel. Really not much of a debate in terms of overall talent." Pick: Cowboys
• Rob Ryan's Dallas defense: 12 votes.
• Rex Ryan's New York defense: 3 votes.
I didn't expect such a landslide result in favor of Rob Ryan and the Cowboys' defense. The offseason additions of cornerbacks Brandon Carr and Claiborne have convinced the overwhelming majority of these executives and scouts that the Cowboys' defense will be greatly improved in 2012. The Jets supporters are basing their decision more on coaching and divisional opponents than the actual personnel on the field.
In my opinion, I believe these are both top-10 defenses in 2012. The Cowboys have the better defensive line and linebacker unit, but I give the Jets' cornerback duo the edge over the Cowboys' new additions. The safety position is a major concern for both teams. I would give the slight overall edge to the Cowboys because of their ability to get after the quarterback. As I wrote the other day, rushing the passer has become the key element in championship defense.
This might be the season Rob finally earns bragging rights over his brother.