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A Must Win For Rex Ryan

A must win game. We hear that cliché all the time in sports. As soon as the Jets beat the Rams on Sunday afternoon that phrase became synonymous with the upcoming contest against the Patriots. Everyone, of course, points to the playoff scenarios when it comes to describing this as must win, but is that really the case? At 4-6 the Jets are not the most likely of playoff contenders, but in a conference as bad as the AFC, 4-6 puts you right in the thick of the hunt. 9-7 is almost a lock to get you in this season. When you look at the Jets backend of their schedule, which features games against the Cardinals, Jaguars, Bills, Titans, and Chargers, winning the final 5 games is certainly not out of the question. The reason this is a must win digs far deeper than playoff chances.

Rex Ryan is fighting for his job and his general managers’ job. The Jets have underwhelmed the last two seasons and if not for a surprising playoff charge in 2009, the last 4 years would probably be viewed universally as a failure, even with the 2010 AFC Championship appearance. Those two successful playoff runs made people overlook some of the shortcomings of the team from 2009-2011 under Rex. Those playoffs are now a distant memory and unless they make noise in the playoffs again this season Ryan needs to start padding his resume with a few current positive points as he tries to keep his job in New York.

Considering it is unlikely that the Colts finish with 9 wins this season, this is the only game that is going to ensure the Jets beat a winning team this season. The schedule is so easy from here on out, any other win will most likely not be knocking off a team with 9 or more wins come the end of the year.  Why is this important?  You have to go back to the Jets win against the Pittsburgh Steelers on December 19, 2010 to find a win for Ryan and the Jets against a team that finished the year with a winning record. That is pretty crazy isn’t it?  They did not beat one quality team in 2011 and have yet to beat one in 2012.

Keeping that in mind I wanted to look at the success Ryan has had in the regular season against good teams versus bad teams. This was something we used to look at often with former coach Herman Edwards who never seemed to find a good opponent that he could beat despite a relatively successful regular season record. The numbers for Ryan are scary. Here is the Jets record in those three seasons under Ryan under various opponent win criteria.

Opponent wins Record Winning Percentage
10+ 5-9 0.357
9+ 6-11 0.352
8+ 10-14 0.417
7+ 12-18 0.400
LT6 16-2 0.889

When you consider that two of those 10+ wins came in games where the opponents may have had their eyes on the playoffs as much as the Jets it looks even worse.  If you take 2009 out of the equation, which was by far the best of the four Jets teams he has coached, the record against teams with 9 or more wins is 2-8, a winning percentage of 0.200.

One of the problems is that it is not improving. The Jets were very competitive in the games they played in 2009 against good teams, fueled by the incredible defense that they put on the field. Since then the team isn’t even competitive. Here are the average margins from 2009, with the games against the Bengals and Colts taken out of the numbers, compared to 2010 and 2011.

Opponent wins 2009 average margin 2010-11 average margin
10+ -8.0 -9.3
9+ -2.0 -9.9
8+ +1.1 -8.7
7+ -0.3 -5.5
LT6 +16.0 +12.6

If you factor in the two games at the end of the year the Jets ended up positive in every category that year. These are terrible numbers the last two seasons and it certainly has not gotten better this year. The Jets have played 4 teams in 2012- the Patriots, Texans, 49’ers, and Seahawks- who will all be 9+ on the year. The average margin in those games is -16 points. Throw the Steelers and Colts in there and lets call them 8+ and its -9.2, still worse than the prior two years.

The question is why?  Why are the Jets this bad against good teams?  Is it the roster?  Is it the coach?  Is it both?  The Jets have had postseason success, compiling a 4-2 record against quality opponents in their two playoff runs, which doesn’t fit in with the regular season at all. What is it that they did in the playoffs that they do not do in the regular season?  You will not get to the playoffs if you are so schedule dependent on getting to the 9 or 10 win regular season threshold. It is something that the team really needs to evaluate win or lose come the end of the season. Are the Jets loose regular season ways keeping them too unfocused in the regular season compared to the playoffs?  It is a question that Rex needs to ask himself and his squad.

The mark of a good coach is someone who goes above and beyond expectations. Does anyone think Patriots fans need to go online in November and look at the schedule and say “ok well the rest of the games are all winnable against poor opponents”?  No because the coach gives confidence that they can win every game regardless of who they play. The Jets don’t have that right now. If they did they would have made the playoffs last season and probably hosted a game in 2009.

Getting a win against the New England Patriots on Thanksgiving gives Ryan something to point to when it comes time to defend himself after the season. It’s a least a move in the right direction for the franchise and for a fanbase that has no reason to believe in this football team. The Jets must start to beat good teams and not just hope that the schedule continues to work out in their favor.  The Jets will never get better if they continue to be right around 0.500 every year ,creating a false sense of security around Florham Park where they point to a play here and a play there as to why they didn’t get further. The truth is they can’t beat good teams.  The team can point to a drop here or a missed block there and spin it however they want but when the end result is the same every week there is a bigger problem that the team is pretending does not exist. One win doesn’t eliminate the problem, but it can at least give some added confidence in the coach and front office. A must win game.   

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