October 5, 2011

Pressure Points

Print More

Rex Ryan took a new stance this week when defending Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez from the latest round of criticism after the Week Four loss to the Baltimore Ravens. In response to verbal barbs from former Jets great Joe Namath, New York’s mercurial head coach stated that no quarterback under that kind of pressure — not Tom Brady, Peyton Manning or Namath himself — would have had a good day. Ryan was referring to the Jets’ inability to hold off the Ravens pass rush. However, his use of the word “pressure” brings up questions about how well Rex has handled his young quarterback’s development and his team as a whole.Few players have faced the kind of pressure that Mark Sanchez has in their first three seasons in the NFL. Sanchez was drafted fifth overall by the Jets in 2009 and has started since Week One of his rookie year. Not to mention he has been playing in New York City — starting as a rookie in the middle of the largest media market in the world is enough to blow the top right off the pressure gauge. Yet the always talkative Ryan has never done anything to shelter his young quarterback or lower the pressure in any way. If anything, he has increased it.The time and tested approach when handling a young player at any position is to temper people’s expectations. Remind the player that it is his first year in the league and that no one expects him to be a star right away, thereby taking some of the pressure off. But in his time as the Jets’ front man, Ryan has done nothing of the sort. Rather than try to bring Sanchez along slowly, Ryan has thrown him head first into the deep end of the pool by loudly predicting a Jets Superbowl at the start of each season.Great expectations can breed great results. As an athlete, playing for a coach that believes in you often makes all the difference. The problem with Ryan’s approach is, when the Jets inevitably fall short of the lofty expectations he creates, the finger doesn’t get pointed at Rex; it gets pointed at Sanchez. It sounds great to say that you are going to win the Super Bowl. But when it doesn’t happen, who’s fault is it? The player who gets blamed after every loss — the quarterback. It is hard enough to be a young quarterback in NYC. Being the young quarterback that is supposed to lead the Jets to their first Superbowl in 42 years is way more pressure than the kid deserves. Ryan could have kept him out of this pressure cooker, but instead he turned up the heat.Ryan is a very good coach. He is a great motivator and his players love to play for him. He has gotten his team to play above and beyond its potential each of his two seasons in New York. He also game plans, particularly on the defensive side of the ball, as well as any coach in the league. However, there is a point when all of Ryan’s bluster stops helping his team win.Ryan telling everyone that New York is going to the Super Bowl is motivates the Jets players. Unfortunately, it also motivates the other 31 teams in the league. There is a reason teams repeat as champions — because the defense of the title is way harder than the chase. Once you win the Super Bowl, you get everyone’s best effort every week. Opposing teams use the game against the reigning Superbowl champions as a measuring stick to find out where their team is. Few things are more motivating than knowing you are going up against the best in the league. The Jets haven’t won anything yet, but continually saying they will has much the same effect. It is what is know as billboard material — giving your opponent a reason to play extra hard against you. Something Ryan’s division rival Bill Belichick fervently avoids. And one day, it is going to catch up with the team.Thus far, the Jets have survived. The extra motivation that Ryan instills in his players has outweighed that which he instills in his opponents. In addition, he has carried the Jets to back-to-back AFC Championship games before eventually succumbing to better teams. But at some point, this undue pressure is going to come back to bite Jets. Ryan painting a red target on Jet green week in and week out is going to wear the Jets out at some point. That is, if it hasn’t already. A loss this week in New England could make things ugly.Walk softly and carry a big stick.

Original Author: Will Clark