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SportsColumnistsBob Glauber

Rex Ryan's defense of run-heavy game plan seems sincere

Head coach Rex Ryan of the New York

Head coach Rex Ryan of the New York Jets looks on during a game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at MetLife Stadium on Sunday, Nov. 9, 2014 in East Rutherford, N.J. Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. - Two days later, and the optics still didn't look right:

Conflicting reports last week about whether the Jets coaches preferred Michael Vick and not Geno Smith in the starting lineup. Then the suggestions that general manager John Idzik ordered Rex Ryan to play Smith to get a better idea of where he's at in his development. And then the game plan against the Dolphins on Monday night, as Ryan's Jets looked as if they wanted to see if they could win a game by having Smith do as little throwing as possible.

That plan nearly worked, and had Nick Folk not missed two field goals and the Jets not had a punt blocked, they might have pulled off the upset. Despite 277 rushing yards, a total that any coach would love to see, the Jets lost, 16-13, and you have no idea whether Smith, coming off a three-week benching, was any closer to taking another step forward.

Two days later, and Ryan was still on the defensive, defiant about the conspiracy theorists' suggestions that he was tanking it with his young quarterback just to make a point.

"I can't understand it," Ryan said about the run-heavy game plan that continues to frustrate fans and media pundits. "The reason I'm saying that is you go in with a game plan that, what's the best way for us, and we needed to run the football. We had talked about establishing the running game against a very good defense."

And here's where it all changed during the course of the game. The Jets did such a good job running it early against the normally stout Dolphins defense that they became almost mesmerized and couldn't help themselves.

"Did we think we were going to average eight yards a carry? I don't think that's what we anticipated, but we kept running and felt great about it," Ryan said. "If it's up to me, I'll go ahead and run it, regardless. I don't care who [the quarterback] is. I remember everybody was praising New England for running it [against Indianapolis in a 42-20 win on Nov. 16]. You have a first-ballot Hall of Fame quarterback in Tom Brady. They're geniuses . . . we're not quite there."

No, not quite. But Ryan insists the game plan "had nothing to do with us not having confidence in Geno Smith. That's completely false."

There isn't an insincere bone in Ryan's body, so it's hard not to take his word for it when he says that. Even if everything about that game appeared to the contrary. But I will say this: After talking privately with Vick about the Jets' quarterback situation and specifically about Monday night's game plan, he connected the dots on something that is essential to the conversation.

I asked Vick if he were the one playing against the Dolphins whether he'd be asked to execute the same run-heavy game plan.

"If I was playing, [the game plan] would have been the same," he said. "I wouldn't have done anything differently. The game plan on Monday was specifically designed for Miami. And this week's game plan might be the same. Or it might be different. That's the thing. We can always switch it up. is always open to change."

It may be easy for Vick to say that he, too, would have handed off as often as Smith, although I suspect offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg would have opened it up more with the 34-year-old veteran in there. But it is at least noteworthy that Vick himself would have gone along with a similar plan, even if he is under no obligation to say as much.

Ryan insists everything from Monday night's game was done in the interest of winning the game, not making any kind of statement -- directed at Idzik or anyone else -- about how he deploys his quarterback. There is another month's worth of football to show he means it.

Just some friendly advice for the embattled Jets coach: Tell your offensive coordinator it's OK to run the ball, but he ought to let his quarterback throw a play-action pass every now and then. It really does work better that way.

You're welcome.


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