Rex Ryan on Mornhinweg: 'I think Marty has done a great job'
With the Jets' offense floundering again and Rex Ryan at his wits' end trying to solve the most vexing problem of his four-plus seasons as head coach, he will see another reminder Sunday of his offensive failures. Former offensive coordinator Tony Sparano, whose sputtering offense was at the heart of last year's 6-10 debacle, is coming back to town.
Sparano, now the Raiders' offensive line coach, is the ultimate example of Ryan's inability to manage the biggest issue of his run as coach.
Hoping to re-establish his "ground & pound" approach of a run-centric offense with Sparano's meat-and-potatoes style, Ryan instead oversaw one of the worst offensive seasons in Jets history. Sparano's unimaginative play-calling, his inability to fold Tim Tebow into the offense and his lack of savvy when it came to making adjustments led to his ouster after one ill-fated season. The Sparano era made Brian Schottenheimer's erratic run look like a Bill Walsh offense by comparison.
Ryan admitted after last season's nightmare was over that he didn't really have a grasp of what he wanted from his offense. Enter veteran play-caller Marty Mornhinweg, who offered a far better approach than his two predecessors and seemed to have things headed in the right direction during a surprising 5-4 start.
Despite going with rookie Geno Smith, there were plenty of promising signs, exemplified by the Jets' stunning upsets of the Patriots and Saints. But because of a variety of circumstances, the offense has screeched to a halt -- and Smith is in the throes of a slump in which he has thrown one touchdown pass and 11 interceptions in the last seven games.
Had Mark Sanchez been healthy, there's no question he'd have been in the lineup by now, if not the starter from Day 1. But with Mornhinweg forced to go with Smith and persevere through the mistakes most rookie quarterbacks commit, the Jets are at an important crossroads.
If they continue to bottom out and limp to the finish line at 6-10 or even 5-11, there's a good chance there will be a new offensive coordinator next season.
Why? Because there's a good chance there will be a new head coach.
The offense arguably is the worst in the NFL right now. The Jets are 30th out of 32 teams in yards (303.8) and dead last in a much more important category: points. They have only 189, the only team with fewer than 200.
Some more statistical woes: Only three teams have a worse third-down conversion rate than the Jets (34 percent). And their minus-18 turnover differential is dead last.
You can't underestimate the role that a rookie quarterback plays in the numbers, and Mornhinweg understandably is limited in what he can do. Factor in the injuries to receivers Santonio Holmes and Jeremy Kerley, the poor play of Stephen Hill and the suspension of tight end Kellen Winslow Jr., and the problems are magnified.
Maybe things will get better now that the Jets are healthier; they might have their full complement of skill-position players for Sunday's Raiders game. And maybe Smith will start using his legs to make plays and help lift him out of his funk.
But if it doesn't get better in the final four games, Ryan might pay the price after striking out with his third different coordinator.
Even with all the bad numbers, Ryan stands by Mornhinweg, understanding the mitigating circumstances.
"I think Marty has done a great job. I don't think there's any doubt," Ryan said. "The numbers sometimes can be a little misleading. I think the job he has done and this staff, really, I think some of the challenges we've faced, I think guys have done a great job."
But Mornhinweg correctly acknowledges that something has to change.
"We've got to play better. Our players know it," he said. "Look, we have a terrific staff and our players are proud, so we're going to do everything we can to play better than that and play [at] a little bit higher level.
"Earlier in the year, the first nine games, we played some solid offensive football. It was sort of sporadic. And then we just haven't been able to reach that level. And at this time of the year, my outlook will get better and better and better, especially down the stretch."
Credit Mornhinweg with remaining calm in the middle of the storm.
"I try not to get frustrated," he said. That's not easy, though.
"I get mad and angry sometimes, and our players are the same,'' he said. "Sometimes really good things come out of really bad things if we continue with the hard work and if we continue with the preparation. I've been surprised quite a bit in the last two or three weeks. I don't like getting surprised. If we clean some things up, then some good things typically happen."
Good things had better happen on offense in the next four games or something else will happen that neither Ryan nor Mornhinweg wants: The need to look for work somewhere else.