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Alex Speier

Rex Ryan usually makes things tough for Brady, Belichick

The early signs of the Rex Effect came before Rex Ryan’s time in the AFC East.

In 2007, in an otherwise dismal Ravens season, Ryan – then serving as Baltimore’s defensive coordinator – devised a game plan like none other against a Patriots team in pursuit of perfection. A mix of three-, four-, five-, and six-man fronts disguised coverage schemes and exotic blitz packages.

In a year when he often seemed unstoppable, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady appeared vulnerable against Baltimore. He completed just 18 of 38 passes for 257 yards, throwing for two touchdowns and being intercepted once while being sacked three times. His passer rating that day of 76.3 was his second worst of that regular season.

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Indeed, the sail to a perfect regular season record should have been smashed against the rocks by an inspired Ravens team – until, shockingly, Ryan called time out before a fourth-and-1 play with time dwindling. The Patriots didn’t hear the play stop, and were stopped short of a first down before realizing that Ryan had given them a reprieve.

Given new life, the Patriots scored a winning touchdown in the final minute, running their record to 12-0. Ryan, instead of being questioned about one of the best coaching efforts of his life, had to answer for his unfortunate decision.

“I have nothing to hide. I stand by my calls,” Ryan told reporters in the following days. “I’d do the exact same thing again in the future, so you can start ripping me all you want.”

Far away, so close. That game offered a bit of a Tweety-and-Sylvester snapshot of the dynamic between the Patriots of Brady and Bill Belichick against Ryan’s teams. Periodically, the cat has managed to feel as if it’s captured its prey, only to get conked on the head by Granny’s umbrella.

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Still, on the cusp of Ryan’s first meeting with his longtime rivals in his new role as the head coach of the Bills, that portrayal is a bit unfair to the work done by his teams against New England. There appears to be an appreciable Rex Effect that has presented a greater challenge to the Patriots of the last eight years than have other teams.

From the time Ryan was promoted to Ravens defensive coordinator in 2005, a role in which he served until 2008 before emerging as Jets head coach from 2009-14, his Ravens and Jets have faced the Brady/Belichick Patriots 14 times. The Patriots have won 10 of those, including seven of the last eight against New York.

“I think our record against him has been OK,” Belichick told reporters this week. “I’ll take it.”

Despite that bottom line, however, the Patriots experienced less success against Ryan’s teams than they did against the rest of the league from 2007-14. The Brady-Belichick tandem has a .714 winning percentage against Ryan since 2007 – nearly 100 points below the .788 mark they’ve posted against the rest of the league in that time – a difference of about 1.2 wins per 16 games. The distinction is one between very good and ridiculously good, but it’s a distinction nonetheless.

Brady’s numbers, too, suggest that he’s found the going more difficult at times against Ryan’s defenses than most. In total, he’s posted a 90.1 rating against Ryan’s defenses since 2007, a mark that falls short of the 101.6 he posted against the rest of the NFL in 113 games between 2007 and 2014.

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To be sure, Brady has dominated Ryan-designed defenses on a number of occasions, including a 148.9 rating (Brady’s second-highest of the year) in a 45-3 win over the Jets in 2010 and a 144.5 rating (his best of the year) in a 49-19 win in 2012. But on five occasions, Ryan’s defenses have held Brady to one of his worst three passer ratings of the season – and Ryan’s teams have been particularly good against Brady and the Patriots in Week 2 of the season.

Tom Brady's Patriots vs. Rex Ryan's defenses
From 2007 through 2014
Record Win pct. Comp % Avg. yards Avg. sacks Avg. TDs Rating
vs. Rex Ryan 10-4 .714 59.4 267.4 2.1 1.8 90.1
vs. The Rest 89-24 .788 65.4 281.0 1.6 2.2 101.6
SOURCE: pro-football-reference.com

In his second game as head coach, Ryan’s Jets beat Brady and the Patriots, 16-9, in 2009, holding New England to the fewest points it would put up all year and hanging Brady with his worst rating (53.1) of that comeback season.

In the second game of the 2010 season, the Jets beat the Patriots, 28-14, with the 14 points tied for the fewest the Pats would score that year. Brady’s 72.5 rating that game was his second-worst of the season.

And in 2013, though the Patriots eked out a 13-10 win over the Jets in Week 2, New York’s defense held New England to its lowest point total of the year, while limiting Brady to a 71.0 rating.

It seems fair to say, then, that Ryan spends a reasonable amount of time leading up to the season scheming for his early-season matchups against the Patriots, and that New England’s early-season offense has had its fair share of misfires against those defensive designs. The Patriots provide Ryan with an opportunity to try to make a statement – an opportunity from which he rarely shies.

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“If they beat us then they beat us. But we don’t concede anything,” Ryan told reporters this week. “We’re not beat just because they get off the bus, like some teams.”


Follow Alex Speier on Twitter at @alexspeier.