Week 8 is here, and undoubtedly the biggest national game of the week is … Jets-Bengals?
Well, by one simple measure, it is. There are only two games this week featuring teams that both have winning records. One of them is Cowboys at Lions (weird, just writing that gave me a sudden urge for turkey, stuffing and cranberry sauce), both of whom check in at 4-3. The other is Jets at Bengals, and given their 4-3 and 5-2 records, respectively, one can easily argue that this is the week’s best matchup. In fact, I just did — see how easy that was?
Cincinnati was more or less expected to be as good as it’s been, but many have been shocked at New York’s results so far. Of course, that last clause could just as easily refer to the Giants, who have been shockingly awful. However, the Jets have gone from national laughingstock to legitimate playoff contender, notching impressive wins over New England and at Atlanta.
In the process, the Jets have considerably reduced the temperature of Coach Rex Ryan’s seat. With a new general manager, and having endured a 6-10 season chock full of embarrassments (cough, cough, Buttfumble, cough), Ryan was widely considered a Dead Man Coaching. But if the Jets can finish at least 8-8, he’ll probably get some sort of contract extension.
For his part, Bengals Coach Marvin Lewis knows a thing or two about the hot seat. He took over a 2003 Cincinnati squad in utter disarray, and led the franchise to consecutive 8-8 seasons before going 11-5. Then the Bengals slumped to 8-8, 7-9 and 4-11-1, at which point Lewis could point to just one winning campaign in six tries. He coached Cincinnati to a 10-6 season in 2009, and was named the AP NFL coach of the year, but then immediately plummeted to 4-12, and it seemed inevitable that he was a goner.
But Cincinnati owner Mike Brown, not always known for doing the logical thing, promptly gave Lewis a contract extension. And so far, so good. Since 2011, the Bengals have gone 9-7, 10-6 (making the playoffs both years) and, to this point, 5-2.
So Ryan and Lewis have both seen the highs of lows of NFL head coaching gigs, and both had parlayed successful stints as Ravens defensive coordinator into those gigs (of course, between Baltimore and Cincinnati, Lewis spent a year as Redskins defensive coordinator, not that I need to tell you guys that. Just for trivia’s sake, can you name the QB who threw the most passes for the team that year?). Plus, they are both well-liked by their respective team’s owners.
However, the similarities between Ryan and Lewis pretty much end there. Ryan has already carved out a place among the NFL’s all-time biggest personalities, at least as far as head coaches go. The struggles of the past two seasons have served to tone down his braggadocio a bit, but he rarely seems to be without a big smile on his face, a quip on his lips, and his wife’s feet … well, let’s just leave that alone.
Lewis, on the other hand, is a fairly calm, low-key personality, and he fits the profile of the modern NFL head coach, who tries to reveal as little as possible to the public. However, he wasn’t afraid to call out his quarterback last season for not showing enough fiery leadership.
Another difference between Ryan and Lewis is that the former has actually won games in the playoffs. In 2009 and 2010, Ryan’s Jets went 4-2 in the postseason, winning all four on the road and making to to the AFC championship game both times. With Mark Sanchez at quarterback, no less, who I hold much more accountable for the team’s underachieving in 2011 and 2012. Lewis has been to the playoffs four times, but has lost his first game on all four occasions.
Personally, as a Jets fan, I love Ryan. The big talk sets him up to look like a buffoon if he doesn’t deliver, but at the end of the day, all coaches are judged on how often they win, regardless of how many or few headlines they create along the way. In a league full of Belichick-wannabe drones at head coach, Ryan’s back-slapping boisterousness strikes me as a breath of fresh air. Plus, he really is a terrific defensive coordinator, and his players respond well to the fact that he is such a genuine person.
Give me that over Lewis, a fine defensive coordinator in his own right who may be coming into his own as a head coach after all these years. Lewis gives a team a steady hand in terms of leadership, and certainly creates fewer potential distractions for his team. But if I had to choose one or the other to coach my squad, I’d grab a seat on Rex’s roller-coaster ride. I’d gamble that Ryan could take my team to higher highs than Lewis, and if I got lower lows along the way, well, at least Rex would keep things entertaining.
What about you? If you had to pick one to coach your team, would you opt for Ryan or Lewis?
Des Bieler is a page designer, artist and writer who contributes his NFL insights to Opening Kick on Fridays and the print edition’s game-day page on Sundays. Follow him on Twitter at @DezBeeWP.
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