FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Rex Ryan wants the New York Jets to be tough, but not dirty.
He wants them to be physical, but not cheap.
He wants them to be aggressive, but smart.
Basically, he wants his team to be a law-abiding bully. That's asking a lot, especially in the current climate of the NFL, which has turned into a ticky-tack league.
In last Saturday night's win over the Cincinnati Bengals, the Jets were penalized 12 times for 133 yards, including six (six!) personal fouls. Actually, there were seven, but one was declined. Clearly, they approached the game with a seldom-seen mindset for the preseason. Embarrassed by last season's 40-point loss to the Bengals, the goal was to exact some payback.
"We weren't going to be a punching bag," Ryan said Monday.
Two problems: When a team gets into bad habits, it's hard to break them. Now that the word is out on them, the Jets can expect to be baited by opponents. They open against the Oakland Raiders, a perennial leader in penalties.
Obviously, Ryan doesn't want to sink to that level, but he's also trying to instill a toughness in his team. Makes you wonder if he thinks they lost a little bit of that edge last season.
"Are there things we need to clean up and did we cross the line a couple of times? I think we did, OK," he said, referring to Saturday night. "The point is about guys sticking up for each other. That's what we do and we're going to do it. You've got to take care of your players. You're not going to let somebody get their helmet ripped off and not respond. You're going to be there for them. You have to be smart and understand how far you can take it."
Ryan wants to be the least penalized team in the league. Here are the facts: Since 2009, the Jets are 15th in fewest total penalties and 12th in least amount of penalty yardage, according to ESPN Stats & Information. So they've been pretty much a middle-of-the-road team. Ryan correctly noted that the last two Super Bowl champions, the Baltimore Ravens and Seattle Seahawks, led the league in penalty yards and total penalties, respectively.
So there's that.
Most of the Jets' penalties in Cincinnati came from the offensive line, with Brian Winters, Breno Giacomini and Willie Colon combining for eight penalties (one declined). Giacomini and Colon are known by teammates as the "Bash Brothers," according to Nick Mangold.
Bashing is good. As long as it's clean bashing.
"It's only a concern if it becomes a habit," Mangold said of the penalty problem.