By Paul Wanecski
When you take a look at Rex Ryan’s career either positively or negatively, it can usually be summed up in one word: different. He is a polarizing figure who is now the man in charge at One Bills Drive. One term you cannot use to describe him is that of a “quarterback whisperer”. While most people will categorize Ryan as a defensive genius, the criticism will always fall to the offensive side of the football. Ryan has historically struggled to have even an average offense. When we take a look at the history of quarterbacks he has had on the roster, perhaps he has learned to just survive with what he has been given.
Now, to be fair, each team handles business differently. Did Ryan have input on his previous teams as to which quarterbacks should be added to the roster? Unfortunately, without being in the room, we have to assume that any input he had was only suggestion to a general manager. We have no reports that Ryan was standing on a table in New York, stomping his feet for the Jets to pull the trigger and draft Geno Smith (although from what we hear, Geno did plenty of stomping around on draft day on his own). Still, it is no surprise why Ryan, really with any NFL team he was a part of, learned to rely on the run. That practice is not uncommon for defensive minded coaches; just in his case, you may be shocked to see what talent he had to work with in his previous stops.
1994-1995 Arizona Cardinals (Defensive line/Linebackers coach):
1994-The combination of Steve Beurlein, Jay Schroeder, and Jim McMahon combined for 11 touchdown (TD) passes and a 53% completion rate the entire season. The team rushed for 1,560 yards with 3.3 yards per carry (YPC)
1995-Dave Krieg had 3,554 passing yards, 16 TDs and 21 interceptions (INT). The team rushed for 1,363 yards, 5TD and 3.5 YPC
1999-2008 Baltimore Ravens (Defensive Line ‘99-‘04, Def. Coord./Assistant H.C ’05-’08):
1999- Tony Banks completed 52.8% of his passes, 2,136 yards, 17TD and 8 INT. Stoney Case (yes, that is a real name and not someone from the Flintstones) threw 8 INT, 3 TD and completed 45.3% of his passes. Scott Mitchell also contributed with 1 TD, 4INT and 42.9% completion rate. The team rushed for 1,754 yards, 9TD and 4.1YPC
2000- Tony Banks completed 54.7% of his passes, 8TD, 8INT. Trent Dilfer led a Super Bowl victory with a 59.3% completion percentage (yes, the highest of any QB so far in Ryan’s career), 1,502 yards, 12TD and 11INT. The Ravens ran for 2,199 yards, 9TD and a 4.3 YPC
2001- Enter Elvis Grback completion 56.7% of his passes for 3,033 yards, 15TD and 18INT. Long-forgotten Raven QB Randall Cunningham contributed 60.7% completion percentage for 573 yards, 3 TD and 2INT. Team rushing stats were 1,810 yards, 11TD and 3.7 YPC
2002- Jeff Blake makes the 12th QB to start a game in 6 years of Ryan’s NFL career. He threw for 55.9% completion rate, 2,084 yards, 13TD and 11INT. Chris Redman also started that year, with 53.3% completion rate, 1,034 yards, 7 TD and 3INT. The team rushed for 1,792 yards, 9TD and 4.2 YPC
2003- Kyle Boller (the 14th QB in 7 years) tosses 1,260 yards, 7TD and 9INT with a completion rate of 51.8%. Anthony Wright didn’t do much better, completion 52.8% of his passes, 1,199 yards, 9TD and 8INT. The team rushed for 2,674 yards, 18TD and 4.8YPC.
2004- Kyle Boller again, completing 55.6% for 2,559 yards, 13TD and 11INT. For the second season the team accumulated over two thousand yards with a total of 2,063 yards, 11TD and 4.2 YPC.
2005- Kyle Boller, still not spectacular, completes 58.4% of his passes for 1,799 yards, 11TD and 12INT. Anthony Wright completes 61.7% of his passes for 1,582 yards, 6TD and 9INT. The team rushed for 1,605 yards (the lowest since Ryan’s arrival), 5TD and 3.6 YPC
2006- Dennis Thurmond and Greg Roman both take roles with the 2006 Ravens, who would later join Ryan in Buffalo for the 2015 season. Steve McNair completes 63% (finally, someone beat out Dilfer) of his passes for 3,050 yards, 16TD and 12INT. McNair becomes the first QB in 5 years to throw for 3000 yards with Ryan on the staff and only the 3rd QB to do in the first 10 seasons of Ryan’s career. The team rushes for 1,637 yards, 11TD and 3.6 YPC
2007- Kyle Boller returns! He completes 61.1% of his passes for 1,743 yards, 9TD and 10INT. McNair also completed 64.9% of his passes for 1,113 yards but only 2TD and 4INT. The running game produced 1,797 yards, 11TD and 4.0 YPC.
2008- Joe Flacco’s rookie season. He threw for 2,971 yards, 14TD, 12INT and completed 60% of his passes. The Ravens rushed for 2,376 yards, 20 TD and 4.0 YPC.
2009-2014 New York Jets:
2009- Mark Sanchez completed only 53.8% of his passes for 2,444 yards, 20INT and 12 TD. The team rushed for 2,756 yards, 21TD and 4.5 YPC in Ryan’s first year as a head coach.
2010- Sanchez improved to completing 54.8% of his passes for 3,291 yards, 17TD and 13INT. Another strong rushing season with 14TD, 4.4 YPC and 2,374 yards on the ground.
2011- Sanchez turns in his best statistical year throwing for 3,474 yards, 26TD, 18INT while completing 56.7% of his passes. The running game put up 14TDs, 3.8 YPC and 1,692 yards rushing.
2012- Sanchez takes a big step backward in production, throwing for 2,883 yards, 13TD, 18INT and completing 54.3% of his throws. The team rushed for 1,896 yards, 12TD and 3.8 YPC again.
2013- The nightmare of Geno Smith begins. He completes 55.8% of his passes for 3,046 yards. On the surface, that sounds like an improvement from Sanchez. Well, he tossed only 12TDs against 21 INT. The team pounded the run game with a 4.4 YPC performance, 12TD and 2,158 yards.
2014- Geno Smith completes nearly sixty percentage of his throws, coming in with a 59.7% completion rate. 13TD and 13INT for 2525 yards. Michael Vick tosses 604 yards with 3TD and 2INT with a 52.9% completion rate. The team puts up another strong season on the ground, 4.5 YPC, 11TD and 2,280 yards rushing.
So what do all these stats all mean? Well, for starters, the QB that threw for the most yardage in Ryan’s entire career is David Krieg, so that should say a lot. His teams have never been able to produce quality starting quarterbacks. This means his teams had to lean heavily on the run. In eighteen seasons, he has had only 5 QBs throw for 3000 yards or more (two of those belong to Mark Sanchez). He has never had a QB throw for more than 26 TDs. Even as an assistant, his teams lacked a true franchise quarterback. When it comes to the running game, as a head coach, his teams have never dipped below 3.8 Yards Per Carry. He understands how to get business taken care of on the ground, knowledge that he gained from seeing the teams that he has been a part of struggle to pass the ball.
We can expect much of the same here in Buffalo this year. It will be up to Greg Roman to design a system that takes advantage of the skills regardless of who the starting QB turns out to be. Both he and Ryan love to run the football, regardless of who the quarterback is. If EJ Manuel or Tyrod Taylor start, expect to see the offense be a bit more mobile in the backfield. If Matt Cassel wins the starting job, go back and watch Alex Smith’s last season in San Francisco. Roman has shown he can be competitive regardless of what kind of player is under center, something that Rex Ryan has lacked in his time with the Jets. If we have to compare the Bills QB situation to what Ryan has encountered over his entire career, I don’t think it is a stretch to say that he has been in worse situations.