FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- New York Jets coach Rex Ryan was asked a direct question Wednesday about Brian Schottenheimer's job security, and he did what he does best: He made it about him.
"The criticism should be on me," said Ryan, dancing around the topic.
Easy for Ryan to say; his job isn't on the line. It's a different story for his embattled offensive coordinator, who, from all indications, needs a Hail Mary to save his job.
Schottenheimer received a contract extension last offseason and is signed through 2013, but not even guaranteed money can guarantee immunity in the coaching business.
The presumptive heir apparent is offensive-line coach Bill Callahan, but maybe that's not a slam dunk. Callahan's contract is up after the season, according to a league source, and he could be an attractive coordinator candidate on the open market -- especially if his old buddy Jon Gruden decides to return to the sideline.
The Jets tried to sign Callahan to an extension, even recently, but he decided to keep his options open -- and now he could have leverage. But that's not the story right now; the story is Schottenheimer and how the Jets' offense has gone into the dumpster the last two weeks.
There seems to be a disconnect between Ryan and Schottenheimer, and it played out in living color last Saturday in the New York City championship at MetLife Stadium. Mark Sanchez dropped back to pass on 67 of 89 offensive plays, astounding for a team that bills itself as Ground & Pound.
How did that happen? How did Ryan let it happen?
You have to go back three years to find a quarterback who had that many dropbacks in a game, according to ESPN Stats & Information. In 2008, Brian Griese had 67 dropbacks for the Tampa Bay Bucs -- and that was an overtime game.
"I don't see us throwing the ball 60 times ever again," Ryan said. "I don't think any of us could believe we threw it that many times. I know I can't."
For the record, it was 59 passes, five sacks and three scrambles by Sanchez. Ryan tried to rationalize it by saying, "That's the way the game played out," but he didn't sound convincing. Thing is, all he had to do was tell Schottenheimer in the headset, "Run the ball," especially when the Jets got the ball at the 50, down by six points, with five minutes to play.
They kept throwing, and went three-and-out with a sack.
"In hindsight, yeah, let's just run it three times," Ryan said. "That's easy to do now."
That it got so out of control, in a game that meant everything, is troubling. Once again, it shines the light on the Ryan-Schottenheimer relationship, an awkward marriage from the outset.
Schottenheimer is a holdover from the Eric Mangini regime and, after failing in his bid to replace Mangini, he was hired by Ryan to stay on. No doubt, GM Mike Tannenbaum, a strong Schottenheimer supporter, played a role in that decision.
It was an odd dynamic, but, hey, the Jets reached the AFC Championship Game in back-to-back years, camouflaging their differences in philosophy. As long as the team was winning, there was no reason to break it up. But now the Jets (8-7) are in serious trouble -- they need a New Year's Day miracle to make the playoffs -- and the offense has crumbled.
The Jets have dropped to 27th in total offense and, in the last two games, they've managed only 33 points in 31 possessions -- 1.07 points per possession. That stinks. In fact, only the Jacksonville Jaguars and St. Louis Rams have been worse, but at least they have alibis -- a rookie quarterback (Blaine Gabbert) and a journeyman fill-in (ex-Jet Kellen Clemens), respectively.
The Jets have no such excuses.
"No question, we have all the talent in the world at every single position," said tight end Dustin Keller, who described the problems this way: "A lot of small things that equal up to a big, bad thing."
Ryan says nice things about Schottenheimer, always praising his work ethic, but actions speak louder than words -- and Ryan's decision to make Tom Moore a full-time consultant last month was quite a statement.
He downplayed it, of course, but a coach doesn't bring in a consultant if he's happy with the operation. It creates a bad perception, Moore's presence seemingly undercutting Schottenheimer.
Ryan hired Moore last spring to offer suggestions on how to improve the red zone performance and, sure enough, the Jets rose to No. 1. Ryan praised Schottenheimer for the dramatic jump, yet he turned around and offered the full-time gig to Moore.
It wouldn't be a surprise if Ryan offers Moore a job for next season, perhaps as a passing-game guru to complement Callahan. It will all play out over the next week or so, or whenever the season ends.
Ryan's response to the Schottenheimer job-security question was telling. He looked away, there was a nervous laugh, and he went on and on about how it's unfair to blame a coach -- except him.
"I can promise you this," Ryan said. "He works about as hard as anybody I've ever been around and we will be prepared."
For Sunday's game in Miami, he meant. He wouldn't go beyond that.