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This one hurts, as the most entertaining head coach in all of the far too conservative NFL is on the way out, this time for good. There was a time Ryan could do no wrong, leading a vicious Jets defense to two AFC Championship appearances, even as Mark Sanchez butt-fumbled his way towards the sports ineptitude Hall of Fame.
But times have changed. Evidenced by the repeated firings of his twin brother Rob, an extent even Lane Kiffin thinks is getting excessive, the Ryan brothers’ attacking defensive scheme has grown stale in a pass happy NFL. While I still believe Rex would make a phenomenal college coach, where his charisma and NFL experience would galvanize dormant alumni bases and recruiting pitches, and his constant pressure defensive looks would wreak havoc on far less sophisticated offensive lines and signal callers, it’s just too easy for Drew Brees to throw hot to a wide open slot receiver as the pressure mounts.
Ryan and his brother undoubtedly learned their craft from their recently deceased father, Buddy, the architect of the legendary 1985 Chicago Bears juggernaut defensive attack. That was a different NFL, though, during which players were allowed to hit. Roger Gooddell was stranded in a mail room somewhere (can he go back?), and perhaps most importantly, the vertical passing game was more of a myth than reality compared to today’s video game type offenses. In 2016, NFL teams attempted more passes than any season in the league’s history, scored more passing touchdowns and points, and ran more total plays than ever before. It’s like the poison that is Chip Kelly has infected the entire league.
With this in mind, it’s easy to see why the Ryan defense is failing, and how Tom Brady still haunts Rex’s dreams, having never eclipsed the New England dynasty. The hurry-up offense limits substitutions, and the spread increases offensive options. You end up having an exhausted defense attempting to blitz incessantly while dealing with staggering matchup problems on the outside. Teams can stack three wide on either side, forcing linebackers and/or safeties to play alone on a likely faster player. Rex continuously blitzing means they’re likely alone on an island, and none of them are Revis.
Simple math shows that even a three-wide set with a tight end and running back as an eligible receiver likely leaves at least one option wide open against the blitz, with this generation of quick passing quarterbacks able to dissect the closing in defense. It’s not that Rex doesn’t have good players and sound fundamental ideas, instead that the league has progressed to an extent offensively that his pressure based defense cannot adapt to without superior covering athletes across the field.
In Buffalo, time is running thin. The diehard fans expect at least a playoff berth this season, but stranded in the AFC East with the sure-thing Patriots, the Bills find themselves scraping for a wildcard spot with some combination (depending on who wins the division) of the Bengals, Steelers, Chiefs, Raiders, Broncos, Ravens, Colts, Texans, and Rex’s former team, the Jets. All of the aforementioned teams are arguably as talented, if not more so, than the Bills, leaving a sort of coaching staff Hunger Games for the final playoff spots.
Unfortunately, with the loss of both of Buffalo’s first two round draft picks for at least half of the 2016 season, the continued dominance of Cheatin’ Tom Brady (Trump vernacular) and relative strength of the top half of the AFC, the Bills are at best a long shot. With another season ending without a playoff game, and what I am projecting as a step backward at 6-10, Rex and his newly hired twin brother will be shown the door.
The NFL dream for the Ryan bros will be over, but hopefully the college era will be just beginning..
Image via YouTube