Rex Ryan knows he's got his work cut out for him
Bob GlauberBob Glauber
Glauber has been Newsday's national football columnist since 1992. He
Rex Ryan's promise not to predict a Super Bowl championship this season comes in handy at a time like this. After what he saw Friday night in Cincinnati, the last thing on Ryan's mind -- or anyone else's, for that matter -- is a game in February.
Not much went right for the Jets in a listless 17-6 loss to the Bengals. Mark Sanchez spent most of his limited playing time running for his life behind a weak offensive line. Tim Tebow looked good on his trademark scrambles, but he ended his night with an interception. The first-team defense showed some of the same weaknesses as last season, reacting slowly on a handful of plays run by Cincinnati's first-string offense.
The backups were even worse. And that blocked punt in the final seconds of the first half that turned into a Bengals touchdown? Brutal. "You're not going to beat anybody -- I don't care if it's Pop Warner, preseason in the NFL, regular season -- you get a punt blocked,'' Ryan said. "The chances of you winning probably aren't real good. I'm sure it's at least 80 percent against you that you're not going to win that game.''
Taking the entirety of the game under consideration, Ryan then stated the obvious: "We need to make a lot of improvements to get where we want to be on opening day.''
But as bad as the Jets looked Friday, they might look even worse when they take the field again. Up next: the defending Super Bowl champion Giants.
Of course, Ryan couldn't go an entire night without taking a shot at someone, so he spent a moment defending his plans to use Tebow as his Wildcat quarterback. "I know nobody's worried about the Wildcat,'' he said. "I guess I'm the only guy that thinks it has a place in the NFL . . . me and every defensive coach in the NFL.''
So even if Ryan won't predict a Super Bowl run, he won't completely refrain from talking smack. But he knows there is a ton of work ahead, which is how every other NFL coach feels. Even the one who actually did win the Super Bowl last year.
Tom Coughlin found plenty to criticize from the Giants' one-point loss to Jacksonville on Friday night. Then again, Coughlin can find fault with how his players line up for pregame warm-ups, so that's nothing new.
In Ryan's case, the concern is legitimate. A team coming off an 8-8 year needs to find a new identity on offense, and new coordinator Tony Sparano's system will take time to evolve.
As for his Wildcat plans, they remain a question mark, too. As much as Ryan thinks defensive coaches worry about it -- he said Bengals coach Marvin Lewis all but begged him not to use the Wildcat on Friday night -- Sparano's Wildcat in Miami eventually was solved by opposing defensive coordinators.
Adding Tebow no doubt will increase the degree of difficulty because of his extraordinary running ability, but let's face it: For the offense to thrive this year, it has to be about more than a few gimmick plays.
Sanchez needs to elevate his game. The running game needs to be significantly better than last year. The pass protection has to improve dramatically from 2011. And the receivers, an untested group behind the mercurial Santonio Holmes, quickly must develop chemistry with Sanchez and Tebow.
Things are more established on defense, with Ryan now in his fourth year of running his hyper-aggressive scheme. But watching Bart Scott and Calvin Pace react slowly in one-on-one situations against the Bengals, and with safeties LaRon Landry and Yeremiah Bell new to the system, just how much better can this defense be and how quickly can it can get there?
But that's why you need to look at preseason results and performance warily. As poorly as a team plays in August, it's not necessarily a harbinger of September and beyond.
Ryan knows his team needs to do a lot in the short period of time left before the Bills come to town for the opener. The Super Bowl? It ought to be the last thing on his mind. Good for the Jets that he's out of the prediction business.