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Jets-Steelers gives Rex chance to back up boast of best defensive coach

by | Senior NFL Columnist
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Darrelle Revis is out, leaving Rex Ryan without one of his best defensive players Sunday. (US Presswire)  
Darrelle Revis is out, leaving Rex Ryan without one of his best defensive players Sunday. (US Presswire)  

When the New York Jets meet the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday, we're supposed to find out which is the better team ... and we will. But we should find out something else, and it has nothing to do with Mark Sanchez or Tim Tebow and everything to do with their head coach.

Yep, that's Rex Ryan I'm talking about, and it's Rex who earlier this summer said he thought of himself as "the best defensive coach in football."

That statement gained a lot of attention nationally, and I guarantee it got a lot of play in Pittsburgh. Because the Steelers have Dick LeBeau as their coordinator, and when people think of the top defensive minds in today's game his name is usually first off the board.

Sure, Rex Ryan is in there. So is brother Rob. And Wade Phillips, Bill Belichick, Vic Fangio and Mike Zimmer. All are considered among the game's best and brightest defensive architects, but only one singled himself out.

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And we're talking to him.

"I don't think I'd be in this chair if I didn't believe it," Ryan said when we talked about it last month. "I think that's part of our strength. Players believe it.

"I also said this: It's not just based on my abilities, which I know are good, but it's also based on the players I've coached and the guys who coach with me. People can criticize it, but you know something? Do a study and take your thing. I've been a head coach and coordinator for eight, 10 years and see who is better than that.

"Those are facts. And my thing is: I know I'm pretty good. Ask any coach I've coached with or anybody I've ever coached, and they'll tell you the same thing."

Ryan is right. He has the sum to support his claim. Since taking over the Baltimore Ravens' defense in 2005, his units in Baltimore and with the Jets have been among the best in the NFL. In fact, crunch the numbers, and you'll discover that over those eight years his defenses are second overall, third in points allowed, first vs. the pass, fourth vs. the run, third in takeaways and first in third-down percentage.

That's impressive.

But so is this: LeBeau's defenses are first overall, first in points allowed, first vs. the run and second vs. the pass. No, they're not among the top five in takeaways or third-down percentage, but tell me which defense last year ranked ahead of Pittsburgh in yards or points. Plus, there's this: Dating back to 2005, LeBeau has been to three Super Bowls, with two victories. Ryan has been to none.

So the debate is on, and the floor belongs to Ryan. He made his case this summer in the papers; now he has a chance for his team to make it on the field.

"Look, I know I'm just an average person, OK?" Ryan said. "Throughout my background, growing up the son of Buddy Ryan, that's probably a huge, huge plus, obviously. The guys I've worked around have helped me get to where I am, and when I see this it's a compliment to those people.

"But you know what? It also tells you that if I didn't believe in myself ... I'm dyslexic, ADHD and all that kind of thing ... I've overcome a lot, and I'm still here. And I've been successful.

"I know I haven't won a Super Bowl. I got that. But if you want someone to stop somebody, maybe my name is not at the very top. But I think it is. And if it isn't, it ought to be right there with them."

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