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Football Scientist: More on Ryan's negative impact, and Schottenheimer's mindset

12/3/2010

I recently wrote an article for ESPN.com's Insider section titled "How Rex Ryan might be hurting the Jets." The gist of the critique was that Ryan's playcalling mindset could be impacting Brian Schottenheimer's offensive playcalling in a negative fashion.

Since then, I have received a couple of questions about the article via Twitter that deserve a larger response than can be detailed in 140 characters.

The first came from _CalvinLee, "Just read ur ESPN insider article re: Rex Ryan. Can u clarify what Rex's Def playcalling has to do w. Schott's Off playcalling?"

The idea here is that Ryan is what I term a scheme coach. The long-form specifics of what constitutes a scheme coach can be found in the book Blindsided, but a good summary is that scheme coaches aim to win games via their playcalling. They figure as long as they have a reasonable amount of talent, their team will come out victorious because they will outsmart the other team's playcaller.

There is no doubt Ryan fits that bill perfectly. It is the reason he was so adamant that the Jets' defense would dominate this season even if Darrelle Revis' holdout turned into a long-term situation. Ryan knew there was ample talent to make his gameplanning work just fine with or without No. 24.

The issue with scheme coaches is that their main focus is attacking the other team's scheme rather than their personnel weaknesses. For instance, a scheme-oriented defensive coach might spend most of his time trying to figure out how to get his overload blitz to work. His mindset is that it doesn't matter how good the blockers are: if he can get three rushers versus two blockers, one rusher comes free and any personnel edge the offense has on that side of the line is naturally nullified.

Bill Walsh proved this can work on offense just as well, but, contrary to popular belief, Walsh was not a full-bore scheme coach. The proof of this comes via Walsh's comment, "You can't hide a personnel weakness on defense." He knew that creative playcalling could find soft spots in schemes but it could also be used just as effectively to single out and target poor defensive performers.

Schottenheimer has done that at times this year, but the article details three cases where he failed to do so. The most recent was the Thanksgiving Day game against the Bengals. Cincinnati had backups at both safety positions, a backup starting cornerback who was out of the NFL the week before and a seventh-string nickel cornerback. The Jets should have come out full bore against this but instead had a 37/28 run/pass ratio and threw only eight vertical passes all game long. They also targeted four of those throws at Leon Hall, the only starter in the Bengals secondary.

As noted in the article, there are many possible explanations for why Schottenheimer did this, but one that kept coming to mind is that he is being impacted by a type of philosophical coaching osmosis. Ryan's mindset of attacking the scheme and not paying that much attention to the personnel (other than having Revis stay on the opposing team's No. 1 WR) could very likely be having an impact on how Schottenheimer approaches his job.

And that leads to the second Twitter comment, which comes from @SeanLDurham82, who wrote, "so let me get this straight; he's hurting the Jets cuz Schotty is clueless??.....lol!!"

Schottenheimer certainly isn't clueless, but, yes, Ryan would be hurting the Jets if he let this happen. He is the head coach and if his offensive coordinator shows a penchant for running gameplans that are too close to the vest, he has to correct it. As the article states in closing, "New England is on pace to allow more passing yards than any team in league history. If the Jets try to beat this team with a heavy dose of runs and a smattering of passes, it will mean giving away a huge personnel advantage without a fight. That kind of approach can work against an injury-depleted Bengals roster but it will almost certainly backfire against Bill Belichick and Tom Brady." It is up to Ryan, and not Schottenheimer, to ensure that does not happen.