Though he has now been hired and fired twice in the last three seasons, his hybrid 3-4 defense was the talk of a select bunch during Tuesday’s Super Bowl media day frenzy.
Stifling opponents like New England and New Orleans this season, and the Pittsburgh Steelers last season, there is a growing excitement in Dallas – Ryan’s new home – as they look to improve their defense over what is already a tough defensive division in the NFL East. The Dallas Morning News used the word “mind-bending” when attempting to describe what other quarterbacks face when a Rob Ryan-led unit lines up on the other side of the ball.
“It’s confusion,” Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said on Tuesday. “For me, it was chaos. For them, I’m sure it’s organized chaos. If you have players that can play within that system, you’re going to get a great defense.”
In Dallas, Ryan will be given players like DeMarcus Ware (16 sacks, 66 tackles in 2010) and Bradie James (118 tackles, one interception) among his four linebackers. In Cleveland, the linebacking corps was seemingly in a constant state of flux due to injuries, botched drafts and free agent acquisitions. Recently-added Scott Fujita (who also succumbed an injury) has been on record saying that he loved playing for Ryan, but the quantitative results did not bode well for the veteran defensive mind.
In his last season with the Browns, Ryan’s defense finished 20th in points allowed per game (20.8) and 22nd in yards allowed (350.1), both improvements over the 2009 season. Unfortunately, the Browns were still dismal in (26th) in defending the run, allowing 129.4 yards per game on the ground. Lauded for his “exotic” schemes on third downs that often have defensive linemen standing, if having any defensive linemen at all, the Browns defense was 28th in the NFL on third downs, allowing opponents to obtain first-downs on 43 percent of attempts.
Regardless of his short-comings in Cleveland, Ryan continues to have the support of fans and his peers throughout the NFL.
“He brings a lot of passion to the defense,” said Bruce Arians, longtime defensive coordinator of the Steelers. “The way he coaches and the way his brother [Rex] coaches, I have a great respect for both of them. They’re bright and know what they’re doing.”