[Note: I'm scheduled to appear on The Bobby Curran Show on ESPN 1420 at just after 2:00 today. If you're interested, you can listen here.]Rex Ryan is the Tim Tebow of coaches: whatever he says tends to get magnified. I was sitting a few feet from Ryan when he made his latest controversial comment. Keyshawn Johnson asked Ryan if having a former head coach in Tony Sparano now coaching the offense would allow him to focus more on the defense. Ryan said it would, although Ryan previously vowed to also be more involved with the offense. The next question asked about Ryan’s confidence, and he said he had a lot of confidence in himself and his coaching staff. He went on:
Now, I wasn’t even in the defensive meeting last night, but I have complete faith and trust in the coaches we have. As I said, it’s easy for me to say I’m the best defensive coach in football. Now that’s saying something, because Dick LeBeau’s pretty (darn) good, Bill Belichick is pretty good. But that’s the way I’ve always believed. And you know what, I believe it because of the guys I coach with, there’s no doubt about that, and the guys that I’ve coached. That’s the truth, and that’s how I feel. I’m going to be more involved over there, calling games or whatever. Obviously, Mike Pettine, that’s my right hand guy, he’s always been my right hand guy and that’s the way it’s always going to be.
Not that inflammatory, is it? In any event, Ryan also issued a call to the media on Saturday, and if you’ve ever read this blog, you know he got my attention with what he said:
I’m still waiting to see somebody put the stats up there, because I know I’m crazy, but go ahead and just put them out there one day, since I’ve been a coordinator and head coach, I dunno where I’d rank…I really don’t even know the answer…Now watch Dick LeBeau get me.
Well, Rex, I’ll put the stats out there for you. Presumably we want to compare Ryan to all current head coaches (with defensive backgrounds) and defensive coordinators in the league. There are only 25 defensive coordinators to examine, as sevens teams do not have coordinators with any relevant track record. Both Missouri teams are actually without defensive coordinators this year: In Kansas City, Romeo Crennel will be head coach and defensive coordinator, while in St. Louis, the Rams are going with a committee approach to replace the suspended Gregg Williams. In addition, five men will be first-time defensive coordinators in 2012: Matt Patricia in New England, Kevin Coyle in Miami, Alan Williams in Minnesota, Jason Tarver in Oakland and John Pagano in San Diego.
Of the 32 head coaches, 18 of them have defensive backgrounds. Add that to the 25 defensive coordinators, and removing the three coaches with no relevant experience since 20051, and we have our population of coaches. So where does Ryan rank among the top 40 defensive minds in the NFL? There are many ways to rank a defense, and no individual metric is perfect. So instead of picking just one, I’ll list a number of defensive categories and let you decide which you like. As a hat tip to Ryan, I’ll sort the list by the one category where he does lead: first downs allowed. But the table is fully sortable, so have at it.
The categories listed are points allowed per game, total yards allowed, first downs allowed, net yards per attempt allowed, adjusted net yards per attempt allowed, yards per carry allowed, rushing yards allowed, total rushing and passing touchdowns allowed, and turnovers forced.
[table id=94 /]
All of these metrics have some validity2. If forced to look at just one stat, I might be inclined to pick the touchdowns allowed category, which ignores defensive and special teams touchdowns. That category eliminates some of the bad parts of points allowed (holding teams to field goals is often considered a “win” for a defense, touchdowns scored when the team’s offense or special teams are on the field are excluded) and from yards allowed (the “bend but don’t break” defenses can fare quite well in this metric). Looking at touchdowns allowed to opposing offenses, Ryan’s teams come in behind the great duos in Baltimore and Pittsburgh. Pagano was the Ravens defensive coordinator last year, and obviously Harbaugh has been the team’s head coach since 2009. Tomlin and LeBeau have worked together for six years and Pittsburgh’s defense has been fantastic nearly every season. While Ryan does come in behind them in that category, he generally ranks in the top five in most metrics. And he’s first in first downs allowed, an important measure of defensive performance.
We can say without reservation3 that Rex Ryan has an excellent defensive record. No matter what category you look at, you see coaches with backgrounds in Baltimore or Pittburgh, which should be unsurprising. The Jets have tried to be Baltimore North the last few years, with good success (except when playing the Ravens).
One metric that changes the names up top is turnovers forced, and Lovie Smith ranks first even with a seven-year sample size. If you asked Ryan which statistic he meant when he said his defenses are the best, my guess is he would cite (rightly or wrongly) yards allowed. That’s what Ryan meant when he said argued that he’s never “finished worse than sixth in the league in defense and I don’t think anybody else in the league can say that.” That’s not really true, but it’s close enough. Tomlin’s Steelers have never ranked outside of the top five in yards allowed, but he did rank 8th in 2005 as defensive coordinator of the Vikings. New Indianapolis coach Chuck Pagano was only a defensive coordinator for one year, so maybe Ryan doesn’t consider his third-place ranking in one season as worthy of inclusion.
But if we are examining coaches by just yards allowed, Ryan doesn’t come in at #1 since 2005. Unfortunately for Rex, Tomlin and LeBeau got him.
- The three are Greg Schiano (never a DC or HC at the NFL level), Joe Vitt (only top role during that time frame was as an interim head coach in 2005), and Dave Wannstedt (last top NFL role was as head coach in 2004) from this study. [↩]
- But it should be obvious that any ranking system like this has many flaws. Not all coaches are working with the same talent, and it’s impossible to fairly compare a coach with one year of experience to one with seven years. [↩]
- Note: I’ve made sure the information on Ryan, LeBeau and the other top coaches are accurate, but some of the data on coaching affiliations may be inaccurate, so I can’t confirm that this data meets Football Perspective’s typical accuracy standards. Please understand that no errors, if any, in the above data is intentionally misleading, and if you believe there is an error, please just let me know. [↩]