There are numerous differences between the 2009 and 2010 Jets. A revamped secondary, a more experienced quarterback, a revamped backfield and a modified offensive line are obvious factors to attribute to the Jets' 5-1 start. However, the improvement in the Jets goes beyond these personnel shifts and additions.
As much as Mark Sanchez is learning how to be an NFL quarterback, Rex is learning how to make the transition from coordinator to coach. When the 2009 season started, Rex assumed the role of defensive coordinator in a head coach's job title. He took little interest in offense and special teams. While this worked for the first three games, until the team began to collapse, losing 6 of 7 games and falling to 4-6.
Rex admitted his mistake of being too "hands-off" with the offense, and it paid dividends. While his knowledge of offensive football pales in comparison to any of the offensive coaches, his presence in meeting rooms showed his players that he truly cares about every player on his team, not just the defensive guys. As a result, the Jets rode the best chemistry too the AFC championship.
Rex also realized his mistake of assuming Matt Cavanaugh, the quarterback coach, would provide enough of a veteran presence at the position. To answer this need, Rex went right after Mark Brunell.
There have been a lot of comparisons between San Francisco's Mike Singletary and Rex Ryan. Both are passionate and have a belief in their respective teams. However, there is one major difference between the two, and a main reason why they have inverted records: Mike pushes the blame around the team, while Rex absorbs it. In an environment like New York City, there are few qualities as important as shielding your players from the public scorn. As a result, players have no choice but to lay out for Rex. It's the reason Trevor Pryce was willing to move 400 miles north (mid-season) to play for the man.
Go back to the Minnesota game with the awful clock management at the end of the game in which Sanchez called the play too early and stopped the clock right before the two minute warning. Make no mistake; that was all on Sanchez. He HAS to realize the situation. In the ensuing press conference, however, Rex took all of the blame, not blaming Sanchez or Brian Schottenheimer for the hiccup.
He even backs up his coaches. In Monday's press conference, he revealed that Mike Pettine has been calling more plays than ever before. Obviously, one would make the connection between the defensive dropoff from 2009 to Pettine's increased role. Rex insisted this was not the case:
"It's not his fault," Ryan said. "He's been calling the ones that work. I've got to do a better job when I call them."
What's probably more true is that the defensive drop-off has less to do with play calling and more to do with the lack of Darrelle Revis on the field. But Rex knows throwing his assistant coach under the bus and killing his chances for promotion does nothing for his team.
Players and coaches appreciate this, and realize how rare it is in this age of job-paranoia in the NFL for a coach to willing to accept blame for things he is hardly responsible for. It exemplifies confidence in his ability as a coach, which resonates throughout the team.