Thursday-and-Long: It's Rex Ryan's Party, He Can Cry If He Wants To
"I'll be true to myself," Ryan said. "I'm always going to be, and I said that from day one. If I don't fit the stereotype of coach-speak or anything else, so be it. I'm always going to be myself."
Can I say I hope Ryan is reading this when I type, "Thank goodness?"
I mean, god forbid anybody in the NFL act a little different from everybody else in the NFL, right? Somebody new comes along, been dreaming of this job his whole life and decides he's going to do it the way he always imagined he'd do it instead of the way everybody thinks he should, and just because his team hits the midseason skids we're supposed to take him for some kind of jerk? He kids around about Bill Belichick's rings or get into a long-distance insult match with Channing Crowder, and he's supposed to button up until he's won something? He encourages his players to talk trash, and we're supposed to believe that's the reason they're losing?
If Mark Sanchez were still throwing the ball the way he did in September, and Leon Washington were still scatting and dancing in and out of the backfield, and Kris Jenkins were still clogging up things in the middle on defense, would this even be an issue? (Well, Ryan might not be crying, but you get the point.) And is it ridiculous to imagine that what Ryan says and does is a reflection of what he truly thinks and feels, as opposed to some kind of motivational or misdirection ploy?
The popular doctrine states that Ryan's act is "refreshing" only if the Jets win. What a bunch of simple-minded hogwash. First off, Ryan's players adore him, so it shouldn't really matter what the establishment thinks. And secondly, are we all so conditioned now to think that winning is the only important thing that we forget that what we're watching is supposed to have some entertainment value? Rex Ryan has entertainment value win or lose. Win or lose, sincerity, humor, emotion and perspective-infused intensity are refreshing in an NFL increasingly populated with scowling, hoodie-wearing clones.
Let's all stop judging Ryan on every word that comes out of his mouth and every tear that drops from his eyes. Let's take a step back and ponder whether the measure of this guy as a head coach might come down to more than the first nine games. Let's all chill out and let the man be himself. If we do that, we might all realize that he's actually fun to listen to. That maybe he's an actual person, maybe even a good guy. Maybe even somebody we can admire and learn something from. Even if he doesn't make the playoffs.
Isn't that a bizarre concept?
Ground Control Update
I've been trying to track a stat for which I don't yet have a name (but am still taking suggestions). It's designed to measure how teams control the run game on both sides of the ball, and it's a simple calculation. You take a team's yards-per-carry on offense and subtract the yards-per-carry it allows on defense. For instance, the best teams in the league at this are the Titans (5.5 ypc offense, 4.4 ypc against on defense) and the 49ers (4.4 on offense, 3.3 against on defense), who both score a +1.1.
As you can see, these teams get to the number quite differently. Tennessee and curve-buster Chris Johnson (yes, I'm going to run a photo of him in this spot every week until somebody holds him under 200 total yards) are a more prolific run team than San Francisco by more than a yard per carry, but San Francisco is much better at stopping the run. But in a ground-acquisition game, total net yards are a worthwhile metric, so to me both Tennessee (which is already out of it) and San Francisco are candidates for strong finishes if they can control to control their run games and those of their opponents so well.
The only other team currently scoring at least a +1 is the Dallas Cowboys, which makes the fact that they called 14 run plays and 39 pass plays in Sunday's loss to the Packers seem even more idiotic than it does on its face. The Cowboys, as has been written here and elsewhere before, must lean on running backs Marion Barber, Felix Jones and Tashard Choice if they are to be consistent and successful. They can love Tony Romo all they want, but the three backs are what give them an edge on their NFC rivals. The trick is, they have to actually use them.
There are four teams -- Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Green Bay and Miami -- that score a +0.9 on this scale. Those Ravens aren't done yet, I tell ya...
At the other end, it's the Houston Texans who do the worst, averaging a league-worst 3.3 yards per carry on offense and allowing opponents 4.7 yards per carry on defense for an eye-poppingly rotten -1.4. They're in scary company, too. The -1.0 teams are Kansas City, Buffalo and Cleveland. And while San Diego checks in at -0.9, the four teams in front of them are Detroit and Tampa Bay (both -0.8) and Oakland and Seattle (both at -0.5).
As brilliant as Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson may be, it doesn't bode well for the Texans to make a playoff run if they can't control the running game at all. We'd say the same about San Diego, but as long as the Broncos keep tailspinning, they can win the AFC West without calling another run play all year.
Hat Tip of the Week -- LaTorsha Tomlinson.
Leaving a positive pregnancy test in husband LaDanian's locker before the game inspired the all-time-great Chargers' RB to a vintage performance against the Eagles on Sunday. The couple had struggled to get pregnant and endured a 2005 miscarriage, and LaDanian was emotional when he revealed after the game what his wife had done. We live in a society that places impossible demands on its sports heroes, and we all forget sometimes that they're human beings who can have bad days/weeks/months at work for the same reasons the rest of us do. What a touching and uplifting reminder of that the Tomlinsons' story was.
Three for the Road -- After two very strong weeks, Three for the Road went a pitiful 0-3 last week, losing with the Cowboys in Green Bay, the Eagles in San Diego and yes, the Patriots in Indianapolis. Really felt like I had that last one. And I wish I'd had the guts to pick the Bengals in Pittsburgh, but I didn't.
For those unfamiliar, road teams in the NFL are a combined 62-82 this year -- a winning percentage of just .431. But that doesn't stop me from using this spot each week to pick three road teams I think will win. Thanks to last week's tumble, I'm now 5-4 since I started doing this. Here are this week's three road teams I like:
1. Miami over Carolina. No, the short week has not been kind to the Dolphins, who got the news Wednesday that star running back Ronnie Brown is out for the year. But Miami is the toughest, scrappiest, hard-fightingest team in the league, and I have a hunch Ricky Williams and the defense step up with a big one tonight against a Panthers team that thinks (mistakenly) that it's back in the playoff hunt.
2. San Diego over Denver. The Chargers have burned us all before, and could lay an egg in Denver the way the Cowboys did last week in Green Bay. But Kyle Orton is hobbling and the Broncos are hurtling back toward earth with the speed and grace of a mortally wounded goose. The Chargers were supposed to be the class of the AFC West, and this is the week that reminds us of that.
3. Tennessee over Houston. Just have this feeling that Chris "Sonic the Hedgehog" Johnson and Monday Night Football were made for each other.
It's Just a Fantasy -- Three guys I wish I had on my fantasy team this week :
1. Ricky Williams vs. Carolina. Not because of the opponent, but because of the upgrade in situation. Williams has been scoring like a starting RB all year, and with the Brown injury he now gets to be one. Sure, he's 32, but he took enough time off that his body hasn't absorbed the pounding most RBs take by 32. He can be the Dolphins' No. 1 RB, their wildcat QB, whatever they need, and I see a big finish.
2. Andre Johnson vs. Tennessee. Talk about guys who are in for a big finish. With Owen Daniels out and Houston's schedule soft against the pass, Big Andre is in line for even more targets and even more jaw-dropping plays over the season's final seven weeks.
3. Anquan Boldin vs. St. Louis. What can I tell you? My team is light on WRs. Boldin is getting healthier, Arizona's schedule is getting easier and it doesn't get a whole lot easier than the Rams.
(Not) Traveling Man
This week I'm staying close to home, making the 20-minute drive down Route 17 to the Meadowlands to see the Falcons play the Giants. Did you know this is the fourth time this year the Falcons have played a team that was coming off its bye week? Impressively, they were 2-1 in the first three, beating the Bears in Week 6 and the Redskins in Week 9 while losing to the Cowboys in Week 7. I say the Giants drop that record to 2-2. They seem like they're in a decent place mentally in spite of the four-game losing streak. Danny Ware being healthy enough to take his place in the running back rotation will actually help Brandon Jacobs be more comfortable. And the Atlanta defense is a mess, particularly at cornerback, where Eli Manning should be able to pick them apart. There are just too many reasons to like the Giants here, in a game where the loser will drop to 5-5 and into big playoff-picture trouble.