After the past two seasons, Rex Ryan's seat is getting warmer, and his reputation as a head coach is on the brink. How can he restore it?
Last season, Rex Ryan "lost the pulse" of the locker room, and the New York Jets finished 8-8. This season, the Jets are 6-8 and will miss the playoffs for the second straight season. Bryan Stabbe, a friend of mine, posed me the question, "How can Rex Ryan salvage his reputation?" I'm operating here with the assumption that Rex will be back next season. Here's my answer to Mr. Stabbe:
The short version is that Rex needs to win. The long version is that he needs to get an average or above average quarterback next season. In 2010, Mark Sanchez's best season, the Jets went 11-5 and made it to the AFC Championship. In 2012, Sanchez's worst season, the Jets are 6-8 and had a real chance at making the playoffs. With an average quarterback, the Jets would, easily, in my opinion, have made the playoffs and could have made a decent run at the Super Bowl.
Nobody questions Rex's ability to build a defense. Even missing the best defensive player in the NFL in Darrelle Revis, Rex managed to put together the 2nd best pass defense in the league, and the 8th best defense. This is all the more impressive considering how often the defense was on the field, as the offense couldn't find a first down if you spotted them five yards. Next season, with Revis back, and assuming Cromartie is playing at a level anywhere near the ridiculous standard he set this year, this should be the best defense in the league. As Quinton Coples continues to develop, Muhammad Wilkerson continues to be a beast, and Demario Davis gets even more playing time, there is no reason this defense can't be better than 2009.
Now, to match up with that defense, and to go back to my earlier point, if the Jets have even an average quarterback, they are, in my firm opinion, a 10+ win team. With a quarterback that doesn't lead the league in turnovers, our number one receiver returning, and our number two and three receivers getting better, there is little reason to think this team won't compete hard for a playoff spot and make headway into the playoffs.
All things considered, it's pretty amazing to me that the Jets are 6-8. They lost their best defensive and offensive skill player for the season. The number three receiver has been injured or invisible for most of the season. More than half of the backup receivers have been injured, and the other half that did play were picked up off the scrap heap after training camp. Our best tight end has been injured almost the entire season. It took the ground game half the season to warm up. Our quarterback was giving out turnovers like they were on sale. The defense has an injured ILB and NT. The other ILB has been ineffective for most of the season, has have the OLBs. And yet, we still almost made it to the big show.
I guess I'm just ranting now, but an average or above average quarterback, in addition to some healthy players, will solve a lot of issues. With the defense that we currently have, and a slightly better offense, this team has the potential to win 10+ games and make a playoff push, and salvage Rex Ryan's reputation as a head coach. I realize how homeristic that sounds, but there are a lot of positive signs to take from this season.