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Rex Ryan is Keeping His New York Jets From Hitting Their Potential

Mario Mergola

Mario Mergola is a writer, avid sports fan, former ESPN Radio producer, husband, and father who specializes in finding the hidden gems of the less-explored option. Follow @MarioMergola

What part of the Jets and Packers game was actually surprising?

The Jets are what they’ve been for the past five years: an undisciplined, mismanaged, misconfigured, playing-a-defensive-and-running-game-style-in-an-offensive world, surprisingly overachieving team.

The last one is what matters. The final score is exactly what it should have been. The Jets are not horrible; they are ‘good’ enough to stay within a touchdown of a Packers team who was clearly underperforming at the time. But they aren’t anything special. Most importantly, they are not a 2-0 team.

It should have hurt more. As a fan of the New York Jets, myself, it is tough to stomach a 21-3 lead turning into a 31-24 loss. It’s even tougher when their downfall stemmed from their own faults more than the play of the Packers. But this experience is nothing new. In fact, to answer the question that sparked this series of thoughts, the Jets’ loss at Lambeau Field did not, actually, make my stomach turn. It was expected.

Why? Because the Jets exhibited the same often-overlooked, often-excused on-field behavior that we have seen for years. The type of play that should result in losses.

Rex Ryan’s New York Jets appear to be content with one main goal throughout every game: don’t turn the ball over. While this mantra is simple and has proven to be effective, it is not to be judged in a vacuum. Geno Smith’s lone interception was undoubtedly caused by the Packers’ defensive tackle Mike Daniels blowing through the offensive line, therefore negating turnovers as the responsible party in Sunday’s loss.

Instead, it is the attitude surrounding the potential of turnovers that seems to hover over the Jets’ offense like a black cloud. Despite Geno Smith playing well for the second straight game, he remains hamstrung by Rex Ryan’s outdated and often disproven theory that a quarterback can do more to lose his team a game than win it.

Once the Jets scored their third touchdown of the first half, Ryan went into his prototypical ‘protect-the-ball-at-all-costs’ gameplan that included the patented, yet flawed, theory of ‘ground-and-pound’. For the Jets’ four offensive possessions between their 21-3 lead and their 24-21 deficit (excluding the kneel down at the end of the first half), New York started each drive with a running play, including five of their seven first downs within the possessions.

As evident by the Jets’ lack of offensive success over the Rex Ryan era, the inability to successfully run the ball on first down often leads to the unfavorable position of needing to convert a pass in an obvious passing situation. The result? Two three-and-outs, the aforementioned interception, and no drive lasting more than five plays.

It is equally telling that, immediately after the Jets squandered their double-digit lead, Geno was unleashed from the shackles of overprotecting the football. He subsequently conducted a seven-play drive featuring four pass attempts (two on their three first down plays) resulting in a game-tying field goal. Interesting how quickly the ‘gameplan’ is abandoned when Ryan feels points are needed.

More important than the failures that stem from continuing to run the ball as another team stages a comeback is the message it sends to the pursuer. It is passive. For a coach like Rex Ryan, it is counterintuitive to the type of game style he preaches about using.

Outspoken and overconfident, Ryan rarely portrays his team and players as anything less than the best. This yields the belief that his team will always be the aggressor. Instead, their offense goes into a shell and their players lose their composure.

On Opening Day, the Jets committed a whopping eleven penalties in their win against Oakland. The fact that they beat a hapless Raiders team still trying to find its footing says nothing for quality. Lack of discipline is punishable. Their seven penalties (twice as many as Green Bay committed) was, indeed, punished. Furthermore, what could have been a critical interception deep in Packers territory was negated by a yellow flag. Pass interference? No. Defensive holding? No. Twelve men on the field – an inexcusable penalty when a team is facing 3rd-and-long from their own 21 yard line.

Lost in the discussion of how great of a comeback the Packers completed was the eleven-man unit in green that helped aid the Green Bay offense. Again, the Jets’ defense is supposed to be the team’s best feature. They should be stout. Impenetrable. Feared.

Or so we’re led to believe.

Tasked with protecting an 18-point cushion – a minimum of three scores – the Jets failed to stop the Packers from scoring on five of their six drives in the middle of the game. The Packers marched up and down the field with little restraint as they imposed their will on the Jets’ defense. Worse, three of the four Packers’ drives that completed the comeback were a minimum of eight plays, providing ample opportunities for New York to quell the onslaught and hold onto the lead.

Conversely, one offensive play after the Packers relinquished their own three-point lead, Green Bay struck for an 80-yard touchdown. Long drive or short drive, it didn’t matter. The Jets’ defense failed to hold.

Despite what the final score shows, the Jets do consistently over-perform, which is great for the New York hopeful, but it doesn’t mean anything without the win. The Browns over-performed. They won. The Jets did the same thing, but played too far over their heads for too long to finish the job.

The New York Jets have committed to their personnel for, at least, the remainder of this season. It should be no wild secret that a massive failure will most likely cost Rex Ryan his job. Regardless of the team’s record, however, unless Ryan’s ‘2002 Methods of Winning Football’ start to actually produce playoff wins on a consistent basis, the Jets are no better off than any other team trying to compete with the powerhouses of today’s NFL.

The head coach of the Jets has no more excuses this time. His quarterback is playing well and his team appears to have enough talent to compete on a weekly basis. The only thing that will boost or hinder their success is the influence of Rex Ryan. If he can’t see that his ways need to change, then the Jets’ organization will have to do it for him.

All this, and not even a mention of the actual heart-breaking moment of the day – the inexcusable (granted, unlucky) timeout of Marty Mornhinweg. If Geno Smith’s pass to Jeremy Kerley falls incomplete, no one thinks twice about it. Instead, the crippling memory of a negated touchdown is burned into the mind of those watching.

The moments that unfolded in Lambeau Field on Sunday are not signs of a good team. They are signs of a mediocrity sprinkled with flashes of brilliance at times. Those are signs of the 2014 New York Jets.

Disappointing? Yes. Surprising? Not one bit.